Sometimes, even though you’ve done your best to rescue kittens from a bad situation you don’t succeed, and you never forget the ones you couldn’t catch, but in this case I did manage to catch two out of five and have my left hand deeply punctured at the knuckle by a kitten who had no intention of being stuffed into a carrier. Every time I look at the scar on my hand I remember him, and all those kittens and that night.
The favorite dumping spot
One late evening in summer in 1995 I was driving home on a stretch of two-lane back road adjacent to a residential neighborhood near me. Suddenly in the shadows I saw what appeared to be leaves blowing around on the road and I slowed in automatic response.
The leaves slowed and regrouped and turned into a group of various-sized kittens before running to one side of the road and up a slight hill among the underbrush, one or two peeking back out at me.
Oh, no, how am I going to catch them all? I thought.
At least there wasn’t much traffic right then, though this road had recently been groomed as an access to a highway on-ramp and did get busy during rush hour, long past for the day, and hours in the future the next morning. I was on a downhill slope with nowhere to pull over, so I simply pulled to one side and shut off my car.
I saw a box on the side of the road a little ahead, and knew immediately that someone had dumped kittens here. As I walked to the box I saw a bag of dry kitten food next to it—a Good Samaritan trying to do what they could, or the person who had dumped them thinking they were giving them a nutritious head start? Looking into the box I saw one orange kitten, older, maybe ten or 12 weeks, but it was not moving. Stories began to form but there was no need to piece this together when there were kittens to be caught.
Looking back at the kittens who were running across the road again I saw two distinct sizes, two very stripey orange ones the size of the one in the box and some tiny fuzzballs maybe six weeks old, orange, black, white, perhaps three of them. All were very apparently terrified and had no idea what they were doing. Had one been hit and someone stopped to put it in the box? Or had it died in the hands of the people who had dumped them all? It didn’t look as if it had been hit by a car. Was it possibly ill with a fatal disease of some sort and they’d been dumped in lieu of medical care?
As I watched I could see it was apparently two different litters, too close in age to have come from the same mother, of whom there was no trace. Was someone just doing some housecleaning and decided to get rid of the extra kittens in the garage? Had someone offered a neighbor, “Hey, I’m going to dump off these kittens, how about if I take care of yours too?”
Stop it now, don’t get angry, it will only waste time and energy. If I couldn’t catch them, how could I at least get these kittens away from the road which had only a paved curb giving immediately to steep brush-covered hills on either side? And how could I trap them in those circumstances? I wondered why some idiot had chosen this spot and learned later that until recently it had been an unpaved back road with little traffic and kittens had been dumped there pretty regularly. They could at least have chosen a new dirt road.
Trying to make friends
I attempted to ingratiate myself, which I knew would be nearly impossible under the circumstances. Their fear would remain a barrier until I could simply be near them for a while and accustom them to my scent and sound and presence. I had, and have, chased many kittens, a totally useless endeavor because they are running for their lives, but sometimes it’s all you’ve got with no opportunity to sit quietly in the woods until they find they trust you. The fear barrier often grows with groups of cats and kittens who are traumatized as they tend to sense fear in each other, magnifying it, though catching the trust of one cat, however minimal, could start to break it down.
Hoping no cars came by, I walked toward them until they had scampered into the brush on the side of the road, sat down on the curb and began talking softly to them. If they’ve had experiences with humans which have been in any way positive, keeping still and talking softly will sometimes remind them that humans can be good and they may start to relax, sit still, even do cat things like bathe. If they’ve had little or no experience with humans, or if their experiences were traumatic, they will have no parts of you and will either move away or will act hostile and threatening.
In this group, the younger kittens had hissed and acted hostile, sadly funny in such tiny fuzzballs, but the two older kittens had simply looked startled but were not running away or acting defensive or hostile. They gathered in a group well out of my reach and in safe cover under the brush, but they were settling and the tiny kittens had stopped their hostility. Of the two larger kittens one was solid orange with very clear stripes, and the other looked quite orange until he turned to face me directly and was mostly white. The smaller kittens were a tiny solid orange stripe, a tiny tuxedo and a tiny tortoiseshell, still fuzzy, still somewhat blue-eyed, and perhaps not even six weeks old.
