Her first kitten…

orange kitten

Orange Kitten

A 13-year-old girl who loves animals and wants to be a veterinarian is going to adopt her first companion animal, a kitten—or kittens, if she has her way. How many of us got our start with companion animals just like that, pre-teens or young teenagers who loved animals and wanted to be veterinarians, and our parents appeased us by adopting a shelter animal?

And are you one of the many who was given a kitten or a puppy as a gift in childhood? If you’re anything like me, that animal made all animals a permanent part of your life.

I rarely travel, and one of the things I look forward to is meeting new people and seeing new things all the way, on this trip from the time I left the house in the pre-dawn darkness to catch the train until the time I arrived back home late at night four days later to greet my startled cats who were apparently looking for me the entire time.

On my way back  I overheard a conversation between one of two young girls seated behind me and an older woman across the aisle from them. It was just part of the buzz around me as we all settled in until I heard the word “kitten” my ears pricked up and swiveled around as much as a human’s can do.

Lucy With Rug 1

Lucy with Rug 1

In a minute or two I confirmed that a kitten adoption was planned over the coming week. Much as I like to meet new people and converse among the seats, I also prefer to give people their privacy when they are in a conversation amongst themselves, but I couldn’t resist.

I slid toward the end of the seat next to me, leaned back a little and caught the eye of the woman who was apparently the mother who had planned this. She smiled at me so I felt it safe to enter the conversation.

“Is someone adopting a kitten?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Mom, “my daughter loves animals and wants to be a veterinarian, and I’m moving to a place where we can have a cat for her. She’s never had a pet, and she’s so excited!”

Lucy With Rug 2

Lucy With Rug 2

13-year-old girls are way too cool to show excitement. When I looked around my seat to the one behind me, she glanced up from her computer game, just moved her eyelids and nothing else, and nodded. I smiled.

“I probably wouldn’t interrupt your conversation, but…” I briefly described my credentials as a cat lady, making myself out to be a professional on the subject of cats instead of just the crazy cat lady who was crocheting a hat in the seat ahead of them, which was also true.

Mom was glad to have someone to ask questions. I was glad to share the enthusiasm I always had for discussing cats and the information I’d learned over the past 40 years of living with cats. Teenage daughter played her computer game but listened, I could tell.

I asked for the details of how they were adopting and when, how old the kitten was, if they had things ready and what their daily schedule was like to see what information I could offer them, and answering Mom’s questions.

Lucy With Rug 3

Lucy With Rug 3

As it turned out, the kitten was one of a litter taken in to a shelter in Harrisburg. They had visited the shelter weeks ago and met this kitten and others and decided on this one and possibly a sibling, but had to wait until they had most of their vaccinations and been spayed or neutered. The kitten would be eight to ten weeks at going home, just at the beginning of that growth spurt and ready to raise ruckus as young kittens are programmed to do.

I told them that kittens at that age had a lot of energy and no common sense, and so they had to plan for the kitten to be very playful, but also likely to get into trouble without intending by climbing into or onto places that might be dangerous, scratching things it shouldn’t, and even playing rough with the humans.

kittens wrestling on the floor

Two of the Fantastic Four wrestling.

And, since the kitten would be home alone all day and even overnight later I told them that two kittens would be a better idea since the kittens would keep each other company during the day, beating each other up instead of getting into trouble while alone.

“Kittens are often misinterpreted as being ‘bad’ and sent back to the shelter because people don’t understand that during those weeks of development from toddler to teenager in human terms, they have to play hard to build muscles and coordination, to explore to develop their senses,” I said, or some variation on that. Kittens develop very quickly, and by sixteen weeks can be completely independent and even sexually mature—all this learning has to happen before that, even if they’ll never use it to kill live prey, defend themselves or mate or give birth.

A good bit of discipline, then, depends on understanding what the kittens are doing, and if necessary redirecting the energy into something more appropriate. I could imagine two little kittens ripping through the house they were describing.

“Little, little kittens can climb into places where you might not even fit your hand,” I said, “and even bigger kittens can get themselves into a mess, so check for everything they can get in to, because they will. And don’t be afraid to confine them to one room for portions of the day for their own safety, while you are away or while you are eating or cooking,” I continued.

