Yesterday, a kitten died the place where I’m staying.
The property belongs to a friend who is out-of-town and I’m here catsitting. There’s a number of feral cats who hang out, some friendly, some shy, and I feed them twice a day. My friend has food arriving by subscription order from an online business. The nearest grocery store is 35 miles away so this is a convenient arrangement. He also left me cash for sundries and to get the females adjusted by the vet so they won’t have kittens.
There’s currently three generations of cats here and the youngest is less than a year old. Still kittens but out of the very precocious stage. They are turning into cats at this point.
A handful of the cats will enter the structures if doors are left open, but not most of them. They’re definitely no indoor cats by any stretch of the imagination.
I have been the only human on the property since the beginning of October, but the cats are great company. Company enough, so far. About half a dozen of them follow me around the property when I’m doing chores. Three or four talk to me on a regular basis. I talk right back, but probably my mewing sounds are the cat equivalent of “blah blah blah.” They seem to accept this handicap about me.
About a week ago, one of the kittens suddenly started acting sickly. She wasn’t moving much and her back legs were exhibiting poor mobility but no apparent injury. She also had no appetite, which was the big tip-off that something was wrong. That was on a Sunday and, like I said, town is 35 miles away, so I’m not just going to up and drive there unless it seems like an emergency. (This definitely applies to me too, btw, so no speciesism here.) Online research yielded the usual mix of advice along a scale of “don’t worry” to “panic now,” so I decided to wait until the next day.
Because it was going to be cold, I brought her into the house where I was staying, with a blanket in a box, and a dish of water and food. The fact that she let me pick her up and move her was also a sign that something that was wrong. She just sat there, not moving, for hours.
The next morning, she was showing more energy and wanted out. She found a sunny spot to sit and stayed there most of the day. By dinner she was getting her appetite back but couldn’t jump up on the counter where the cats are fed (in an outdoor kitchen area) so I lifted her up myself.
On the third day, she was moving around and by the fifth day any sign of limp or lethargy was gone. The only difference was that now she was less shy around me than she had been before. Now she lets me pet her sometimes whereas before she always ducked away.
So when a different grey kitten showed the same symptoms on Friday, I was not immediately worried. I kept my eye on her, and noted that she skipped both meals that day, instead sitting in a box all day. (I have several empty cardboard boxes arrayed around in the outdoor kitchen for the cats to utilize, and it’s rare that they’re all empty at once.)
The next morning, yesterday, I found her lying on the edge of a cat bed outside my door. This was part of a set-up with boxes and blankets and straw bales with a heating pad for very cold nights. Most of the cats prefer to sleep further away from the humans but two or three now stay there on a regular visit, and are the same who will come inside first if a door is open. But this grey kitten had never been in their number and her presence there was unusual.
Cautiously, I inspected her, and stroked her gently where she laid. She was very low energy. It was quite chilly out so I picked her up and brought her in. Her body was quite limp and she felt half-empty somehow. As with the other one, her back legs didn’t seem to be fully functioning. I put her down on a rug in a beam of sun and brought her a dish of water and a plate of wet food. She showed no interest in either. I was worried for sure, but given the other kitten’s recovery, not super worried yet. I went about my morning duties and chores.
A couple hours later, I came in to check her out. She had not really changed position. I got down on the floor next to her and stroked her a couple times. She made an unhappy noise and rolled partway to one side. Her insides seemed to be convulsing. She pitched her head over, with her mouth and eyes opened, and then stopped moving. Later, it was clear that this was the moment she died.
But at first, I could not tell. Her body was warm and pliable. I couldn’t detect breath or a heartbeat, but I didn’t know if that’s because there weren’t any or because they were very faint. I stepped back outside to do a few more things and returned ten minutes later. She had not moved, and now it was obvious that she was gone.
I curled her into a sleeping position, tried to close her eyes (which mostly worked) and then brought the body to the outdoor kitchen. I figured that all the cats should know. I set her down on the counter, at the center of activity, and then left.
I have a candle holder in the shape of a curled up cat, so I lit that and set it in the place where she had died, next to the food and water, which I left there for the time being. Somehow it felt most appropriate to leave the spot as-is for awhile.
I peeked in a few times over the hours that followed and most of the cats approached her and sniffed her. A few sat next to her for a little while. Others just walked away.
Late that afternoon, I dug a hole for her in the back of the garden. I brought the body to the hole and waited.
After a few minutes, nearly every cat on the property had shown up. They milled around, doing cat things. I burned some White Sage. Then I placed the body in the hole, sprinkled it with catnip, and gave her one last stroke. Her body had stiffened but her fur was still soft. I filled the hole back in. A transplanted catnip start was the only marker.
This is the part of the story where I’m supposed to say something poignant or philosophical but I’m coming up empty. I loved the kitten, as I love all the cats here, and indeed as I love every cat. I was sad, for sure. I don’t know what to say besides that. Doesn’t the death of a kitten speak for itself? But I wanted to mark her passing with a few words and pictures, so here they are.