In time I may have won them over somewhat, but it was evening and night would soon fall. I knew from experience that I likely had one chance at catching them tonight; if I caught only one I would never catch another. It was probably their first night away from their mother and in totally unfamiliar circumstances, and after a night in the woods they would likely be too wild to even find. Unfortunately they would probably keep coming out to the road because it was clear and the brush was so dense and the hill so steep. I decided to run home and get a few more carriers and enlist my neighbor and her children, having them help me corral them.
The children, especially, were a great help because they could sneak way up the hill above the kittens and slowly sort of herd them toward we two adults waiting with blankets and carriers; I told the kids not to yell or run and scare them. But the kittens would reach the curb where we might have been able to reach for them without having our eyes poked out or we might have been able to toss the blanket over them, then turn left or right and head back up the hill. There was no way to build a corral around them with the brush the way it was, and nowhere to set a trap that it wouldn’t have slid down the hill.
Not much luck
In the end, before nightfall we only caught two orange boys, one older and one younger. They had tried to run across the street as a group and I reached with both hands for tails or legs or torsos or even loose skin, managing to get a hind leg on one of the older boys with my left hand and the tiny orange kitten by the torso, scooping him up in my right. I dropped the little guy into the upended carrier I had waiting, and let the door fall into place but didn’t lock it. I would have to act fast, but he was probably small enough that he couldn’t jump the height of the carrier and knock the door open, though I’ve seen more amazing and desperate things than that.
I scruffed the older boy with my right hand and was trying to ease open the door drop him into the upended carrier but he shrieked and flung his legs out and knocked the door shut again. I flung it back open, got him most of the way in by the scruff and was letting go, blocking the opening with my left hand when he tried to leap straight back out. I put my left hand over the opening and that’s when he dug is teeth into the knuckle at the base of my first finger, and while I could feel his bottom teeth puncture the soft skin on my palm it was his teeth sliding between the bones of my knuckle and nearly getting lodged in there that made me gasp and scream and nearly pass out, causing him to really flail around and the tiny kitten too. I actually had to grasp his head and get the fingers of my right hand into his mouth pry his teeth loose from my knuckle, pull him away, drop him into the carrier and slam the door.
When you are focused on something so intently as catching cats, you tend to stay focused even in the face of extreme pain. I’m sure other rescuers who’ve fallen out of trees and rolled down hillsides and nearly been hit by cars will tell you that the rescue was topmost in their minds and only later did they realize the danger or the injury. I closed the latch on the door and then the pain in my left hand was as if it had exploded. But the two cats were locked in the carrier, and that was that.
“You really freaked out the rest of them,” my neighbor told me. We watched them scrambling around in the underbrush in the gathering darkness. I knew that the whole experience of chasing them, trying to corral them into fabric barriers and the kitten shrieking as he bit me had completely destroyed any trust the rest may have ever had in me. The other surviving older orange kitten was probably thinking I had killed his brother and put him in the plastic box and the two little ones were clearly following him. The two in the carrier were wailing and scratching to get out and we’d just have to take them home so they’d quit upsetting the others, and so they wouldn’t hurt themselves.
I decided to go home and they would stay for a while longer to see if they calmed down and if they could catch any others.
Arriving home, I settled the two in their carrier into the recently vacated spare cat room and first cleaned the puncture wound on my hand, completely bandaging it in preparation for litter duty. I had no dog cage at that time though the room didn’t hold as much stuff as it later did, so I placed a litterbox and food and water in there and let them go, preparing to go back to the roadside.
I had been hearing thunder, hearing it grow closer. My neighbor returned and she and the kids told me the kittens had seemed to settle down a little while the humans sat on the curb and talked to them, blocking their possible passage onto the road in the dark. But they decided to come home with the growing storm, bringing the dead kitten in the box to bury in their back yard.
And storm it did, lights out, ground-shaking thunder, blinding lightning, all I could think of was those kittens, especially the tiny tortie hissing at me, the tuxedo so frightened he fell as he ran, and the older orange one apparently trying to care for them. I knew it was unlikely the little ones would survive the exposure of such a drenching; the woods were fairly new and not dense enough to provide protection. Worse, they would feel the need to get out of the dripping woods to a clear space, and that would be the road.
The two in the room must have thought the world was ending. They stayed well hidden when I was in there to sit in the dark until the lights came back on with ice on my hand. I could hear them shuffling under the furniture like mice, and later saw flashes of white and orange and even glowing eyes.
