It happened only through chance that Buttercup and Marigold were saved through a mishap which turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
I went to a back garden in Southall intending to trap the three last cats of a colony yet to be neutered. As if under a spell, the cats kept a considerable distance from the trap. After three hours of waiting in vain, the kind, elderly lady who cherished these cats admitted that she had not kept her promise to stop feeding but had given them “only a little” that morning. The situation was so absurd that I came to the conclusion there must be a deeper purpose for this failure. Maybe some other cats needed my attention instead today.
Was there an industrial site near here? Indeed there was, the gate only fifty yards away.
I went and enquired about cats. Yes, there was a mother cat with kittens “down there”. Two laughing workmen pointed out an inch wide gap in the asphalt of a driving ramp. I thought they must be joking but when they pulled a steel roller away a cat jumped out, a beautiful tortoiseshell and white (or rather tortoiseshell and grime!). Below, in a tiny, filthy space only just within reach, were her four ginger kittens, two days old I was told. Mother kept an eye on us at a safe distance. One workman helped me fetch the trap, the other kept vigil at the ramp. Mother was caught within minutes with the help of cooked chicken. But when I reached down to lift up a kitten I made an horrific discovery: all four kittens were strung together by their umbilical cords. Two were obviously dead because they were cold, stiff and very dusty. They must have suffocated underneath their mother, being unable to move. Careful not to pull on the navels, I cut the dried umbilical cords of all four kittens at an inch length. The two surviving kittens were covered with dust and grime and their little faces with black crusts. The little pink mouths were wide open crying in distress. Their navels appeared severely infected and I rushed them to the vet for antibiotic treatment which needed to be continued.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH HELPING A CAT?
Two tantalising weeks followed. Their stomachs could have opened any time being bloodshot and sore; stitching up would have been impossible because the skin was too delicate. Unbearable, the thought of losing them, especially after the workmen told me had I only come yesterday when they were all still alive! If only someone had contacted us about this cat in the first place! I learned that ‘tortie’ (now known as Tiger Lily) had had many litters before, some of them born in a place worse than this: in a deep, dusty hole underneath a building. Nobody knew what had happened to any of the kittens. Did they ever emerge alive? Did any survive? Nobody was interested. Oh yes, they quite liked the cat, yet nobody had put a stop to this chain of disasters by at least having her spayed or taking her home. This time she had tried to force her way into the office and had been rejected. What is wrong with helping a cat?
Once at home with me, Tiger Lily relaxed immediately. Why is she not on the photo? Tiger Lily cannot be allowed to move freely outside the playpen because she has a ferocious attitude towards other cats in defence of her kittens. Having had this little family for two months, I think we have been very lucky to survive and lucky will be the people who will adopt these beautiful cats.
And the cats indirectly responsible for all this in the garden in Southall? I decided to leave a dummy trap and gave instructions to put all the food inside for the next two weeks. When I came back to trap I was assured that the cats were really hungry. Yet they did not go near the trap until they thought I had gone. I discreetly joined the little lady watching television, with the magic string at the ready through the kitchen curtains. One cat was caught during “Blockbusters”, one during “Countdown”, and the third waited for the 6 o’clock news.
©Elke de Vries – CAT 77 Fieldwork Advisor, 1999