#BTC4A: What do you do if your cat has kittens?

Me and foster“If your cat has kittens, what are you supposed to do?” This was a question asked by a local news anchor last week during a report on the Edmonton Humane Society (EHS). The animal welfare organization had issued a press release stating it would not be accepting any more owner-surrendered cats due to an extreme lack of space.

Given the time of year, this is not surprising. I believe EHS made a similar moratorium around this same time in 2013. They made it clear they would still take in stray and injured cats but could not care for any more brought in my owners until the pressure of high numbers lifted. These are cats who are surrendered to the shelter for reasons like moving, or, as in the quote above, kittens born to families who do not wish to keep them.

When I first heard the news broadcast I was so stunned by the anchor’s words that I had to rewind the footage to make sure I heard him right. My initial reaction was outrage at the display of what I deemed ignorance. I started yet one more tirade about people who see animal shelters as dumping grounds for their negligence, people who think hard-working organizations like EHS are obligated to take in their unwanted pets. You’ve all heard this before.

After stewing over this for a while I came to a different conclusion. If this informed and intelligent news anchor is unaware of the current feline situation, then it is clear there is a lot of work that needs to be done. Instead of ranting, it would be far better to approach the problem from a place of understanding. For many people, this question is quite legitimate, perhaps even for you, who may have stumbled across this piece during your own quest for answers. I will do my very best to help you out.

Question 1: What do you do if your cat has kittens?

Hopefully your vet is already aware of your cat’s pregnancy and has helped prepare you for the birth. If not, if you had missed the signs of enlarged nipples, change in eating habits, and nesting behaviours, and if the telling bulge was hidden under your cat’s dense fur, perhaps the sight of kittens was a surprise. If this is the case, I do recommend contacting your vet right away as he or she will be able to provide the best resources for your particular cat’s needs.

My needs are simple: a huge chair, a full bowl of food, and a dog to harass

My needs are simple: a huge chair, a full bowl of food, and a dog to harass

Assuming the pregnancy was a healthy one and the labour went smoothly for your cat, there really isn’t much you need to do for the first few weeks. Make sure the mother is well fed, has fresh water and a comfortable, dry, warm, and safe place to nurse and care for the newborns. If all goes as it should, she will do most of the work.

Do be careful around the newborns. As mentioned, it is best to let the mother do what she needs to do. This bonding time is crucial. As long as everything looks well, try not to intervene for the first little while. Of course, after the first week, it will be important to handle the kittens – gently – to help socialize them to humans during this vital period.

Question 2. How long do I have to wait to give the kittens away?

You really don’t want to rush the process. After fostering kittens who had been socialized with their siblings and one who was all on his own, I noticed a huge difference between the two. Kittens who have had the time to learn from each other and their mother make much more easygoing pets.

From what I have read, and I am not an expert, many kittens are healthy and strong enough to go to leave their mother between 8 to 12 weeks. Again, this is where the vet comes in. After 6 weeks, it is a good idea to have your vet examine them, even if they appear healthy. There are a lot of unfortunate viruses kittens can inherit or pick up. Before you send them out in the world, you’ll want to be sure they’ve been checked, de-wormed, and have had their first vaccinations. Your vet will also be able to gauge the growth of the kittens to make sure they are developing well.

Question 3. What if none of my friends will take them and all the shelters are full?

There are many rescue groups and vet clinics who might have some great suggestions for you. Unfortunately, millions of cats are born homeless or abandoned each year and too many are euthanized. The cat overpopulation crisis in our cities only seems to be getting worse. Animal welfare organizations do all they can but, especially in the spring and summer, sometimes there just aren’t enough resources to go around. However, by the fall and winter, the load on shelters and rescue groups is often much lighter. Many of them have waiting lists and if you are patient, space will eventually open up somewhere.

Rescues and shelters are also always in need of foster homes as the majority of them are run entirely by volunteers out of their own houses. Since the kittens are already living with you, you are the perfect natural foster. What a great way to make sure the kittens are cared for as they wait for their forever homes, while also helping out a local organization. You never know, you may really enjoy the experience and go on to foster other animals in the future. Partnering with a rescue in this way also ensures the right owner will be found for each one of your kittens. It is much better than posting them on a website like Kijiji and hoping for the best.