Mewsette on Scratcher

Sunshine on Scratcher

Thinking of the teenager who I knew was listening and might be one of the few to actually go on and graduate as a veterinarian, I explained that all cats scratch things because they leave their scent from scent glands in their paws, they groom their claws, removing old layers of cuticle, and they stretch full-length and exercise their muscles. Just figure they’re going to scratch things, give them things to scratch that they like, put them where they’ll use them and usually they’ll just gravitate to what you’ve provided because it’s so convenient and not bother with anything else.

“I’ve used a lot of the cardboard scratchers that just sit around on the floor because the cats and kittens can step right up onto them and they immediately start to scratch when they feel that rough texture beneath their paws,” I said, adding that having at least one in every room is probably what saved my furniture along with a regular carpeted scratching post and a cat tree I’d gathered over the years. “They like rough surfaces—think tree bark,” I added.

black kitten with catnip toy

Giuseppe meets catnip.

“Remember that they think you are big cats, too, and they are going to try to play with you as if you really are just another cat,” I continued. “Don’t fall for it. Touching them is for affection, not wrestling. Never play with them directly with your hand or they’ll think your hand is one of their toys. If they want to wrestle, grab a plush toy and let them tackle that. Teach the little boys (her two young sons) to drag the sturdy string toys around for the kittens to chase, it’ll be a lot more fun for the boys anyway.”

Make sure the litter box is convenient, on the same floor and only one or two rooms away at any given time. Once kittens are litter trained it’s usually permanent, but if they have to go and can’t find the box quickly, they’ll find the next best thing, usually a spot that’s inconvenient to you.

Make sure food and water are always available, too. Kittens need a high-protein diet because of their rate of growth, and unless they are somehow ill they will eat and drink as much as they need to as long as it’s available. But keep the litterbox and the food bowl in separate rooms, if possible, or at least far enough away that the two won’t mix.

I know I offered many more little points in the guise of anecdotes and stories from my own and others’ experience, but finally it seemed as if they had all the information they could hold for one session. I asked the daughter if she had any ideas for names. She said she had lots of ideas but didn’t divulge any, meaning she probably thought I wouldn’t know who or what she was talking about, which was highly likely.

Fromage in Motion

Fromage in Motion

She and her friend got up and went to the dining car, and I had the opportunity to say to her mom what I had just been thinking, remembering about my own first kitten: “Just think of all the years of her life this cat will see, through her teenage years and high school, she might go off to college and leave the cat with you, but the cat will be there for her when she comes home to visit, or she may take it with her when she gets her own place. She could be into her 30s before she loses it. All those important years of her life shared with this one cat you are about to bring home….”

“Wow,” said her mother, “that’s right, cats live a long time and she could be married with her own children by that time.”

Her daughter returned and she pointed this out to her, to little response, but again the glance and the nod. She had to be cool in front of her friend.

Mom had to take a call from her office, even though it was Sunday and we were on the train, and there the conversation ended until they left the train halfway to my destination, when we said goodbye and good luck.

a photo of Bootsie, the gray and white cat I had growing up

My first cat, Bootsie photo © B.E. Kazmarski

I was left thinking about all the years I’d spent with cats, from Bootsie, my first cat, to those who are with me now, I’ve measured eras in cat lives. I enjoyed the thought of a responsible adult and a caring young woman adopting a shelter kitten, and hoped it brought many happy endings for the people and for those cats, and for other animals each of those children would encounter or adopt later in life, and even for other people, as we know that children learn important interpersonal lessons from animals.

And what a joy for the opportunity to share the knowledge I’d both observed and intentionally learned over the years, gleaned from both the happy and the sad events and memories. Isn’t that what I do every day through my writing and art so I can do my part to make life better for cats and all animals and the people who love them, and give people images and a voice to describe how they feel about their animal companions?

But for now, I’ll still think of the household with one or two new kittens, whichever they decided, and picture the girl with her tabby and the little boys running around with strings for the kittens to chase. It’s a very happy thought.

