Friday, 11 March 2011

A Tale of Two Kitties

Kittens are so cute - we all love their little faces peering hopefully at us as they wait for new homes.  And we love to snuggle them close, play little games with them and laugh at their antics as, safe in the knowledge that they will come to no harm, they jump and pounce and chase.
But what of their less fortunate cousins?  Those baby cats who are born away from loving homes, out in the wild in old dilapidated buildings, under bushes, behind broken fence panels.  Cats are such a hardy species that their survival rates are high, and their mums are such good hunters, catching mice and other rodents that usually most of the litter will survive.
The main issue with kittens born away from homes, is domestication.  It is essential that kittens are handled in the first months of their lives so that they quickly learn that human hands are  kind.  Because kittens born in the wild are hidden by their mothers until they are able to walk out of the nest, around 5-7 weeks old, people are often not even aware of their existence until they are big enough to run away.  And that makes taming them much much harder.
Whenever possible we would encourage people who notice such kittens to catch them, handle them and play with them - the earlier they are caught, the sooner they learn to trust, in fact in some cases it can be as little as four or five days. If they are left until they are bigger - they take much much longer to tame.
Take Nessa and Hettie, pictured above.  They were noticed at about eight weeks of age by a kind lady who started to feed them.  Because their mum was tame and friendly, the lady assumed that the kittens would learn by example - but this isn't the case with cats - they let their instinct drive them, and their instinct says "DANGER!".  
Nessa and Hettie were about four months old when they came to us, and they were absolutely terrified.  We had to put them in indoor cages for a few weeks to get them used to being handled, and gradually teach them to trust.  At the time of writing, Nessa is almost ready for rehoming (to an experienced owner), whereas Hettie will be some time before she is confident enough.
The person feeding them did well, and meant well, but had she caught them and handled them, they would have been far tamer.
Contrast this with Mary, who came from a similar background.  In her case, the lady feeding her mum knew that Mary had to be caught and handled.  When Mary came to us for rehoming she was used to being handled, and used to people being around, and although she was nervous in crowds of people, we were able to rehome her to a relatively quiet home very soon after she came to us.
If you spot tiny kittens playing in your garden, don't be afraid to catch them and play with them - the few weeks of handling you can give them at the start of their lives will make a huge difference to all their remaining years.