I went to work the next day, stopped in that spot on the way home but found no trace of them, only a soggy bag of food on the curb. I parked the car a distance away and sat still on the curb near the spot but didn’t even hear anything in the woods but birds, nor did I see anything that looked like a cat. I ended up spending that evening in the emergency room getting IV antibiotics because I waited so long to get my injury treated. I wasn’t sure what to tell them when they asked if the cat was mine; luckily I said I’d rescued them and intended to adopt them—otherwise they’d have probably taken them! I returned and scouted all through the woods on both sides of the road and never saw a trace of the other kittens again, but I will never forget those round little faces that should have been full of curiosity and mock kitten aggression but were instead masks of fear as they disappeared into the darkness behind the orange boy.
It was a long road to trust with Sugar and Spice, as I called them at first. Both hid completely when I was in there, though they used the litterbox and ate and drank. I simply went in there to work on my art and portraits, standing at my big drafting table, and eventually they began investigating my feet, growing accustomed to my scent, the radio and stereo, my aimless singing and talking.
The tiny kitten was named Timmy by those who adopted him, though I called him Spice while he was here. He calmed down quickly and eventually learned to trust me and was quite playful with Sugar and on his own, but he was always reserved, quiet and polite, remained wary of people. He was adopted after only a few weeks to a quiet home.
Smudge, so named for the bit orange splotch on his muzzle, turned into quite the love bug with people he knew, though he could be shy. He had the advantage of integrating with my household and meeting all nine cats with me then and got along just fine.
Like all dumped cats and kittens, I wonder where they came from, and at the heartlessness of people who could actually drop them off in the dirt and drive away.
But enough time spent on that, wondering what their motives are doesn’t necessarily make change or help cats and just makes me angry. Out of the five, I’m glad I at least had the chance to save these two and find homes where they could be loved and cherished.
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.
Not only is it Adopt-a-Cat Month but it’s also kitten season. The Western PA Humane Society is doing its best to keep cats moving and has a number of adoption deals on adult cats and kittens, but even better the Buncher Family Foundation is offering an incentive to everyone who adopts between now and June 23.
With summertime comes a baby boom, it is commonly called “kitten season,” and it means a population explosion that crowds the shelters around the United States and at the Western PA Humane Society. Continual overcrowding of cats and kittens at the Western PA Humane Society North Shore Shelter and Fallen Timber location in Elizabeth will result in significant discounts for adopters on cats and kittens at the shelters until the cage space issues are alleviated.
“We are close to capacity and cats and kittens are still coming in,” says Lee Nesler, the Executive Director of the Western Pa Humane Society. “Adopting all healthy adoptable felines is our goal we NEED to find foster and adoptive homes for these animals as quickly as possible to ensure that we have room for the new homeless pets coming in daily. Since May 1we have been averaging 29 felines (cats and kittens) surrendered to the WPA Humane Society EVERY day.”
Here’s the deal:
ALL CATS over the age of 6 months may be adopted for NO COST to qualified adopters.
Kittens are “adopt one, get one” at the reduced price of just $85.
All cats and kittens adopted from the Western PA Humane Society are:
- spayed or neutered
- vaccinated with age appropriate vaccines
- feline leukemia tested
Here’s where BOYZ II MEN comes in!
Representatives of a local foundation heard about the overcapacity at the Western PA Humane Society and gave the shelter a gift of BOYZ II MEN/PSO Community Partners Tickets to help encourage adoptions. Every person that adopts a kitten or a cat will be given two tickets to attend the Pittsburgh Symphony Concert June 23, 2011 at 7:30pm while supplies last, courtesy of the Buncher Family Foundation.
Interested in adopting?
Qualifed adopters :
- complete a cat adopter survey·
- adopting a cat (6 months or older)·
- lease must clearly state cats are permitted (pet deposit paid if applicable)·
- limit to two adoptions per household·
- must have photo id with proof of residence·
- fee waived adoptions limited to shelter locations only (petco/petsmart are excluded)
For anyone willing to adopt please talk with one of our adoption counselors about adding a beautiful new feline companion to the family.
Can’t adopt? Can you foster for a brief period of time?
If someone is willing to open their home temporarily as a foster home please contact the shelter at 412.321.4625×221 or on the website at www.wpahumane.org/foster.html
WPHS Serving Pittsburgh for 136 years
The Western PA Humane Society is one of the oldest Humane Society’s in the United States, serving Pittsburgh for 136 years. The Western PA Humane Society is an “open door” shelter, meaning that they take all animals into their facility without a waiting list or a required fee (although the shelter does ask for a donation when animals are being released to their care.) Last year the Western PA Humane Society took in almost 14,000 unwanted animals.