I’ll soon be telling the story of the orange kitten at the top of this article—another magical rescue story. All the other photos are of Lucy, Fromage and the Fantastic Four and other kittens you may have seen in my articles, but I hadn’t realized such a trend in black kittens in my house in the past several years. I’ll have to dig out those prints on film from earlier litters!

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All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.


An Animal’s Love is the Gift

Fromage with her ball and formula splashed across her nose.

Fromage with her ball and formula splashed across her nose.

Christmas Eve is here! Time for the biggest gifts and the best surprises, eating and drinking merrily, countless visits to friends and family, and generally overdoing it.

This year, you’ve decided it’s time your child had a pet. Or perhaps you and your friend, spouse, partner or other family member have been discussing adopting a cat or a dog. The holiday morning seems like the most exciting time to present the new kitten, the best gift of all, a memory to last a lifetime.

But what about the kitty?

black kitten with toy

Giuseppe Meets Catnip

Considering that entire books have been written on the complexities of introducing a new kitten or cat into a household, you’d think most people would avoid, or be discouraged from, introducing a pet to the household at an overcrowded, overstressed time like a holiday. But determined gift-givers are not easily discouraged.

An animal is not a gift
An animal is not a gift. The kitten or cat or any other animal is a living being with physical and emotional needs as complex as yours. Her life does not begin when she enters your household but, like you, she is involved in her own cycle of existence, including past experiences and present needs which are as much a part of her as those stripes on her forehead that caused you to choose her over all the other cats at the shelter. The real gift is the lifetime of memories and love that grow through the years.

The holidays can be dangerous

black kitten in kleenex box

Tiny Mewsette in tissue box

We get so caught up in our excitement and honest goodwill that we forget about what can go wrong. The holidays actually hold potential dangers for our animal companions (see “Pet Proofing for the Holidays” and “Holiday Pet Safety“). For instance, mistletoe and holly are both toxic to cats but we may decide to go all natural with a centerpiece that contains both items, or swag garlands of them enticingly around the windows. Even tinsel and ribbon can cause serious harm to a cat who decides to eat it, getting tangled in the twists and turns of the digestive tract and sometimes requiring emergency surgery.

If the recipient household isn’t accustomed to the presence of an animal companion, then those dangers are multiplied. You may not adequately prepare your household for a curious or frightened feline, and an accident within the house or an escape is entirely possible. Even if the household already has a feline or two, all cats are not the same and the new kitty may have habits the resident kitties have never had. The last thing you want your gift to turn into is the tragedy of an injured or lost pet.

Veterinary care at the holiday

young black kitten

Young Mr. Sunshine

Whether the household is accustomed to cats or this is the first entry, finding emergency care during the holiday season is difficult. Most shelter kittens and cats today are healthy and have received all the veterinary care they need up to the time of their adoptions; indeed, many shelters won’t even let animals go until they are spayed and neutered, have all the recommended basic care and are healthy and socialized.

But a new kitty is more likely to develop an illness under the stress of changing living accommodations. It may be due to an underlying condition not evident at the shelter or it may be acquired after joining the household. An injury may occur if the cat is frightened by the changes, or the cat may totally embrace its new accommodations and end up climbing the tree, walking across the stove, eating holiday decorations, leaving you to find an emergency clinic open on Christmas Day.

What about the recipient?

black kitten in bed

Giuseppe in bed.

As fun as surprises are, it’s the recipient who will be living with the kitty from this day forward. Even if the giver is in the same household and has furtively questioned the recipient to discover details of the recipient’s preferences, here are at least three quick reasons why the recipient should choose the kitty.

First, all cats are not the same, and forming a bond with an animal is just as complex as it is with another human. Of the billions of other humans on earth, or the hundreds we come to know in our lives, we only become real friends with a handful. What makes us think we can bond with any animal who comes along, or that a future pet owner shouldn’t have the chance to look for that little spark of love themselves?

Second, the recipient may have some preference as to where the kitty comes from. Every city and region has a list of shelters and rescue organizations which are generally bursting with cats who need good homes, and as difficult as it may be, you can narrow down the list somewhat using your own homemade criteria—the shelter that has the most cats at the moment, for instance, or one that has a clinic for which you can buy a membership for low-cost care in the future.

