Editors Note: I decided to write this instructable partly in the form of a narrative because I thought it would be more interesting. The story and the history enrich the instructions in this case. There are some "how too do" things included, otherwise it wouldn't be an instructable . Among them are how to care for an injured kitten, how tame a feral cat (That means wild) and how to wash a kitten soaked in transmission fluid. If you want you can skip the story and go to those instructions, those pages are labeled, but I think you will enjoy the reading. After Homers tail, or tale, I will fill in the details.
My mom was homeless, she didn't live on the streets, she lived in the fields. Her home was wherever she stopped for the day. Her food was whatever she could catch. But she was pretty good at staying alive and she lived out there for a long time. I had a lot of brothers and sisters but as far as I know none of them ever survived. That was just part of living in the wild for a homeless single mom. So we were kind of special, because I and my litter mates were not born out there. The place I was born was warm and quiet and dry and soft. Outside was a blizzard, but this time mom wasn't outside, and for me that was good.
I don't remember that much from those first days. Mostly it was smells and sounds and warm and furry and always something to eat, except when somebody pushed me out of the way. And then there was something else, it wasn't mom, it was big and smelled different. It picked me up but I wasn't afraid, I just went all limp, and it made noises to me but they weren't scary noises and from what I could tell, it was good, and mom was happy so we were all happy. And life was good, and I grew bigger.
Step 1: Growing Up
It was all play and eat and sleep.
Step 2: My addiction
Then there was another special smell, its called Catnip. I was named Homer after an "animation character" because I was told I looked just like him when I get into the catnip. Laying on my back with my tongue hanging out and drooling. Its not beer that does it for me, its the catnip. I confess I am a Nip Head. But it just makes life even better.
Step 3: Getting bigger
When we got bigger and it got warm we spent the day outside playing. It was a big world full of adventure. Mom was always around watching after us. Sometimes dad was there too. He was fun to play with. We would jump on his tail and he would just look at us. I was never sure if he was thinking of playing with me or eating me. He was big enough that he could, but mom trusted him so we figured he was OK because there were other cats that she ran off. Sometimes the fur would really fly.
We used to follow along after mom when she went hunting. Mom was a real good hunter, it's what kept her alive for years. But this time she had help in feeding the five of us because we always had food. I think that's why we grew up so fast. Plenty of food and warm sunshine.
Our hunting trips got longer as we got bigger, but we always came back home with mom leading the way, so we never paid much attention to where we where or had been because mom always knew where she was. Only Jet stayed behind. Jet never liked our trips much, but she was strange that way. She really liked being in the house and would run in as soon as the door cracked open. Its like she was jet powered. I guess that is where her name came from.
Step 4: Mom's are good, most of the time. But not always.
And then mom ran off and left us there.
She changed so fast we didn't know what was going on. She hissed at us when we tried to follow her and she just ran off and left us. And there we were, four kittens alone in a very big world. We explored at first, its was fun. We were kittens, what did we know? Mom always came back, at least she always had.
Then it got late and we got hungry but there was no food, no house, no home. We tried to find our way back and we split up. I wandered for 3 days trying to find my way back.
And then it happened, things went from lost and bad to really bad. Somewhere out there in those big fields something grabbed me and tried to eat my face. I fought like mom had taught me and somehow I got away and ran for my life. It was looking hopeless for me but I kept going, and then I heard it. That special call, "here kitty kitty", and I knew I found home. I had trouble running and ran into things, but I stumbled my way to that special door and it was open and inviting me in. That's when I knew I was safe. I found my way home. Homer made it home.
Step 5: Always remember your way back.
It took a long time for me to get my good looks back. It took a long time before I could eat right again. It was a hard lesson for me. And two of my liter mates never made it back. Bond made it back only because he was rescued.
So, if your mom wants to take you out exploring, that's fine. But always remember to keep track of where you are. And you never know, maybe she will have a bad day and it could end up being up to you to get back.
Step 6: Lets not forget the catnip.
Step 7: Life is Good.
Step 8: How to take care of Injuries
If they will let you look at them try and find where they hurt. If its obvious like Homer's was, check the rest of them and see if there is something else. Swelling can make things really hard to judge, so what might look like a really bad injury might be just temporary swelling. Homer had no broken bones and his jaw was OK. A broken jaw for a cat is very serious and may not be able to be fixed. But in his case he had skin missing but the rest looked sound. I was worried about his eye. It was hard to tell if it had been injured. It was stuck shut from dried blood and pretty swollen. It turned out that it was OK. After a few days he got it opened and it looked good. When you look at their injuries evaluate it like you would yourself. Like a person getting a black eye, it can swell shut and look really bad but its not that serious. Its the same with an animal.