Question 4. But I can’t keep these kittens any longer. If the shelter doesn’t take them, I am going to have to leave them outside.

Orange kittenI understand the stress of having several unexpected little ones running around your house and causing mayhem. Kittens are an extra expense and as they grow they can definitely be a challenge. Despite their sharp claws and teeth, they are still babies, however, and are not capable of living on their own. By leaving them outside you are putting them at risk of many dangers including wildlife, moving vehicles, dehydration, and exposure. Remember, they are used to living at home with you and their mother. It would be quite a shock to suddenly be alone outside, even if you leave them with food.

 

Furthermore, abandoned kittens put an extra strain on already overburdened organizations. If there are no resources to care for them, shelters may be forced to take them in and then turn down cats that were born without loving homes like yours, leaving them to struggle to survive. Or, in the case of  truly desperate situations, your kittens may end up euthanized.

Question 5. But my cat keeps having kittens. Am I expected to care for them all? 

The best way to avoid having more unwanted litters is to have your cat spayed. Unless you live in an area with a free clinic, the surgery does come with a cost. But compared with the expense and complications of having to find homes for multiple kittens, it is money well spent. If you don’t or can’t pay for this, then the second best way is to keep your cat indoors at all times. If she doesn’t get out to mix with other cats, she won’t get pregnant. Of course, this comes with its own challenges. I know exactly how difficult it can be to stop a determined cat from getting into trouble. (TC, ahem, grrrrr.)

These cats, they are sneaksy

These cats, they are sneaksy

If you don’t want the surgery and don’t work hard to prevent your cat from escaping for her own adventures, then I am afraid the only answer to your question is yes, you are expected to care for them all. Your cat is your responsibility, and so are all of her offspring. If she has kittens they belong to you and it is your job to ensure they are well cared for and healthy. Animal welfare organizations are here to help us and to provide aid to animals in danger, not to fix our mistakes.

There are many terrific online sources of information that may help you should your cat get pregnant, International Cat Care is one of my favourites. Most local and national organizations are also happy to offer education and advice, even if they aren’t able to take your kittens in themselves. And again, I can’t say this enough, your vet is always the best person with whom to start.

I hope this post has helped you make the right decision for your kittens. I love cats as much as you do and I hope they all live long, happy lives.

Blog the Change

Less Wordy Wednesday: Shiva’s First Edmontonian Friend

Our neighbourhood is in an older part of Edmonton, just across the river from downtown but far enough away that it has more of a quaint aura. It is filled with late 19th century homes and small, local businesses that house artists, documentary film-makers, pretentious restaurants that are only open three days a week, organic food shops selling everything from local coffee to high quality pet food, and – of all things – image consultants. We are also lucky enough to have a small veterinary office less than five blocks down the road, right next to an artisanal bakery and a diner that advertises five-dollar breakfasts.

Until last week, I never noticed the cat that lives inside the vet clinic. I don’t know how I missed him as he sleeps in the window of the office right by the sidewalk. But now that I have found him, I can’t resist an opportunity to pass the clinic to say hello.

Neither can Shiva.

Shiva and cat friend

When we first saw him lounging on top of his comfy furniture, I made her sit away from the window for fear she would scare him off. However, being a kitty who lives in a pet hospital, he seems to be accustomed to dogs and instead of darting away, he leapt down to the door in order to greet her.

Shiva at vet clinic

I was stunned by how intrigued he was by her and how calm Shiva was in return. I never would have let her get so close if there hadn’t been a door in the way but I have a feeling even without the partition they could be good friends.

Kitty and Shiva

Shiva has always adored cats. Unfortunately, she comes on too strong and most of them despise her in return. I am so glad she has found a quasi feline companion. Even if their affection must be tempered by glass.