Fromage makes it down the steps

Fromage makes it down the steps

Third, you need to be absolutely certain the recipient really wants an animal companion. Yes, you’re sure that if you just get the cat into the house it will all work out, but it’s wrong for both the animal and the human to try to force the bond when neither of them actually wants it. Many people talk on end about adopting, play with other peoples’ animal companions and even visit or volunteer at shelters, but only they can decide when and even if they are ready for the commitment.

One other issue to consider is the impact on shelters after the holidays from impulse adoptions of pets. After the surge of summer kittens and stray animals is over, animal shelters are again besieged after the holidays with pets adopted then returned, or purchased elsewhere and surrendered because it just didn’t work out. Pets can’t be returned or discarded. You’ll find plenty on this topic on the internet—just two possibilities are a CatChannel.com feature entitled “Carefully Consider Kittens as Gifts” by Pam Johnson-Bennett, CABC, IAABC-Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, and Amy Shojai CABC has an in-depth article on cats.about.com entitled “Pets as Gifts: How to Give Cats as Gifts”.

I can speak to a number of these warnings. Indeed, I received my first kitten in a box under the Christmas tree the year I was nine and I will never forget that morning, but the kitten had an illness, my parents were inexperienced, emergency care was hard to find and I lost him the day after Christmas. The experience obviously didn’t dim my love for cats, and I wrote about this and how cats became an important part of my life in “The Unintended Gift”.

So let’s go shopping—for pet stuff!

Giuseppe is patient with this.

Giuseppe is patient with this.

All is not lost!  “Most people are so busy during the holidays—parties, shopping, guests, travel—that we often recommend people think about purchasing a gift certificate from their shelter so they can bring the animal into the household at a less busy, less stressful time and allow that animal to relax into its new environment and bond with its new family,” says Gretchen Fieser, Director of PR and Business Relationships at the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society. You can see if your local shelter or rescue organization has a gift certificate policy where you can prepay for an adoption or alternatively, make a donation in the name of that person. If not, make up your own certificate and put the money aside. Give the certificate at the holiday.

Best wishes on your new arrival!
When the big day comes, we wish you a future full of love and good memories with your new kitty. Take your time and get to know her—you’ll be glad you did!

I’ve used photos of black kittens—the Fantastic Four as babies and my little neo-natal foster Fromage—since black cats and kittens apparently difficult to adopt, though I can’t figure out why!

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All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.


Adopted!

Orange kitten with new family

Orange kitten with new family

Well, the little guy went home with the first person who had mentioned adopting him, and I know they’ll give him a wonderful home.

Many years ago, when the teenager on the left was just a toddler, I did first a portrait of the family’s Dalmatian, Emmy, then later a family portrait with all the animals, including the little white rat.

When someone asks you about adopting a foster kitty even before you offer him, it’s a serious thing. It’s been less than a week since I found him, but I’ve not had one call or comment from anyone, including the neighbors. If someone calls, the new person and I can decide what do do. In the meantime, she promises she’ll post progress photos.

I wish all adoptions were this easy! There have been many times I’ve had foster kittens and cats and no matter how persuasive I tried to be it all came to naught.

I will miss the little carrot top. He was so pretty and kittens are so fun! But the Big Four can have their drinks at the sink again, and the girls can have their room service and rest in the afternoon. And I can have my shower without a playful kitten joining me. I’m sure we’ve all had a taste of tiny kitten claws in bare wet skin!

I am always asked if it’s hard to give them up or if I miss them when they’re gone, and I tell people that when they are leaving for a good home it’s like giving two gifts: one to the people who already love him and who will continue to love and care for him and share their lives with him for as long as he lives, and one to the cat or kitten who now has a loving home for the rest of his life.

Think of the relationships you’ve had with your pets, how they began and how they grew and how they enriched your life and will stay with you always. I think of this every time I hand over a rescued kitty to a new family, that this eternal bond is just beginning and will grow into something rich and deep—and I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of it, to help build love and trust in the world. I’ve loved every cat who’s come through here, but it would be selfish to try to keep them all—I’d rather share the love.