Most people would have rushed Homer to a vet right away, but our nearest vet at that time was 60 miles away and their practice was mainly in farm animals like horses. And I really didn't have the money to spend so I decided to wait and see how well he would recover. I took care of his immediate needs, those being water and rest and safety.
When I gave him water he had trouble with his mouth hurting but he did drink a lot. If he couldn't of done it himself I would have put the water in a syringe and squirted it into his mouth. A few hours later I gave him some milk. I gave him an old jacket with a flannel liner to lay on and he slept the first day. The next day we moved on to solid food. He could not pick anything up with his mouth so I used a popsicle stick and gave him soft canned food. Once he got it on his tongue he was OK so I stick feed him for several days until the swelling went down. This is when you need to watch for infections. If there are any signs of that you need to get them help or get them antibiotics to treat it. You can see if a wound is getting infected, it works the same way as it does for you. It gets really sore and hot to the touch and may even leak fluids. Their overall body temperature will go up also. You can tell if they are hot. If they are curled up just put your hand on their stomach. it should be warm but not burning hot. You can also use a thermometer. Homer never got an infection and after a few days of rest and food he began to perk up a lot. By the end of the week it was pretty clear that he was out of major trouble and now just needed to heal. His biggest problem remained eating but he figured that out. Rather than picking up food he learned to just open his mouth and scoop it in, and that worked for him until he grew his lip back.
Injuries can be scary but just like with people, given time most will heal. If there is someone you know that has dealt with injured animals don't hesitate to ask them for help. Most people who have cared for animals are also the type who love to be of help if they can, They may have seen the same type of thing already. In the rural area where I live there are Vet supplies available at farm and ranch supply stores. This includes vaccines and antibiotics and bandages. Farm people often do a lot of their own animal care, its part of the package of living in the country so there are resources available. Giving shots is not that hard if it is necessary so with some instruction you should be able to.
And finally, if necessary take them to a Vet. This though can be a dilemma. You have to decide if helping something like a stray cat is an investment that you can afford to make. It costs a lot to go to a Vet, and as hard as it is to say, you have to decide if the animal is worth the cost, especially if you have limited funds. Some vets will help for free or for reduced rates, remember the reason they became a veterinarian is probably because they love animals too, so talk to them about it. You might even be able to work out a deal with them, like helping out in their clinic in exchange for their help. But like everybody they have to be realistic. Sometimes you have to make hard choices, and sometimes you have to let things go. There will come a time when you have to say good by. That is just the way it is.
Step 9: How to wash a cat soaked in transmission fluid.
When I came back out to continue work I found Homer clinging to the door, smearing up the glass, and he was completely coated with red transmission fluid, except for his head. He apparently had been behind the seat when I closed up the truck. Somehow he had managed to get into the fluid and then spread it over the entire interior. Seats, doors, dash, even on the roof. It was everywhere and he was crying for help.
This was a real dilemma. If I opened the door and let him out he might bolt and I did not want to have to chase him down. If I grabbed him I would then also be covered in fluid and I would have a dripping cat to try and contain and I did not want him running around the house acting like a paintbrush. So I had to prepare for this rescue before I opened the door.
One good thing about this problem was that oil and things like transmission fluid are by themselves not poisonous in small amounts, so he wasn't in danger from that. Motor oil and other fluids do have additives in them that are not good for you, but the oil itself will not poison you or animals. When you hear about animals and birds dying from oil spills its from the side effects like birds that get their feathers ruined rather than direct poisoning. Eating oil is not good for you but it will not kill you unless its in large amounts. For a cat the problem is they will get dirt stuck to their fur and it will mat it down. Then they will lick it to try and get it off and eating to much of it along with the dirt could make them pretty sick.
Homer was going to need a bath, period.
I went back in the house and got everything ready that I needed in the bathroom including a bunch of old towels. Then I got an armful of rags and went to free him.
I opened the door and he didn't try to run so that was good. I used my hand like a squeegee and tried to scrape off as much transmission fluid as I could. Then I used the rags to try and soak up more. He already had a lot of grit in his fur, I could feel it as I wiped him off. Once he was not dripping anymore I carried him inside to the bathtub and locked us in.