Never Doubt the Power of a Well Told Story

There are a lot of worthwhile causes out there. When it comes to saving animals, there is no shortage of groups standing up for what they think is right. It is a commendable thing to witness. I firmly believe we are on a positive track. There is a lot of work to be done, yes, but there has been so much solid change enacted by people like you and I that I refuse to be pessimistic. There will come a time when puppy mills are a hideous part of North America’s history. Maybe even in our lifetimes. We just need to keep putting on the pressure and keep telling our stories.

I’ve seen the proof of this for myself. My natural cynicism was challenged and defeated. All it took was the campaign of a single cat: the late Tuxedo Stan.

Tuxedo Stan

Stan’s story was age-old. He was one of four kittens born to an abandoned mother in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She was rescued while in the later stage of her pregnancy and gave birth three weeks later. It is a situation all too common in my former city where they estimate the population of cats may be close to 100,000. In a region of just over 300,000 humans, this is a wee bit off the charts. Stan and his brothers were lucky. If his mother hadn’t been found, her kittens likely would not have survived.

Still, aside from the tragic aspects, there was nothing to set him apart from the countless other kittens who find their way to rescue organizations in cities across the continent. He was just one little cat who managed to find a decent home. Something that happens all the time, even if not as often as it should. So why was he so famous? Why did he garner the attention of Ellen DeGeneres or the New York Times? Was it just because he was so stinkin’ pretty?

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Not quite. You see, Stan’s human family was special. They knew his good looks could only go so far. However, they also knew that with a few well-written slogans, they could turn him into a cover model for change.

Tuxedo-StanI admit, I thought the concept of putting a cat on the mayoral ballot was ludicrous. I first encountered Stan and his crew while attending a fundraising auction for a popular cat rescue organization in town. They showed up at the pub with their wild t-shirts and their naive beliefs and I rolled my eyes. Wing-nuts, I muttered to my PH. Do they really think their silly campaign is going to make a difference? Everyone is just going to think they are crazy cat people. Regardless, as the evening progressed, I watched something pretty stunning happen. As someone who has worked for a few charities and who has attended a lot of auctions, I have never before seen so much money dropped so willingly for a cause. I am talking gift certificates going for more than twice their value! Dorky little donated crafts ensnaring more cash than I spent on weekly groceries! It was astounding. And almost all of it came from Stan’s corner of the room. They walked the walk and then some.

Over the next few months, the enthusiasm and publicity only grew. Stan’s people were clever. They knew just how to play the crowd. Utilizing social media, they told simple stories of Stan’s campaign trail that were humourous and touching. They knew when to be serious and when to tug the heart-strings. Like any politician, Stan even had his share of scandal when an erroneous story leaked about his supposed love children. Hugh Chisholm, Stan’s human, who also happens to be a veterinarian, played it just right.

Alas, it was not to be. Stan never actually made it to the ballot, despite his best efforts. But Stanthat doesn’t mean their hard work failed. Quite the opposite. Even if the feline never had a chance at winning the race, he did achieve his goal of raising awareness of the plight of cats. He also did something even better.

Because of the celebrity of one distinguished cat, something unprecedented happened. In May 2013, the Halifax regional council voted to give $40,000 to the Nova Scotia SPCA in support of a discounted spay and neuter program. Yes, you read that right. $40,000 to help curb HRM’s massive cat overpopulation problem all because of a beautiful cat and his passionate humans.

I am now a believer. The story of Tuxedo Stan, and his brother Earl Grey, will remain in my mind forever. Sadly, Stan passed away last year. In my mind, he left a legacy that will continue on long past his too-short lifetime. He proved to me that it doesn’t matter how difficult the issue or how stubborn the audience. I will never doubt the power of a good story ever again.

As bloggers you have the ability to write your own tales and change lives the way Stan’s followers did. Sure, a $40,000 goal may seem a bit lofty at first but if they could do it, I don’t think it is silly to say we all have the ability. We just need the passion; we just need to believe it is possible enough to try.