Here, I can tell he’s happy with his new girlfriend, and it was love at first sight for her. It’s too bad this photo is a little blurry, but I can still tell he’s saying, “Thanks!”

If there was ever a doubt in my mind that finding a good home for a kitten was the right thing to do, a photo like this eliminates those doubts.

orange kitten with teenage girl

Thanks!

Follow his progress through my household:

Little Orange Kitten

Adopted!

An Update on the Little Orange Guy

So it’s “Captain Jack Sparrow”

A Christmas Message from Jack’s Family

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All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used in any way without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.


An Animal’s Love is the Gift

Fromage with her ball and formula splashed across her nose.

The holiday season is here! Time for the biggest gifts and the best surprises, eating and drinking merrily, countless visits to friends and family, and generally overdoing it.

This year, you’ve decided it’s time your child had a pet. Or perhaps you and your friend, spouse, partner or other family member have been discussing adopting a cat or a dog. The holiday morning seems like the most exciting time to present the new kitten, the best gift of all, a memory to last a lifetime.

But what about the kitty?

black kitten with toy

Giuseppe Meets Catnip

Considering that entire books have been written on the complexities of introducing a new kitten or cat into a household, you’d think most people would avoid, or be discouraged from, introducing a pet to the household at an overcrowded, overstressed time like a holiday. But determined gift-givers are not easily discouraged.

An animal is not a gift
An animal is not a gift. The kitten or cat or any other animal is a living being with physical and emotional needs as complex as yours. Her life does not begin when she enters your household but, like you, she is involved in her own cycle of existence, including past experiences and present needs which are as much a part of her as those stripes on her forehead that caused you to choose her over all the other cats at the shelter. The real gift is the lifetime of memories and love that grow through the years.

The holidays can be dangerous

black kitten in kleenex box

Tiny Mewsette in tissue box

We get so caught up in our excitement and honest goodwill that we forget about what can go wrong. The holidays actually hold potential dangers for our animal companions (see “Pet Proofing for the Holidays”). For instance, mistletoe and holly are both somewhat toxic to cats but we may decide to go all natural with a centerpiece that contains both items, or swag garlands of them enticingly around the windows. Even tinsel and ribbon can cause serious harm to a cat who decides to eat it, getting tangled in the twists and turns of the digestive tract and sometimes requiring emergency surgery.

If the recipient household isn’t accustomed to the presence of an animal companion, then those dangers are multiplied. You may not adequately prepare your household for a curious or frightened feline, and an accident within the house or an escape is entirely possible. Even if the household already has a feline or two, all cats are not the same and the new kitty may have habits the resident kitties have never had. The last thing you want your gift to turn into is the tragedy of an injured or lost pet.

Veterinary care at the holiday

young black kitten

Young Sunshine

Whether the household is accustomed to cats or this is the first entry, finding emergency care during the holiday season is difficult. Most shelter kittens and cats today are healthy and have received all the veterinary care they need up to the time of their adoptions; indeed, many shelters won’t even let animals go until they are spayed and neutered, have all the recommended basic care and are healthy and socialized.

But a new kitty is more likely to develop an illness under the stress of changing living accommodations. It may be due to an underlying condition not evident at the shelter or it may be acquired after joining the household. An injury may occur if the cat is frightened by the changes, or the cat may totally embrace its new accommodations and end up climbing the tree, walking across the stove, eating holiday decorations, leaving you to find an emergency clinic open on Christmas Day.

What about the recipient?

black kitten in bed

Giuseppe in bed.

As fun as surprises are, it’s the recipient who will be living with the kitty from this day forward. Even if the giver is in the same household and has furtively questioned the recipient to discover details of the recipient’s preferences, here are at least three quick reasons why the recipient should choose the kitty.

First, all cats are not the same, and forming a bond with an animal is just as complex as it is with another human. Of the billions of other humans on earth, or the hundreds we come to know in our lives, we only become real friends with a handful. What makes us think we can bond with any animal who comes along, or that a future pet owner shouldn’t have the chance to look for that little spark of love themselves?