When it comes to bathing cats, its usually not the water so much that they don't like as much as it is the temperature of the water. In physics there is this principle called the square cube law. What it is about is that the rate something looses heat depends on the surface area and the volume. Volume increases by the cube while surface area increases by the square. A large animal like a horse looses heat very slowly because it has a large volume compared to its surface. An animal like a cat has a very small volume compared to its surface area, so it looses heat really fast. Cold water will cause them to immediately begin shivering. So any water you use for a shower or bath needs to be as close to their temperature as possible. That is close to 100 degree F. Use a thermometer if you have to, but get your water temp right. Too cold and they will try and get out immediately and you will have a fight. Too hot and they will cry out because its very uncomfortable for them. If its just right they will almost always (All of mine have) let you run the water on them. They will be a little nervous about it at first but if you stay calm they should not fight you. To wash out oil you need detergent. Dish-washing detergent works really good for this. Get some to keep on hand just in case you have this or a similar problem. Get a hypoallergenic unscented type. The one I used is Dawn. You can use baby shampoo but its not really strong enough for oil soaked animals and you will have to wash them many times for it to work.
Wet the cat down but not his head and get him used to the water. He may be startled at first but hold on firmly and keep talking gently to him. When they are completely wet put a line of detergent down their back and start massaging it in. Homer apparently thought he was at a spa and started purring. By the way it helps to always keep a hand on them. If you take your hand off they usually think your done and will jump out and run around spreading water and soap everwhere. You don't want to clean that mess up too. Work the detergent in until it stops being slippery. It will combine with the oil and make a gooey looking stuff. This is when you need to rinse and repeat. Keep using your hands to wipe the water and soap and oil mix off. I leave the water running and use a hand shower so I can get it close to them with out getting water everywhere. It took six wash and rinse repeats for Homer until the foam was no longer pink. If their head is dirty also you can wash it but be careful where you get the soap. Also but don't spray them in the face to rinse. Instead let the water fall on them the way rain would. That way they don't get water in their ears and up their nose.
After you think they are clean, wash them one more time. Get their legs and paws and especially their tail. A lot soaks into their tail.
Again use your hand to wipe the water off. Then use OLD towels to dry them. Even after many washings the towels I used to dry him with turned pink. Remember, you will not be able to get everything out so the goal is to just get them as clean as you can without getting them really stressed.
Another thought-- Its a lot easier to give a kitten a bath rather than a full sized cat. If you give your kitten a few baths to get them used to it they will be a lot better about it when they are big. Then again sometimes it just teaches them to really hate it so when you try to do it they are already in fight mode. I don't think there is a best answer to this.
If you can blow dry them its the best approach. Some cats hate blow dryers others don't mind them at all. Make sure not to let the dryer get to hot and use a medium speed so its not to loud. Keep the air moving and don't let the dryer stay on one spot for to long. It takes a lot longer to dry a cat than it does your own hair. Dry their back and sides and, if you can, their tummy. Those are the important parts. No matter how dry or wet they are at this point they will now spend hours licking themselves. Give them a warm place and let them work on it. And remember that they still might have enough oil left on them to stain furniture and rugs. Its hours of work and an ordeal but they will come through it just fine.
Its just another day and another adventure.
By the way, I have no pictures of this process because I didn't have a hand to spare. And you will get oily and wet, so you are probably the next one in the shower. It's amazing what trouble one little animal can create and the pickup still has spots of fluid around in it.
Step 10: Romeo & Juliet - how to tame wild cats
The best way to approach a wild, or semi wild cat is -- don't. As soon as you make a motion toward them they will run. So what you do is get them to come to you. Sit down or get on your knees and hold out your hand to them. By getting low to the ground you come down to their level and are not so intimidating to them. Also they seem to know that if your sitting you can't jump up and grab them as easily as you can when standing. The best thing is usually to offer them food. Get upwind if you can so they can smell you and what it is that you are offering them. Talk to them softly and quietly and if they are hesitant to cross those last few feet, put the food down and back up a little. Don't throw it to them because they will think you are throwing it at them. Once they get used to taking food from your hand they will calm down and let you touch them. This might take a while, just go slowly and let them set the pace.
Once Juliet accepted me as a friend she was around all the time. She really liked being petted and scratched. She got tame enough that we could pick her up and she didn't struggle. For a wild cat this was pretty amazing. She had a special personality and it showed in how she reacted to me. She was very sociable and actually liked people. Many wild cats will never reach this point and will always run away from you. That is just the way they are.