It’s not easy. So much of this feels futile. I know everyone reading this already cares, already knows how crucial these issues are. We keep talking and it seems like we never reach the people who most need to hear. It is insane to think of how many people still don’t know where pet store puppies are sourced, or who don’t even consider the problems of featuring whales in a parade float. This isn’t because they are bad people. They have just never been presented with a different view in a compelling way. Stan was able to reach these people. He was able to capture the attention of non-cat-loving Haligonians. Not because he was unique, but because his story was told in a positive and interesting way. Most people, when given the chance, will change their actions. Unfortunately, the battle-scarred combatants on the front lines of animal welfare often just don’t have the energy any more.

This is where you come in. As a writer, as someone who knows how to use social media to market your blog, you can tell these stories. You have the ability to encourage people to question and to make new choices. Your creative and inspiring words can motivate others to take action. As I’ve always said, when it comes to the Internet you never know who is paying attention. Stories have a sneaky way of reaching people who weren’t even seeking the information. It might start small. Stan’s people worked for long hours behind the scenes before they landed on such a winning idea. Years later, looking at all they have achieved and realizing how many lives one pretty cat saved, I can’t help but come away with this one thought: never doubt the power of a well told story.

BlogtheChangeCheck out the other important articles written for today’s Blog the Change event, or look up the vital animal-related causes on websites like Change.org and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Using these resources and a myriad of others, see if you can find a story worth telling. What’s the worst that can happen? This is my challenge to you. 

How Do I Turn Someone Away from Adopting a Dog?

I know this person. Let’s call her… Morgan. Yes, Morgan. Because it is not remotely similar to her real name. Morgan is older than I am and have never owned a pet in her whole life. It is something I have found tragic during the short period in which we have been acquaintances. Now that Morgan’s children are adults and fending for themselves, she finds herself a bit lost for company. Her husband has passed and she has never made time for hobbies. Morgan is a neat and organized sort of person who has her routines. While she spends the majority of her time at home, on rare occasions she does like to travel. She doesn’t like mess or nonsense but she does need a few more reasons to smile.

011Since I do not know Morgan all that well, I have been cautious in my interactions. Being a huge pet lover, it hasn’t been easy to hold back. From the instant I heard her story I wanted to jump up and down, telling her all about the awesomeness of cats and how a feline is the answer to her loneliness. Based on my experience, I knew this wasn’t the right approach. If I rammed cat ownership down her throat she was more likely to continue her lifelong pet celibacy than give in. No, I had to warm her up to the idea. I waited and hoped for the right moment, the perfect segue, the ideal lull where I could hint about how much I love my cat and how much he has brought to my life.

I have never been a genius at social cues and I guess I waited a bit too long. Morgan has definitely warmed up to the idea of bring home a furry companion. It just isn’t the one I would have recommended. Rather than a self-sufficient adult cat who loves to cuddle, she is now considering a puppy.

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TC is confused. Why would anyone pass up a kitty for a drooly dog?*

I don’t think I need to outline why I think this is a bad idea for Morgan. The last thing I want to look like is a puppy-hater but there are some people who would be much happier if they remain dog-free. You know? Though I have had limited interactions with Morgan, I do believe she is one of these people. Dogs are dirty. They are needy. They require extra grooming, extra time, extra training, and nigh-constant maintenance. Even breeds I think are easier for first-time owners, require a large commitment. A commitment for which I don’t think Morgan – as lovely a woman as she is – is prepared. Dogs can be dangerous and destructive in the wrong hands. Not that I believe Morgan’s dog would be unruly or troublesome but it is something every dog owner needs to consider.

But how do I tell her, this strong woman whom I greatly, without causing injury? How does one nudge someone in a direction in which one thinks would be better for all parties? How do I, a dog lover to the max, turn someone away from adopting a dog?

Perhaps I am thinking of this the wrong way. Yes, I am firm in my beliefs that Morgan should adopt an older cat as her first pet. On the other hand, it isn’t my decision to make. Even if I envision disaster for Morgan and her new puppy, that doesn’t mean this is what will occur. She has raised children, after all. It is possible that I am wrong and she will thrive with a canine friend. I certainly did. Maybe instead of discouraging her thoughts, I should offer encouragement in the form of resources.