Second, the recipient may have some preference as to where the kitty comes from. Every city and region has a list of shelters and rescue organizations which are generally bursting with cats who need good homes, and as difficult as it may be, you can narrow down the list somewhat using your own homemade criteria—the shelter that has the most cats at the moment, for instance, or one that has a clinic for which you can buy a membership for low-cost care in the future.

Fromage makes it down the steps

Fromage makes it down the steps

Third, you need to be absolutely certain the recipient really wants an animal companion. Yes, you’re sure that if you just get the cat into the house it will all work out, but it’s wrong for both the animal and the human to try to force the bond when neither of them actually wants it. Many people talk on end about adopting, play with other peoples’ animal companions and even visit or volunteer at shelters, but only they can decide when and even if they are ready for the commitment.

One other issue to consider is the impact on shelters after the holidays from impulse adoptions of pets. After the surge of summer kittens and stray animals is over, animal shelters are again besieged after the holidays with pets adopted then returned, or purchased elsewhere and surrendered because it just didn’t work out. Pets can’t be returned or discarded. You’ll find plenty on this topic on the internet—just two possibilities are a CatChannel.com feature entitled “Carefully Consider Kittens as Gifts” by Pam Johnson-Bennett, CABC, IAABC-Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, and Amy Shojai CABC has an in-depth article on cats.about.com entitled “Pets as Gifts: How to Give Cats as Gifts”.

I can speak to a number of these warnings. Indeed, I received my first kitten in a box under the Christmas tree the year I was nine and I will never forget that morning, but the kitten had an illness, my parents were inexperienced, emergency care was hard to find and I lost him the day after Christmas. The experience obviously didn’t dim my love for cats, and I wrote about this and how cats became an important part of my life in “The Unintended Gift”.

So let’s go shopping—for pet stuff!

Giuseppe is patient with this.

Giuseppe is patient with this.

All is not lost!  “Most people are so busy during the holidays—parties, shopping, guests, travel—that we often recommend people think about purchasing a gift certificate from their shelter so they can bring the animal into the household at a less busy, less stressful time and allow that animal to relax into its new environment and bond with its new family,” says Gretchen Fieser, Director of PR and Business Relationships at the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society. You can see if your local shelter or rescue organization has a gift certificate policy where you can prepay for an adoption or alternatively, make a donation in the name of that person. If not, make up your own certificate and put the money aside. Give the certificate at the holiday.

Best wishes on your new arrival!
When the big day comes, we wish you a future full of love and good memories with your new kitty. Take your time and get to know her—you’ll be glad you did!

READ MORE:

Carefully Consider Kittens as Gifts

http://www.catchannel.com/experts/pam_johnson_bennet/article00004.aspx

Pets as Gifts: How to Give Cats as Gifts

http://cats.about.com/od/amyshojai/a/How-to-Give-Cats-as-Gifts.htm

I’ve used photos of black kittens—the Fantastic Four as babies and my little neo-natal foster Fromage—since black cats and kittens apparently difficult to adopt, though I can’t figure out why!


Her first kitten…

A 13-year-old girl who loves animals and wants to be a veterinarian is going to adopt her first companion animal, a kitten—or kittens, if she has her way. How many of us got our start with companion animals just like that, pre-teens or young teenagers who loved animals and wanted to be veterinarians, and our parents appeased us by adopting a shelter animal?

And are you one of the many who was given a kitten or a puppy as a gift in childhood? If you’re anything like me, that animal made all animals a permanent part of your life.

Allia Zobel Nolan and Amy D. Shojai

Allia Zobel Nolan and Amy D. Shojai sign books at the conference/cat show author's panel

I recently attended the Cat Writer’s Association annual conference, this year held in White Plains, NY. I’ll have a good bit to say about that later, but the real fun was riding the train from Pittsburgh to New York City, then navigating the subway to the Metro to White Plains.

I rarely travel, and one of the things I look forward to is meeting new people and seeing new things all the way, on this trip from the time I left the house in the pre-dawn darkness to catch the train until the time I arrived back home late at night four days later to greet my startled cats who were apparently looking for me the entire time.

