A few weeks ago, I walked into the horse barn to find a feed bucket with 3 tiny, 4-5 week old kittens and a bowl of formula. They were shivering, hissing and stepping in the bowl more than they were drinking it. I called the barn manager and learned that this was to prevent them from the fate of their siblings, born to a feral mama cat in the back of the manure spreader--every time the truck came to take away the dumpster, kittens were getting crushed. Whenever we tried to move them, the mama carried them back, to their demise.
Piper, who had come to work with me, was having some luck getting them to lick formula off a pen cap. After feeding the horses, I called the manager again.
"I think these kittens are too young to drink from a dish, and it's still too cold at night to keep them at the barn. We need a foster."
"Yes, but fosters never come back, and the barn needs tame, non-feral, spayed mousers."
"We'll do it," I told her, before I even checked with J. "And they'll come back to the barn. We have NO interest in more kittens. Three cats is plenty, but I used to work for the Humane Society in Cayman, and I've done bottle-fed fosters."
I knew they were the perfect age--big enough that they would all likely survive with bottle feeding, but young enough to overcome their fear of humans.
Piper gave them temporary names on the way home: Harry Potter, Ginny Weasley and Cho Chang.
"We're not keeping them," I reminded her as I picked up bottles of kitten formula.
"We can visit them at the barn any time, but they are not our cats."
When Hayden came home from school, he worried, cuddling an armload of kitten. "Mom. Just so you know, Dad is going to come in here, and freak out. But in like a week or so, we'll find him all cuddled up with them. So don't get upset if his first reaction is a freak out."
I assured him I had been with Dad for a long time, and twenty years ago, when our relationship was still tenuous and halting, I'd showed up at his island apartment with a box of three-week old foster kittens from the Humane Society, explaining they'd need to be fed every three-four hours, around the clock.
"I was testing his nurture instinct. And you know who one of those kittens became?"
Of course he did: Catty T, our first fur baby, a West Bay, pin head, mottled black with a golden tiger triangle around one eye, like a pirate, or peeling wallpaper. Catty was officially J's cat, and traveled the world with us, ruling the street in Portland, surviving a run-in with a car, and ushering in all the kids. We put her down at the ripe old age of twenty in February.
It did not take a week. The first night, J was buried under all three purring, freshly bathed kittens while we watched Stanley Cup playoffs, sighing, "I guess six cats is probably too many."
"We're not keeping them!" I insisted. "They'll be here a month, six weeks at the most."
While the others grew fat and happy, Cho struggled. She got a respiratory infection, then diarrhea. One weekend was touch and go--she slept almost constantly and was frighteningly limp. Luckily, she pulled through.
All three kittens were slathered in affection, but Cho got special treatment, smuggled off at bedtime, extra loving attention.
It wasn't long before the Hoffspring started saying things like, "I don't think Cho has the strength to be a barn cat."
Or, "Harry and Ginny seem like they'll be excellent mousers, but Cho, she's so little..."
And one morning, about a week before the kittens were going back to the barn, J walked into the kitchen with a cup of coffee and announced,
"It's official. Cho Chang Hoffman."
We love our Cho, even when she bites a nose to wake us up, pesters Sophie and Sporty and El Presidente, knocks over vases, unpots plants or brings us dead crickets. (Turns out she's a pretty good hunter after all.)
Here she is canoodling with Sampson:
I'll leave you with a slo-mo of Hayden and Cho playing their favorite game, where he uses a (hookless!) lure to inspire her to chase.
We joke that she won the kitty lottery, but really, we are the lucky ones.