Feral Kittens

This week Ken’s blog features California teacher and short story composer Jamey Genna, whose writing is quirky, poignant and her irony will knock you off balance.

Well, what I constantly have been thinking about for the past three months are these three feral kittens I trapped, that don’t seem to be all that feral.  They are costing me a mint.  How can that be?  I captured them so I could take them into Fix our Ferals and get them fixed for free, then take them back to nature and set them free—where they could keep the current cat population to a minimum, along with any undeserving population of mice and birds. 

Okay, so I kept them from mid-December to late January in my home studio—a shed I have out back—a sanctuary for writing and painting, for both me and my husband.  The shed stinks of cat litter, spray, and dander now, no matter how many times I clean it and empty out the box.  Cat litter: 4.99 a bag.  Cat food: 4.99 a bag.  I had one mama cat and three two month old kittens.  That’s a large bag of litter and a large bag of cat food a week.  Two teachers from my school donated $25 each.

Okay, so the deadline for the Fix our Ferals—the phone line filled up within the first few minutes, so I got put on the waiting list.  Then Oakland called and said I could bring them in there at 8 a.m. one at a time.  That means one cat per visit.  That’s four sick days.  So I brought Mama cat into Oakland and I was there first.  I took the day off from work b/c I had a doctor’s appointment at 11.  Then eight people showed up to get cats fixed.  Since I had a feral mom who was still feeding her overgrown kittens, I got bumped to the top of the list.  There were four of us with lactating females.  They only take three.  We drew cards.  I never win at these things.  I drew the low card—a four…the number of cats I am currently trying to get fixed.  I had to go home.

On the way home—a thirty minute drive from Oakland to Rodeo, I remembered this place up in El Sobrante that fixes cats for free.  I went up to the Animal Care Clinic off the dam road.  They said, yes, we can take her today and yes, you can probably/maybe get a voucher.  Here was momma cat—hard to trap and then re-trap…stressful.  So, I said, I’ll tell you what, I’ll give you my credit card and if they don’t give me the voucher, I’ll just pay for it.  When people say, “You’re a good Samaritan for doing this for these cats,” I think, that’s not what you’re really thinking.  You’re really thinking what a fool I am, what an idiot.  Let’s get it straight.  First of all, I had no intention of catching the mom,  I only wanted the little gray and white one that was the friendliest, but once I got started  I couldn’t stop.  It became an addiction.  Then a service to the community.  Then I began to fall in love with the three kittens I did catch, and even momma cat—she was special because I could pet her if I cornered her.  She was clean and healthy and beautiful after a month in my studio.  White underbelly, calico back, scared owl eyes, and three kittens who adored her.  She hissed every time I came near.  I’m never sure if she purred or was shivering in fear when I touched her, but her eyes would relax and always, for a few moments she looked happy.

That day after dropping mama cat off in El Sobrante, I went to my doctor’s office where my appointment had been cancelled without my knowledge.  Then the voucher people called me and told me I made too much money to get a voucher—no amount of finagling got the treasured voucher out of the phone lady from the county.  I have three more kittens at home that need to get fixed.  Here we are the middle class, getting screwed again because we make way too much money.  By the way, the Oakland SPCA won’t fix them for free if they are at all handleable.  Too late—I’d already been working with them.  The kittens could be cornered, caught, petted, and kissed with a minimum of hissing.  Never mind that the gold one and the black calico—a tortie, I’m told—run for cover as soon as you come in the room.   One momma cat fixed: $120.  It cost more than my local vet and no shots were included.  Holy cow!  But momma was fixed.  Now, where to let her go?  My backyard or back up at the school where I found her.  If I let her stay, she might fight with my own two cats or my dogs.   She could do some damage, that one, but I like her.  I don’t want her wandering the school grounds scrounging for food.  HOWEVER:

I got home from work the other day and my husband is sitting on the couch in the nearing dark, not saying anything.  “What’s the matter?” I ask. 

“Nothing,” he says. 

I come back in the living room a few minutes later and he’s still sitting there.  I say, come on, something’s wrong.  What is it?  He still claims nothing, but later, he says, “I got the PG&E bill this month.”

How much was it?  I ask.

Almost $800, he says. 

This is in part from the changeover in January, but I’ve also been heating the shed for the kittens. 

I take momma cat up to the school the next day and set her free.  I still have to get those three other kittens fixed.  They are lined up right now for a low cost spay and neuter program in February.  That’ll be another $150.   I’m hoping to keep Silver, but Goldie and Phoebe Bear gotta’ go.  I’m not complaining.  I’m not.  I’m not asking for advice.  I’ve heard it all.  From Midwestern hard-core practicality—throw em’ out in a snow bank.  Why are you heating that shed?    To sympathetic cat-loving sentimentality—here’s some money.  How are your cats?  You’re a saint. 

That’s not why I did it.  I did it because once I started, I couldn’t stop.  And when you’re responsible for something, you’re responsible.  Make any analogies you care to.

Jamey Genna teaches writing in the East Bay area of San Francisco. She graduated from the University of San Francisco with her Masters in Writing. Her short stories and creative nonfiction have been published in many literary magazines such as Crab Orchard Review, The Iowa Review, and Georgetown Review. You can read her most recent work on-line at Oxford Magazine, Eleven Eleven, and Switchback.

4 Replies to “Feral Kittens”

  1. It’s very interesting to me how people perceive, and then act on, a sense of responsibility. As an animal person (esp. cats), I so understand your motivations while my husband, a decidedly NOT-cat person, feels that situations such as you found yourself in have a very simple solution: cat(s) has a lead deficiency which can only be cured with a high speed implant. I know, you wonder why I’m still married to the guy. A story for another time!

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