One of the great joys in creating this blog post is hearing how these stories of kindness touch and inspire others. I was incredibly heart-warmed when Marilyn Helmer, who had already shared her story, Random Acts of Kindness, told me she enjoyed reading one of my other posts.
As a dedicated cat lover, Marilyn was particularly taken by the post titled, Kate and Her Cats.
“Although I haven’t had anywhere near the number of cats Kate has had, I can certainly relate to her love for them. I particularly enjoyed her story about raising the young kittens”
In 2003, Marilyn was blessed with the opportunity to rear a litter of abandoned kittens her son rescued from inside an air conditioning vent. Chris and his girlfriend brought them home for Marilyn to raise. With the help of her daughter, Sandra, also a devoted cat lover, and advice from the animal clinic where Sandra was working for the summer, all four babies survived and thrived.
Marilyn was delighted to have her story published in Chicken Soup for the Soul in 2017. With their permission, Marilyn shares that story here for us to enjoy!
(originally published in Chicken Soup for the Soul—The Cat Really Did That?)
The phone rang while I was busy preparing dinner.
“Hi, Mom, we’re heading home now.” It was my son Chris. He and his friend Jenn had been out of town the day before.
“Great,” I replied. “We’ll expect you in a couple of hours.”
“Wait, Mom, I have something to tell you.” Just then my oven timer dinged.
“Tell me when you get here,” I said. “Pie’s ready. Got to go.”
As I started to hang up, I heard Chris say, “We’re bringing some extra company.”
Extra company? Yikes! Would there be enough food to go around? “How many?” I asked.
“Four,” said Chris.
“Four? Chris, I can’t feed four extra people on such short notice!”
“Good news, Mom,” he replied cheerfully. “You don’t have to feed people. The company I’m bringing home is four abandoned kittens.”
“We’re stopping at Sandra’s on the way. She’s getting formula for them.” My animal-loving daughter had a summer job at the local veterinary clinic. “They’ll have to be fed every four hours. Don’t worry, she’ll explain it all to you.”
“Explain? Explain what?” Too late. Chris had hung up.
The timer dinged again. My pie! I yanked the oven door open to a burned-apple smell. Too late for the pie too.
I made a cup of tea to calm my nerves and phoned Sandra.
“What’s up?” she asked.
“Apparently four newborn kittens,” I replied.
“Don’t worry, Mom. I got the formula and bottles. The vet said they’ll have to be fed every four hours. I’ll come and show you what to do.”
Show me what to do? “Sandra, I don’t know anything about caring for newborn kittens.”
“I’ll help,” she said. “But I work all day so I can’t look after them full time.”
And I don’t work all day? I’m a writer. Writers work day and night. Well, sometimes.
“I have to go,” Sandra broke in. “Chris and Jenn just arrived. See you soon.”
I love animals passionately but being caregiver to four newborn kittens was more than I could handle. I resolved then and there to follow that sage advice, “Just say no.”
I was working on it when the front door opened. “Mom? Come see the kittens,” Chris called from the vestibule.
I went downstairs, silently repeating the “Just say no.” mantra.
In a basket in Jenn’s arms lay four tiny kittens, snuggled together.
“Where did you find them?” I asked.
“We heard cries coming from the roof of our motel,” Jenn said.
“The guy in the office said a pregnant cat had been hanging around,” Chris jumped in. “He kept chasing her away but he thought she’d had her kittens on the roof.”
“He said he hadn’t seen her for several days so he figured she’d been killed on the highway and now he was stuck dealing with them. We knew what he meant by dealing with them,” Jenn said ominously.
“I told him we’d look after them,” Chris said. “I borrowed his ladder and got up on the roof. Somehow the mother cat managed to get inside the air conditioning unit and had her kittens there. She must have been desperate and thought it was a safe place.”
I quickly blocked out the thought of what might have happened to the kittens if Chris and Jenn hadn’t come along.
At that moment, the smallest kitten gave a faint squeal. Before I knew what I was doing, I reached in and picked it up.
“He’s the runt of the litter,” Jenn said. “He may not survive.”
“Unless he has the best care possible,” Chris added. “Care only a mother can give.”
“I am not a mother cat,” I reminded my son as I wrapped my sweater gently around the unbelievably tiny bit of life in my hands.
The door opened and Sandra came in. Her eyes went to the sweater-wrapped bundle in my arms. I didn’t miss the knowing smile she, Chris and Jenn exchanged.
“I brought everything you’ll need for the kittens – formula, feeding bottles, wipes,” Sandra rhymed off. “We’ll work out a schedule and we’ll all help. Mom, look at them.” She picked up the white one with orange and black markings. The kitten obligingly wobbled her head and managed to look sweet and pathetic at the same time. “How can you resist?”
The bottom line was, I couldn’t.
In no time the kittens were awake, filling the house with their hungry chorus. My “Just say no.” mantra vanished in the twitch of a whisker.
That afternoon, Sandra walked me through the steps of kitten care. “They have to be fed every four hours. Then there’s the toileting.” I won’t go into details but suffice it to say disposable diapers do not work on kittens.
And so I became a kitty mama. If I thought my children had been messy eaters, the kittens outdid them, hands…er… paws down. And bathing a kitten is no easy job. Imagine a body so small that it fits into the palm of your hand, with twig-like limbs and paws the size of a dime. Imagine toweling them dry, taking care not get tiny claws snagged in the cloth.
When I was on my own that night for the ten o’clock feeding, reality hit. There were four of them and only one of me. When one kitten woke up, its hungry cries woke the others. Suddenly I had four little pink mouths emitting heart-rending pleas. Begging the one I was busy feeding to hurry so the others could have their turn fell on deaf ears. Last but not least, every towel and blanket that lined their basket had to be washed because no one was toilet trained.
Fortunately, as the days went by, I did have help. On alternate days, Sandra took the kittens to the veterinary clinic where the staff argued over who would get look after the adorable quartet. Strangely no one offered to do the night shifts though.
As well as feeding the kittens on schedule, we had to keep track of every gram of formula they drank. I couldn’t bear to list them as Kitten 1, 2, 3 and 4 so I named them – Bailey, Zoli, Chloe and for the littlest one, the biggest name of all – Leo the Lion-hearted.
Once named, the kittens developed individual personalities overnight. Leo certainly lived up to his name. His heart stopped twice, thankfully when he was in my daughter’s care. Using two fingers, for that was all that would fit on his tiny chest, Sandra managed to massage his heart back into action.
Good news! They all survived and thrived. Zoli and Bailey were adopted by Sandra’s mother-in-law where they are presently living a life of leisure. Chloe went to live with a friend of Chris’s and wee Leo was adopted by a client at the veterinary clinic.
Seventeen years have passed since those four unexpected visitors arrived. Looking back, I am thankful beyond measure that I had the opportunity to play a part in their survival and to observe up close, the miracle of life.
If you would like to learn more about Marilyn and the wonderful stories she creates, please check out her website at http://marilynhelmer.com/