Shelters are located at 1101 Western Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15233, 412-321-4625, and 1680 Fallen Timber Road, Elizabeth, PA 15037, 412-751-2010.
Visit the WPHS website at wpahumane.org.
For more information on Open Door Shelters please visit www.opendoorshelters.org.
He belongs to the world now, always a spunky tuxedo kitten with bright green eyes, big ears and black toes on his white boots. He should have had the good life we all want our cats to have, grown to a big cat, loved and cherished, and not dumped on a back road by careless, heartless owners to meet his end.
But I will do my best to see that he is not forgotten, and that his brief life makes a positive difference in the lives of other cats.
The Favorite Dumping Spot
Fifteen years ago this month I was driving home on a stretch of two-lane back road adjacent to a residential neighborhood near me. Suddenly in the shadows I saw what appeared to be leaves blowing around on the road and I slowed in automatic response.
The leaves slowed and regrouped and turned into a group of various-sized kittens before running to one side of the road and up a slight hill among the underbrush, one or two peeking back out at me.
Oh, no, how am I going to catch them all? I thought.
At least there wasn’t much traffic right then, though this road had been groomed as an access to a highway on-ramp and did get busy during rush hour. I was on a downhill slope with nowhere to pull over, so I simply pulled to one side and shut off my car.
I saw a box on the side of the road a little ahead, and knew immediately that someone had dumped kittens here. As I walked to the box I saw a bag of dry kitten food next to it—a Good Samaritan, or the person who had dumped them thinking they were giving them a nutritious head start? Looking into the box I saw one orange kitten who was not moving.
Looking back at the kittens who were running across the road again I saw two distinct sizes, two very orange ones about ten weeks and some tiny fuzzballs maybe six weeks old. All were very apparently terrified and had no idea what they were doing. Had one been hit and someone stopped to put it in the box? Or had it simply not made the move to the great outdoors? If I couldn’t catch them, how could I at least get these kittens away from the road?
As I watched I could see it was apparently two different litters, too close in age to have come from the same mother, of whom there was no trace. Was someone just doing some housecleaning and decided to get rid of the extra kittens in the garage?
I attempted to ingratiate myself, which I knew would be nearly impossible under the circumstances. Their fear would remain a barrier until I could simply be near them for a while and accustom them to my scent and sound and presence. I had, and have, chased many kittens, a totally useless endeavor because they are running for their lives, but sometimes it’s all you’ve got with no opportunity to sit quietly in the woods until they find they trust you. Hoping no cars came by, I walked toward them until they had scampered into the brush on the side of the road without the steep slope and began talking to them softly.
In time I may have won them over somewhat, but it was early evening and night would soon fall. I knew from experience that if I caught one I would never catch another. It was probably their first night away from their mother and in totally unfamiliar circumstances, and after a night in the woods they would likely be too wild to even find. Unfortunately they would probably keep coming out to the road because it was clear and the brush was so dense. I decided to run home and get a few more carriers and enlist my neighbor and her children, having them help me corral them.
In the end, before nightfall we only caught two orange boys, one older and one younger. In the process of dropping him into the carrier the older boy, although I had him scruffed, bit my left-hand knuckle so hard that a tooth became wedged between some parts in my knuckle and I had to unscruff him to pull it loose before I dropped him in the box, but I wasn’t going to let him go for anything.
I knew that the whole experience of chasing them, trying to corral them into fabric barriers and the kitten shrieking as he bit me had completely destroyed any trust the rest may have ever had in me, and I didn’t have a cage trap at the time. The other surviving older orange kitten was probably thinking I had killed his brother and put him in the plastic box and the two little ones were clearly following him. I had to go with what I had accomplished.
Arriving home, I settled the two into the recently vacated spare cat room and cleaned the puncture wound on my hand before I went to bed, but ended up spending the next evening in the emergency room getting IV antibiotics because I waited so long to get it treated.
Smudge and Timmy eventually learned to trust me, and big boy Smudge turned into quite the love bug with people he knew, remaining so in his new home, but little Timmy, quiet and polite, remained wary of people.
I still remember the tiny tuxedo and tortoiseshell kittens, whose round faces should have been full of curiosity and mock kitten aggression but were instead frozen masks of fear, as they disappeared into the darkness behind the orange boy. I never saw another trace of them; there was a storm that night, and without cover tiny kittens would likely have easily succumbed to exposure or an upper respiratory infection. I have seen cats or kittens there again through the years, but never successfully caught any, even with traps.