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Ultimately, I am just afraid she will get a dog, the dog will do something wrong, she will return the dog, and then never consider pet ownership ever again. A situation that occurs every day. I want better for Morgan. I want her to get a cat she will love and who won’t demand nearly so much energy. Of course, it isn’t about me, is it? And that’s the trouble with it all.

How does one know when to step in and when to keep one’s mouth shut?

*No offence to those who drool, of course. Rescued Insanity officially recognizes a dog’s right to slobber.

My Cat is a Jerkwad

I love this video. I found it originally when it was shared by Cindy Lu’s Muse on Facebook. It proves that cats are creative and smart, maybe even just as intelligent as dogs. It also shows that there are times when cats and dogs can work together and be friends. To be fair, the cat in this video, Dexter, I think his name is, may have been acting out of purely selfish motivations. He wanted to open that door and escape the laundry room as much as the dog did. Despite that, they still both achieved the same goal. The cat didn’t mind the fact that the dog was there, waiting for him to achieve glory.

This little scene would never happen in my household. No, no. It’s not that my cat – The Cat, or “TC” as the author of Kol’s Notes nicknamed him a long time ago – isn’t clever enough to figure this out, especially if he was given such easy access. I wouldn’t doubt he’d have that door open in seconds. However, if he thought the dog stood to gain from his efforts, he’d never go through with it. He would find some other way, maybe open a window instead or tease Shiva to make her think the coast was clear and then WHAM! Slam the door in her face.

Yes, TC is this diabolical. I mean, look at him. Does this look like an innocent face to you?

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No, no it doesn’t. Don’t let his fuzziness fool you. Inside that fluffy chest is a heart of black steel.

For instance. Less than an hour or two ago, we were all hanging out in the living room after a long day at work. Shiva is still regulated to the couch, a prison that is harder and harder for her to endure every single day. In particular, tonight she has been more persistent than ever in her protests that she is well enough to walk around in perfect freedom. The veterinarian’s orders would say otherwise, so on the couch she remains.

In walks The Cat. In all his autonomous magnificence. The first thing he does, the first thing, is walk up to the dog, sniff her feet, and then lay down on the floor directly in front of her.

When I say lay down, I mean he sprawls in a fashion he would never dare if he suspected the dog had the ability to pounce on him. He knows Shiva is stuck on the couch. He doesn’t know why, but he knows when he prances in front of her, that he is safe, lest she get in serious trouble. So he revels in taunting her. It’s the same way he used to pester her when she was stuck behind the baby gate at the top of the stairs, or the way I am positive he ridicules her when she is locked in her crate during the day. It’s the haughty, prideful, cruel mocking of a true bully.

Yes, my cat is a bully and Shiva is his favourite victim. Unfortunately, he is also smarter than she is and thus, she ends up falling for his mean set-ups every single time.

After only five minutes of tail-flicking and sidelong glances, TC had Shiva completely freaking out tonight. I stopped paying attention to her for less than a second and she immediately took advantage by leaping off the couch and on top of The Cat.

A pretty big violation of her recovery strategy.

For those who might be worried about Hi Excellency’s safety, he is just fine. Better than fine. Dog antagonizing mission accomplished he walked away with his tail swinging high while we yelled at the dog while simultaneously fussing over her stitches. TC always gets the last laugh. Always.

It’s always been this way. The Cat lives to torment the dog. I sincerely believe it is one of his greatest joys. I just can’t wait for the day when Shiva is given free reign of the house again. By then she will have two weeks’ worth of energy to burn. There is a lot of damage a tornado can enact with so much force behind it. Kitty better watch out.

The sad thing is, even at her worst, Shiva ends up backing down to the merciless feline. She can fight with all of her weapons bared but in the end only one of them will end up behind the toilet. And it won’t be the orange one.

My New Cat Training Hero

I’ve been meaning to share this gobsmacking video for a few weeks. I knew I would need time to come up with the right adjectives. Apparently there isn’t a word superlative enough in the dictionary as all I keep thinking is wow.