I knew that Juliet had been having kittens but I never saw any of them. Then one spring she decided to have them in one of our buildings. If you want to find where the kittens are hidden, and they will be, watch the mom closely. She will usually stay fairly close by. When she goes to visit them you can listen for them and then figure out where they are. If the mom trusts you she won't be bothered by your looking at her kittens. The mom will usually move them to a different place within the first 2 weeks, this is just what they do, they move them from the place where they were born. Juliet moved her batch and we never saw them again. Later I heard from a neighbor that Juliet had been there with a bunch of kittens hidden in a pile of old lumbar. They said some dogs found them and killed them all. That's the hazard of living in the wild.
Romeo, the tom, was a very large and stout bull's eye tabby. There is no doubt that he is Homer's dad. He too had been living wild for years. I used to see mostly his tail as he ducked under a building. He didn't trust anyone and would not even let you get close. Then he started watching me from a distance. When I was working in the garden he used to come out from his hiding place and just sit and watch. If you even started walking toward him he was gone. Then he got tired of doing that and I finally got close enough to him to get a good look. My daughter was right about them being an item. He often hung around where Juliet was and not because she was in heat. He stuck around even when she was expecting kittens. After Juliet became friendly with us he started to move in closer. It was a long slow process but eventually Romeo became friendly, taking food and getting scratched. He was a very strong cat, just all solid muscle. No wonder he did so well on his own. He even let us pick him up finally. We couldn't walk with him or carry him but if we just picked him up he was OK with that. So they became regulars at the food dishes.
One thing about Romeo that amazed me was that he only was friendly with certain people. He was fine with me and my daughter and a few others but if a stranger showed he was GONE. I had a UPS driver pull into the driveway and Romeo had been sitting quietly with the kittens. He was up and gone before anyone knew what was happening. He definitely recognized different people and if he didn't know you he would not show himself.
An interesting thing I have noticed about wild cats is they will not go into a house, at least not the ones I have dealt with. There is something about it that really scares them. Possibly its the lack of a way out, but whatever it is I can always tell the difference in a wild one and a cat that was raised by someone. If a stray has no problem coming through the door then it was not born wild. I have had people dump cats here or along the road. People decide that they need to get rid of them so they take them out someplace and just drop them. We had one cat show up that wanted in the house so bad it was painful Apparently that is where she was raised. After she had kittens she brought them onto the porch and refused to leave. She stayed there with her kitten pile even when it started to rain. She finally got her way and we let her and her wet kittens in.
I looked through years of pictures but I cannot find any of Romeo. Maybe he was camera shy also.
Step 11: How to get more cats.
Many of the houses in Montana have what are called air lock entries. Its a simple idea, there is an inside door and an outside door. The air lock is a room or any kind of structure that acts as a buffer between the extreme cold of outside and the heated inside. This way you don't loose all your heat when you open the door when its 20 below outside. When its warmer in the spring and summer I often leave the outside door open and I put the food for the cats in the entry. So Juliet was used to coming in to eat there.
I Thought I would let her stay in until the storm blew over. However she apparently had other ideas. She climbed into a box and proceeded to have her kittens there. It was really kind of special thing, a wild cat that came in from the bad weather and trusted me enough that she had her kittens there. So she had five kittens on that stormy night and thus Homer was born.
A few days later and she wanted out so I let her go. Then she came back to care for her kittens. I became a doorman. I let her out and let her in and we developed a routine. I locked her in with the kittens at night and that way they were all safe.
About two weeks went by and she decided that she was going to move the kittens. She stood at the door with one of them in her mouth wanting out. I didn't go along with the idea though and took the kitten and put it back in the pile. I let her out by herself. We repeated this a number of times but since I was now the doorman I didn't let the kittens out. She started to get frustrated and finally moved the kittens to a different spot in the entryway. She put them under the table saw in the sawdust. I tried putting them back in the box with the nice soft rags but she kept dragging them down into the sawdust. So we made a compromise. I let her keep the kittens in the dirt but she had to leave them in the entryway. This apparently worked OK and she quit trying to run out the door with them. It didn't matter to much anyway because pretty soon they going wherever they wanted. I had to be careful not to step on them because one of their favorite places to cat nap was on the carpet.
Shortly after they were born I noticed that these kittens had some very special personalities. We had had kittens before but these were different. Jet especially. She was this little tiny thing, the smallest of the litter, and whenever the inside door opened even a little she ran in the house and down under the wood stove. She knew where she wanted to be.
