Case Studies

Sixteen Instead of One

Pumpkin’s story is typical….

We received a call about a feral cat problem in North London, the 11th attempt of a family to find help for a mother cat and her newborn kittens. They had been born in a guinea-pig hutch that had been prepared for them outside the back door, but two kittens had already suffocated in the folds of the blanket (this type of accident happens all too often when mother cats are offered this type of bedding).

We learned that the young mother trusted her feeders, but we warned them not to touch the kittens so that she would be unsuspecting and could be trapped. On arrival, we ignored the kittens and set the trap – and sure enough, she walked straight in. We then put the kittens into a warm box ready to be reunited with their mother in a hospitalisation cage at home.

We were told that the cat had appeared the previous August as a kitten together with her mother and sister, and that watching and feeding them had given much pleasure. “And this year in February the tomcats came into the garden and mated all three cats – you should have seen that, it was hilarious!”. We remarked politely that the cats should have been spayed then, if not before. And where were the other two now? “The mother must have had her kittens some time ago – she was so very big for a long time and she hasn’t been seen for some time”. Taken to one side, however, the son admitted that she had been eating in the garden only the day before, and was still very big. We set the trap and waited for a little while, but we needed to go home to settle the mother and kittens in. The family were all at home that day and happily agreed to watch the trap in the garden. If the cat was trapped they would cover her and bring her to us if she was still pregnant. That night, Pumpkin was duly caught and delivered, and she gave birth to five kittens a few days later.

And the third cat? She was not really very big at all, they said, and in any case it would not be convenient for us to come again before Easter. We fully understood and telephoned after Easter, only to be told that now friends were staying in the house – they would ring when it was convenient. Anyway, the cat might well be a tom and there was no hurry. The tables had turned: now we were the ones asking a favour, and we were made to feel unwelcome. We had the distinct impression that our help was no longer wanted, and we decided to look for the cat ourselves – tomcat or not, it needed to be neutered anyway. We parked at a nearby hotel and began our search. Most fortunately, we spotted our lady-tom through the fence in somebody else’s garden, and they allowed us to trap what indeed turned out to be “her”. We rushed her straight to the vet to be spayed. Although she did not have the appearance of a nursing mother, to be entirely sure we immediately checked her through the wire of the trap for signs of milk. She was clearly nursing kittens, and was therefore spayed that night to minimise the time she would be away from them. (We would never knowingly remove a mother cat from her young kittens, but unfortunately, in this case we had been deliberately misled.) The next day she was released with several people watching closely from various positions, but she slipped over a wall and vanished. At the weekend, we spent an entire day searching through garden sheds, shrubs etc and talking to many supportive people. We learned about the beginning of this colony: a tabby cat and two newborn kittens had been found the previous year in a conservatory two houses away. The unenthusiastic owner had telephoned numerous charities to try to have them collected, but was advised to “ignore them, they would eventually go away”. So they did – and inevitably bred.

Our Sunday search was finally successful: we found the mother and her kittens in the bottom of a walled flower bench, partly hidden under concrete slabs and rubbish. Only her tail and legs were visible, and at first I thought she was a soft toy, before spotting a pair of tiny front paws kneading her stomach. Eventually she came out and went into the original callers’ garden, waiting for her food. By being enthusiastically forceful we were – just – allowed to set the trap, but encountered an icy atmosphere and abuse from the head of the family: “You are supposed to help cats, but you are cruel people – let the cat go to her kittens!” Fortunately, the cat allowed us to trap her for the second time, unable to withstand the temptation of cat milk. We assured the family that the kittens would all find good homes and that the young mothers would be returned – neutered – in a few weeks’ time. The lady of the house, who had been friendly all along, was visibly embarrassed. She explained, smiling faintly: “We wanted to have kittens in the garden again – only, not so many….”. Do people never learn?

We ended up with 13 kittens to home and three cats to foster and neuter, all because the year before, somebody abandoned one un-spayed cat. And this was only the first litter of the year for that cat and her daughters! If we had not rescued them, they would each have had another two litters before the end of the year – over 30 kittens in all.

Pumpkin – the matriarch who was described as being ‘the wildest of them all’ – promptly reverted to her original tame, very affectionate nature once we took her in and started caring for her. She was rehomed and was much loved and cared for until she sadly passed away.

© Elke de Vries – CAT 77 Fieldwork Advisor

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