It ain’t easy bein’ itty-bitty

It ain’t easy bein’ itty-bitty

Baby GumboAnd the itty bitty kitty committee would be the first to agree.

One of the first things I realized when I started spending a lot of time around tiny kittens (I know, a rough job, but someone’s gotta do it) is just how, well…tiny they are. Although your first (and, I dare say, correct) instinct is to pick them up and love them, it’s startling – and a bit anxiety-producing – to realize just how teensy and tender and fragile they really are. 

Gumbo & Numi acting non-fragileNot, of course, that they act fragile. On the contrary, your average pocket-sized feline behaves as though he’s 80 feet tall and made of (furry) steel, and the entire world is (a) benevolent and (b) rubber. Nothing short of total trust enhaloes the kittens who bounce off the walls, plunge themselves into much-larger creatures’ faces, dart fearlessly into mysterious cardboard boxes, and even wrestle with their “Uncle” Tashi.

But before all this kittenly glee comes the very difficult art of surviving infancy. And, as it happens, this is quite a feat.

I didn’t realize just how precarious it is to be a kitten when I first started at Tabby’s Place. So, I was aghast when, referring to a litter of emaciated, ailing kittens rescued from a city shelter, Dr. Collins warned us, “I don’t think they’re all going to make it. We may lose two or three.” Against the odds, the Philadelphia Six survived. But, this was my first indication that kittenhood is a very dangerous season for many cats.

Samara, Noni & St. Augustine, three of the Philadelphia SixLike a human infant, a kitten has a weak, developing immune system, which makes innocuous-sounding things like upper respiratory infections potentially Very Very Bad. A cold can turn to crackly, chilly pneumonia in a flash when you’re 2 weeks old and feline, and your odds of coming out of that alive are…well, not tremendous.

Just Monday, Dr. Collins gave uber foster-mom Karina “the talk” about one of her newest bottle babies. Little Everest was a 4-day-old marmalade boy whose pneumonia was fighting hard against his tiny spark of life. Everest and his siblings, McKinley and Rainier, were discovered in a yard after having been sampled by some larger, large-toothed creature. Little Rainier’s bite wounds were too grave to overcome, and, sadly, he left us on Sunday. McKinley, the only girl in the trio, seems to have escaped unscathed, and is doing well.

Karina has raised kindles of bottle babies and knows their fragility all too well, but that didn’t make Everest’s trial any easier. Each one is as close to her heart as the very first. It’s the way it goes with cats; each one calls the best out of each of us with his own, one-of-a-kind-precious soul.

With a heavy heart I report that little Everest followed his brother out of our lives today, despite Karina’s amazing, tender and very valiant efforts to nurse him back to health.Bittersweet haloes for the kittens we've lost this week

When a Tabby’s Place cat passes away, we always draw a kitty face beneath a halo labeled with her name on our Community Room bulletin board, leaving it there for two weeks so all of our volunteers can hear and grieve the news. A tiny cat face is drawn under a halo on the board for Everest this morning, joining the haloed faces of fellow kittens Marlee and Rainier. There’s something especially painful about these tiny angel-cats on the board, something especially “wrong” about babies not living to see adulthood. Yet it’s testimony to the fact that surviving kittenhood is a massive mountain for any baby to climb.

And so kittens’ fragility is the shadow side of the teeniness that makes them so cute. This fragility puts into perspective – and makes me immensely grateful for – the blessings of those kittens who do survive the delicate early weeks, thriving into a clumsy, crazy, cheerful-and-then-some toddlerhood.Gumbo, a healthy "older" kitten

Fortunately, at the moment, we need only look so far as the lobby to see three such survivors of babyhood, a trio of real ”mental patients” (as Jonathan affectionately calls our slaphappiest cats): older-and-sturdier kittens Chex, Gumbo and Numi. Watching them bounce off the walls and each other with contagious glee is a gift – as is every cat who emerges from of his fragile formative days to survive and thrive. Back in quarantine are another two little survivors, snuggle-bug Zatarain and sweet-as-maple-syrup, one-eyed Waffle. But more about him in a future post.

Zatarain and his toysSo to Waffle, Numi, Chex, Gumbo, Zatarain and all the kittens here and elsewhere, I say, the best is yet to come. We’re all praying and pulling for you.

8 thoughts on “It ain’t easy bein’ itty-bitty

  1. Kittens are indeed so fragile. I’ve only bottlefed one kitten but it was a harrowing experience.
    Twice, he became deathly ill and I had to rush him to emergency. He developed pneumonia and almost died. Today, he is a robust lively cat who resides with my boyfriend. He has quite a personality (Translation: He BITES!). But I really didn’t think he would survive. He is my miracle cat!

    Kittens make me very nervous. I would personally rather take in an FIV+ cat or an elderly cat than bottlefeed a kitten. But I guess we all have our personal calling and through all of us, the jobs get done and the kitties are cared for.

    1. Kathi, I feel the same way – I’m extremely nervous about caring for young kittens, especially bottle babies. How right you are that we each have our own unique role to play in the cats’ lives. I am grateful for the Karinas of the world who raise the wee ones, the Kathis of the world who care tenderly for the elderly and FIV+ cats, and all who pour their love and gifts into the kitties who need us.

  2. I’m so sorry for the loss of the kittens. Let’s hope that dry erase board of yours doesn’t see any new names for quite some time. Be healthy, kitties!!!

    1. Amen to that! Good news today, Fred: Everest & Rainier’s surviving sister, little McKinley, is doing awesomely well. Her eyes are open already at only 7 days of age, and she’s so strong and happy. Photos will be coming soon! 🙂

  3. Oh, Angela, the photo of the angel kittens on your bulletin board brought the tears streaming. I have the deepest respect for all of you at Tabby’s Place, including uber foster mom Karina. What a special kind of person to open her heart to tiny foundlings such as McKinley or Rainier, only to know that it might be broken if they don’t make it. I frankly wonder if I could ever be that selfless.

    Blessings on all of you, and to the Kitten Brigade at Tabby’s Place.


    1. Franny, you are too kind. Blessings on YOUR amazing, tireless work on the cats’ behalf, too. I have no doubt that your wonderful writing, research and, especially, love have touched more cats’ lives (as well as the lives of people who love them) than you know!

  4. Ditto to everything our other “bloggers” have written above — even though our hearts are broken, we must keep trying each and every time, because every life is precious and has meaning. THANK YOU, TABBY’S PLACE!!!!

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