In a short time the weather got better and I started leaving the outside door open. The kittens started exploring the world outside. They could come and go as they wanted. They stayed pretty close usually and all ran back inside if anything scared them. My entry became a place of security for them.
In time Juliet started taking the kittens on little hunting trips, or they just followed her. Jet however usually didn't go. She preferred to stay around home. In time It was not unusual for them to be gone most of the day and then come back in the evening to eat. I had conditioned then so that whenever I called them they came. Later on that turned out to be a really good thing.
I believe that this was the first litter Juliet ever had that survived. Protected from predators and the elements they actually had a chance. And as Homer said life was good.
Step 12: And then more cats.
So I was left with three. Homer, Jet and Bond. My daughter who had moved away came back for a visit and fell in love with Bond. So I let her adopt him. Romeo came around a few times during the summer and Juliet visited but always hissed at her kittens. Then in the late fall she showed up and was very pregnant again. This time she had her kittens outside. Kittens born in the fall here don't stand a chance if they are outside. Everything goes into hibernation or just goes away for the winter so the hunting for a cat in the winter is very sparse. She had them somewhere around the house so I was able to find them pretty easily and I moved all five of them into the entryway.
Juliet was OK with that at first, and then wanted to move them. So we did the door thing again and she finally gave up. We got into the routine of everybody coming in at night and it worked just fine. If I closed up before she was back Juliet used to call at the door when she got back from her wanderings. Then one night she didn't show up which was odd since she had been so regular. The next morning there was still no Juliet. That afternoon I went looking for her and found her far down the highway. She had been run over on the road. She had been out hunting for her kittens and she still had the mouse she caught in her mouth. She traveled almost a quarter of a mile to get a mouse to bring back to them. So after years of survival in the wild Juliet's adventure came to an end. She left behind five little girl kittens. Fortunately they were big enough to be on their own but they did miss their mom for a while.
In the very early spring when they got bigger a friend of mine was looking for kittens and asked about them. I adopted 2 of them out to a good home and that left me with five. Five is a good number. So I was happy. They were happy. As Homer says, life was good, and Juliet's legacy continued on.
Step 13: Population explosion.
Romeo had been coming around as usual that spring. He was looking a bit ragged and was missing a tooth. I guess the winter had been pretty rough on him. He appeared thankful to get handouts from someone he trusted.
The kittens were just six months old and had not shown any signs of going into heat. At least not that I could tell. But Romeo with his much greater experience apparently noticed otherwise. All three girls ended up pregnant. So Romeo, who was their daddy was also their kittens daddy. To him it was just business, one that he did well. He got them all on their first heat.
So, summer time came and so did the kittens. We had 5, 3 and 3 for a total of 11. Now you add to that the 3 moms, that's 14, and then Jet and Homer and I was suddenly up to 16 cats. Add to that the 2 that never came back, the 3 that I adopted out and we are at 21. In just a year and a half. Amazing. And of course I am not figuring into it that fact that the other 2 girls I adopted out could also have had kittens.
Then to make things more interesting someone dumped off a pregnant mom cat who also had 4 more kittens. Fortunately I found a home for that entire group when some people moved into a farm house that had been vacant for a while and was overrun with mice and they were desperate for cats.
It was an interesting summer. Three litters of kittens really keeps things alive.
Fall came and it was time to find homes for all my bounty. I found good homes for them them and adopted them out. I kept three, one from each mom. So I was down to 8 which considering I am surrounded with acres of fields is not to many for the space, at least I don't think so.
There was a free spay and neuter clinic in the late fall and I had the three moms and the three kittens taken care, no more kittens. My cat population is now stable, unless some more show up.
I have to say that these are some of the best cats I have ever had. I am still amazed at the special combination of Romeo and Juliet that produced them.
Sadly the last time I remember seeing Romeo was sometime late last summer, about a year ago. So I am sure that he is gone now too.
But his genes are still out there getting around. The people who adopted one of Arrow's kittens were so impressed with him that they are using him for breeding. That means that those bulls eye tabbies will still be showing up. And then there are all the ones I adopted out to farms and ranches. Its unlikely that all of them were fixed. So Romeo and Juliet are carrying on. That special match that made Homer and Jet and Bond and the others is still around. I am glad that I had the chance to help out with that. After her great struggle, Juliet finally managed to get her family.
"Good Night, Good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say good night till it be morrow."
- William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, 2.2