Penn Station, New York City

Penn Station, New York City

On my way back, as the train was leaving Penn Station in New York City, I overheard a conversation between one of two young girls seated behind me and an older woman across the aisle from them. It was just part of the buzz around me as we all settled in until I heard the word “kitten”, and after nearly four days immersed in conference activities with 140 or more other attendees and speakers all on the topic of cats, yes, my ears pricked up and swiveled around as much as a human’s can do.

In a minute or two I confirmed that a kitten adoption was planned over the coming week. Much as I like to meet new people and converse among the seats, I also prefer to give people their privacy when they are in a conversation amongst themselves, but I couldn’t resist.

I slid toward the end of the seat next to me, leaned back a little and caught the eye of the woman who was apparently the mother who had planned this. She smiled at me so I felt it safe to enter the conversation.

Lucy With Rug 1

Lucy with Rug 1

“Is someone adopting a kitten?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Mom, “my daughter loves animals and wants to be a veterinarian, and I’m moving to a place where we can have a cat for her. She’s never had a pet, and she’s so excited!”

13-year-old girls are way too cool to show excitement. When I looked around my seat to the one behind me, she glanced up from her computer game, just moved her eyelids and nothing else, and nodded. I smiled.

Lucy With Rug 2

Lucy With Rug 2

“I probably wouldn’t interrupt your conversation, but…” I briefly described the conference and my reason for eavesdropping on their conversation, making myself out to be a professional on the subject of cats instead of just the crazy cat lady who was crocheting a hat in the seat ahead of them, which was also true.

Mom was glad to have someone to ask questions. I was glad to share the enthusiasm I was carrying home from the conference and the information I’d learned over the past 40 years of living with cats. Teenage daughter played her computer game but listened, I could tell.

I asked for the details of how they were adopting and when, how old the kitten was, if they had things ready and what their daily schedule was like to see what information I could offer them, and answering Mom’s questions.

Lucy With Rug 3

Lucy With Rug 3

As it turned out, the kitten was one of a litter taken in to a shelter in Harrisburg. They had visited the shelter weeks ago and met this kitten and others and decided on this one and possibly a sibling, but had to wait until they had most of their vaccinations and been spayed or neutered. The kitten would be eight to ten weeks at going home, just at the beginning of that growth spurt and ready to raise ruckus as young kittens are programmed to do.

I told them that kittens at that age had a lot of energy and no common sense, and so they had to plan for the kitten to be very playful, but also likely to get into trouble without intending by climbing into or onto places that might be dangerous, scratching things it shouldn’t, and even playing rough with the humans.

kittens wrestling on the floor

Wrestling Match

And, since the kitten would be home alone all day and even overnight later I told them that two kittens would be a better idea since the kittens would keep each other company during the day, beating each other up instead of getting into trouble while alone.

Mewsette and Jelly Bean are "In"

Mewsette and Jelly Bean are "In"

“Kittens are often misinterpreted as being ‘bad’ and sent back to the shelter because people don’t understand that during those brief weeks of development from toddler to teenager in human terms, they have to play hard to build muscles and coordination, to explore to develop their senses,” I said, or some variation on that. Kittens develop very quickly, and by sixteen weeks can be completely independent and even sexually mature—all this learning has to happen before that, even if they’ll never use it to kill live prey, defend themselves or mate or give birth.

A good bit of discipline, then, depends on understanding what the kittens are doing, and if necessary redirecting the energy into something more appropriate. I could imagine two little kittens ripping through the house they were describing.

“Little, little kittens can climb into places where you might not even fit your hand,” I said, “so check for everything they can get in to, because they will. And don’t be afraid to confine them to one room for portions of the day, while you are away or while you are eating or cooking,” I continued.

Thinking of the teenager who I knew was listening and might be one of the few to actually go on and graduate as a veterinarian, I explained that all cats scratch things because they leave their scent from scent glands in their paws, they groom their claws, removing old layers of cuticle, and they stretch full-length and exercise their muscles. Just figure they’re going to scratch things, give them things to scratch that they like, put them where they’ll use them and usually they’ll just gravitate to what you’ve provided because it’s so convenient and not bother with anything else.

