On a hunch this afternoon, I went back outside and did another search for kittens - just to be sure we hadn't missed any. I heard a faint mewing and knew there were more to be found. I followed the sound to the next door neighbor's flower bed at the side of her house. There in the dirt lay Dixie with two more kittens. She seemed to be caring for them and that gave me hope I'd be able to bring her inside so she could care for all her babies. That hope was dashed when she ran to the neighbor's patio and stayed there for what seemed like forever. Dixie is a feral cat who barely trusts me to stand a few feet away from her, but I thought I could humanely trap her today. Was I ever wrong.
The kittens she left in the dirt were crying but that didn't seem to phase Dixie. She sat grooming herself and watching my every move. I talked softly to her, then backed off and went into my garage thinking she'd go to the kittens. I kept watch at a distance where she couldn't see me, but finally took the kittens, wrapped them in a thick towel, and placed them inside the humane trap. I laid another towel over the trap to keep the kittens warmer and to disguise the trap a bit. Dixie's fear must have overridden her maternal instinct because she never budged, even though the babies were crying for her. It began to rain and I couldn't take it any longer. I retrieved the kittens and re-set the trap with a can of tuna, thinking maybe she'd not be able to resist that.
I was wrong again. The trap set outside all evening but Dixie was no where to be found. I'd begun bottle feeding the other kittens and had made a bed for all five of them in a small box and placed a lamp over them for warmth. They seemed to warm up nicely and all of them ate well at first, but by evening, I started noticing unsettling signs I'd seen with other kittens.
Two of the babies were listless and cooler to the touch than the other three. I continued to feed them what they'd take, and I wrapped each one in a soft washcloth and placed both under the light with the others. By the 1am feeding, they were fading and so was the hope that I'd be able to raise all five.
I checked every few minutes to make sure they were all breathing, and they were, until the 3am feeding. One had expired and the other was on his way out. In fact, I'm sitting here right now, holding that precious little dying kitten while tears stream down my face and I try to type with one hand. The baby is making sad little sounds though I feel sure he's not in pain. I think some of the sounds are reflexive. He most likely cannot hear my voice but I keep talking to him and praying that he's not hurting. I'm holding him close to my chest so he can feel my heart beating since I'm the only mama he has. I keep touching his little head and telling him to just go to sleep and it will all be ok. I don't mean to be morbid, just honest and accepting that not all kittens are intended to thrive. I don't know why, though I always wonder. I love kittens with all my heart and if they have to leave so soon after they arrive, then I'm actually thankful they have come my way. I don't expect everyone to understand that. I don't completely understand it myself. Why would anyone in her right mind want to endure that heartache?
My feeling is this: to have known the kind touch of a human hand and to have had a warm clean place to rest - if even for a brief time - is often much more than some animals ever experience. It always breaks my heart to lose one, and it doesn't matter how long I've "known" the kitten. I love them all instantly and unconditionally. The little one I'm holding right now has just gone to sleep peacefully. It surely could be my imagination, but he looks as if he's smiling just a little.