Still in Use
So last Friday as I drove down the same road I slowed and gave the area a good look as I always do when entering an area where I’ve seen or trapped cats or kittens. I saw a small shape on the road ahead of me, and even though my natural defenses tried to convince me it was not what I thought, I know that no other animal in our area is as solid black as a cat, or is the size and shape of a kitten lying on its side. Once you live with cats long enough, especially studying them to create artwork as I do, you recognize a cat even if you see only the tip of its tail disappear into the woods.
I slowed to stop, and indeed saw white paws, no mistaking this. No cars were coming but I didn’t care, I just didn’t want the kitten on the road, so I hopped out with a paper bag and ran up to him hoping he might only be injured and could be saved, but even though he was not badly damaged he had clearly crossed over. As I gently slid him into the bag I saw the black toes on his sweet white mittens and boots, the white belly and chin, a classic tuxedo cat, just about eight weeks old. I laid him in his bag on my back seat and tried not to think of him those last few moments of fear and pain he most likely suffered.
It must have just happened within the hour, and even though I knew this was a classic kitten dumping spot, and I’d hate to deliver bad news to a family, I looked around to see the closest house, but not that house nor any others showed anyone home. I would come back later. For now I needed to get home and hug all my cats. Sometimes when I’ve seen a companion animal hit along the road I’ll simply move it to the side so that if the owner is out looking they’ll find it, sad as that may be, but I had the feeling no one was looking for this kitten, and the brush came right to the side of the road anyway, so he was coming home with me.
No lost pet networks reported a lost tuxedo kitten, and only the next morning did I find someone who was home. She felt as badly as I did to hear the news and told me she’d recently seen what looked like a mama kitty and her baby on that section of the road, and though she didn’t remember what they looked like she wondered where they’d come from. She had two indoor cats and one small dog plus two children so other cats rarely came near her yard, but she often saw cats around.
In the heat of June I had limited time to continue searching, and decided just to take the kitten home. I had considered having him cremated at Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation and had called Deb the day before just to talk over the situation with a sympathetic ear.
I decided instead to bury him in my back yard in a safe place that wouldn’t be disturbed. Perhaps this was my unconscious inclination to “bury” the situation, and in a way it was to help rid my memory of the images and thoughts and while I engaged in a respectful burial to work out the new idea forming in my head. I got my tools and Cookie and we went out to the end of the yard; Cookie does not commit manual labor but was happy to supervise from the picnic table and provide moral support.
While I had looked around for a door to knock on the previous evening, I had been visualizing what the kitten had looked like, sketching a portrait in my mind. Images are always building in my visual consciousness, and even in those circumstances visualizing a sketch isn’t unusual, in part it was to keep myself from visualizing him being hit by the car. But from that process developed the idea of using this portrait, this image given to me at that moment when I accepted his condition, and giving him a name as I would have if I’d rescued him, and using this identity to help other kittens and cats avoid the same fate in some way.
Mr. Mistoffelees, named for the clever character in T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, will always be a playful kitten, forever loved and cherished, ready to grab your ankle from behind the chair or tuck a toy into your pocket for you to find later in the day. And perhaps as the Original Conjuring Cat he can conjure homes for homeless kittens!
He represents all those homeless, unwanted kittens born to unspayed mother cats and who appear in the millions in shelters every summer during “kitten season”. Shelters are overburdened with homeless animals to begin with, then the influx of all these kittens forces them to drastic measures to handle only what they are permitted to manage.
All it takes is a spay or neuter, and if your cat does have kittens surrendering them to a shelter and spaying the mother instead of dumping them off somewhere to become someone else’s problem, and to likely die an untimely death. Mr. Mistoffelees reminds you to be responsible!
This is my first draft of the sketch, and no doubt I’ll be refining as time goes on. The sketch began in pencil, as are most of the simple sketches I have around my house of my current cats. But once I decided what Mr. Mistoffelees’ image might be used for I changed the style to make it simpler to reproduce. I used the simple line style in this version so that I can either cut a linoleum block print and fill the color areas with watercolor or I can create a three-color screen print.
Thanks for listening to the story. It will be a while before the sadness of it wears off for me, but I hope by giving Mr. Mistoffelees a new life I can see my way through to a somewhat happy ending.