Mewsette on Scratcher

Mewsette on Scratcher

“I’ve used a lot of the cardboard scratchers that just sit around on the floor because the cats and kittens can step right up onto them and they immediately start to scratch,” I said, adding that having at least one in every room is probably what saved my furniture along with a regular carpeted scratching post and a cat tree I’d gathered over the years. “They like rough surfaces—think tree bark,” I added.

“Remember that they think you are big cats, too, and they are going to try to play with you as if you really are just another cat,” I continued. “Don’t fall for it. Touching them is for affection, not wrestling. Never play with them directly with your hand or they’ll think your hand is one of their toys. If they want to wrestle, grab a plush toy and let them tackle that. Teach the little boys (her two young sons) to drag the sturdy string toys around for the kittens to chase, it’ll be a lot more fun for the boys anyway.”

Make sure the litterbox is convenient, on the same floor and only one or two rooms away at any given time. Once kittens are littertrained it’s usually permanent, but if they have to go and can’t find the box quickly, they’ll find the next best thing, usually a spot that’s inconvenient to you.

Make sure food and water are always available, too. Kittens need a high-protein diet because of their rate of growth, and unless they are somehow ill they will eat and drink as much as they need to as long as it’s available. But keep the litterbox and the food bowl in separate rooms, if possible, or at least far enough away that the two won’t mix.

I know I offered many more little points in the guise of anecdotes and stories from my own and others’ experience, but finally it seemed as if they had all the information they could hold for one session. I asked the daughter if she had any ideas for names. She said she had lots of ideas but didn’t divulge any, meaning she probably thought I wouldn’t know who or what she was talking about, which was highly likely.

Giuseppe in the sink

This fits me just fine.

She and her friend got up and went to the dining car, and I had the opportunity to say to her mom what I had just been thinking: “Just think of all the years of her life these cats will see, through her teenage years and high school, she might go off to school and leave the cat with you, but the cat will be there for her when she comes home to visit, or she may take them with her when she gets her own place, and she could be into her 30s before she loses them.”

“Wow,” said her mother, “that’s right, cats live a long time and she could be married with her own children by that time.”

Her daughter returned and she pointed this out to her, to little response, but again the glance and the nod. She had to be cool in front of her friend.

Mom had to take a call from her office, even though it was Sunday, and there the conversation ended until they left the train at Harrisburg, halfway to my destination, when we said goodbye and good luck.

I was left thinking about all the years I’d spent with cats, from Bootsie, my first cat, to those who are with me now, I’ve measured eras in cat lives. I enjoyed the thought of a responsible adult and a caring young woman adopting two shelter kittens, and hoped it brought many happy endings for the people and for those cats, and for other animals each of those children would encounter or adopt later in life, and even for other people as we know that children learn important interpersonal lessons from animals.

kittens bathing each other

Mewsette bathes Giuseppe.

And what a joy for the opportunity to share the knowledge I’d both observed and intentionally learned over the years, both the happy and the sad events and memories, and hopefully we would all benefit from that. Wasn’t that why I’d just spent four days immersed in cats, so that through my writing and art I could help to make life better for cats and the people who love them, and all animals in general?

It was the perfect end to the conference for me as I planned out at least two books and several articles I’d presented to the editors and publishers I’d met, and the artwork I’d do in the near future.

And as I build the content for this blog, I’ll think of them as members of my audience.

Speaking of this blog, I’m glad I got over trying to move to another host, at least for now. I missed writing and people have been visiting the same articles for the past few weeks!

In addition to links to articles and local notices of events I’ll also be writing an update on Fromage, who is apparently a favorite of many who read this blog as well as her forever person. Fromage is in that eight-to-sixteen week growth spurt and is busy raising all kinds of stuff in her new home, all in the service of growing up, and I can’t wait to see her again.

I’ll also be sharing a memory of that first cat, Bootsie and the circumstances around her adoption.

But for now, I’ll still think of the household with one or two new kittens, whichever they decided, and picture the girl with her tabby and the little boys running around with strings for the kittens to chase. It’s a very happy thought.

(I’ve included photos Lucy and The Fantastic Four as kittens.)