Wow.

This is the stuff for which I have been searching: definitive proof that cats are just as awesome, just as trainable as dogs.

There are so many things I love about this. The fact that the handler is a young boy, the fact that the equipment is accessible and can be put together by anyone, the fact that the cats were trained using a clicker. Not to mention, it looks like he happens to be Canadian and I am not above a bit of patriotism.

All of the cats seem to be enjoying themselves. I doubt they would do it otherwise. It’s fascinating to note the way they jump as compared to the way I am used to seeing dogs move over the obstacles. Clearly when motivated, cats can get much, much higher.

The above video isn’t even my favourite of all 85 posted on his Youtube channel. It’s just the most flashy. The one I like the most shows footage of Daniel King teaching his cat named Puffy basic tricks. The relationship between human and feline in this video is so evident that I beam all the way through.The best part is how excited he gets when Puffy learns something new. Their connection is beautiful to watch.

I gotta admit, I am envious. This is the way I wish I could approach training with both of my pets all the time. Daniel King is patient, gentle, and incredibly dedicated. With his attitude, I suspect he’ll well known in the animal world one day.

Passing the Spay/Neuter Kool-Aid: Because Pets Deserve Better

LogoThe pet blogosphere has lit up this week in support of World Spay Day. A most worthy initiative indeed.

Reading all the varied opinions on spay and neuter surgeries has been enlightening. When I was a kid, it seemed like it was just what you did. If you had a dog or cat, you made sure he or she couldn’t have babies. It was a no-brainer. When I entered the world of animal welfare as an adult, at first it baffled me how many people didn’t automatically alter their pets. Unless one plans on breeding, I didn’t understand why she would take the risk. Now I realize it is a lot more complicated than that.

There are many good reasons people have for not spaying or neutering their pets. I trust that everyone reading this today knows all about the costs and benefits. I’m not going to ramble on about it again. You all are responsible and have made your decisions in the best interests of your family. It’s part of why we get on so well.

The struggle begins when trying to reach those who don’t read the literature – people who genuinely don’t know the costs and benefits of spaying and neutering. These are the people who might need the information shared by organizations across the continent in promotion of the big event.

By this point, you all know how I feel about cats. More specifically, you know how I feel about the massively massive overpopulation of cats and how these beautiful animals are often ignored, abandoned, and then euthanized. It is impossible for me to think of spay and neuter programs without immediately thinking of the feline plight. In my opinion the latter cannot be improved without the former. These neglected animals are the reason World Spay Day exists.

Prevent a Litter

The large cat overpopulation problem has been building for decades. There is no one individual or group to blame. Most people who bring home pets have the best of intentions. No one adopts a cat unless one enjoys being around animals. People might be misinformed but they are not purposefully negligent. Yet, no matter how kind the thought, priorities change. Life happens.  Vet care is expensive. Things get busy.  Appointments are pushed off. Indoor cats escape. Things get busier. Pets get forgotten.

I understand. There is a lot to think about every day. That’s why spaying and neutering is so vital. It’s kind of like insurance. I don’t want to think about how many litters of kittens my cat could have sired by now if he wasn’t altered. Between Calgary and Halifax, he might have had quite a crew of offspring. And we’d never even know it. Getting him snipped prevents me from having to worry about his fatherly duties. I’d hate to think of more cats killed due to my own ignorance.

Cats like this guy:

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And this guy:

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And even these guys:

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They are the lucky ones. None of the above cats will ever have to face euthanasia because they are unwanted. I wish I believed they were the majority. Cats deserve better. All companion animals deserve better.

World Spay Day isn’t about debating whether or not it’s healthier to keep a dog intact for two years, or five years, or forever. It’s about saving lives. The animals aided in these promotions aren’t the ones owned by knowledgeable humans making informed choices. They are the ones who may otherwise face abandonment or death.

It’s a cause I am pretty sure we can all get behind.

Poster shown above taken from SpayUSA.org.