On tiny white paws she crept, under cover of dark, while everyone slept …
She slunk in through the cat door, lured by the irresistible smell of food. Too small to catch anything but bugs, and now, too weak from malnutrition …
With her little empty belly overriding all her fears, and hunger making her reckless, she forgot everything her mother had taught her, and survival instinct took over.
But the food was so good. She grew careless and stayed too long. Daylight came. The other animals, the dogs, woke up. There were strange noises, smells, and movement in the house. She couldn’t make it back through the door to safety without being seen, or even caught, and eaten. She hid in an open cupboard, hoping to creep out the next night, and escape.
All day I kept hearing strange noises coming from the cupboard. The dogs, and a couple of my cats, set up camp on the floor outside the cupboard door. I figured it was either rats, or a snake. I didn’t want to deal with either, so I left the door open slightly, hoping whatever it was would make its own way out.
And it did. Minutes before dark, I heard my dogs barking at something just outside the house. Thinking it might be a snake I raced outside to protect them, and there she was.
A tiny feral kitten. The dogs had her cornered, but she was doing her best impression of a bigger, scarier cat.
Now, when I say feral, I don’t mean she was a stray, or homeless cat. Australian feral cats are descended from domestic cats, but that’s where the similarity ends. These cats are vicious killers, always striped – the original color of cats – and often growing much larger than their domestic ancestors. Most have never even seen a human, and most humans never see them.
They’re solitary, and nocturnal. They have adapted well to Australia’s dry conditions, and can survive for long periods without water; they get necessary moisture from their prey.
Living in the outback, I’ve only had a few fleeting glimpses of them. They are considered a major pest, and a threat to our native wildlife, which has very few, if any, natural enemies. Without competition, the feral cats have thrived. They’re hard to control, and they’ve caused the extinction of some species.
Still, I don’t hold anyone’s lineage against them, and this little one needed my help. I gingerly bent down to pick her up — more like grab her as she made another dash for freedom. Even at around four weeks old this baby was a wildcat and didn’t hesitate to sink her teeth into my hand several times. Little baby cat teeth and people hands are not compatible. The teeth won, ouch!
I took her back inside and offered her the good food. She’d been stealing the dry cat food from the container on the table. It’s what my cats snack on between meals. One taste of the ‘good stuff’ and she lost all interest in mauling my hands.
When I’d stuffed her full of mince, I put her in the spare room with a litter box and her own supply of food and water, and left her to calm down. Every day I’d clean her litter box — she used it, just like a normal cat — and three times a day I delivered fresh food and water, while she dived behind the furniture and watched until I left.
After a couple of days I left the door open so she could see us going about our daily activities. Eventually she stopped hiding, and just retreated to a far corner when I fed her. A week later she was watching us from the doorway. A few days after that I caught her touching noses with my kelpie, Brax.
Brax has a way with other animals, especially cats. He’s a canine cat-whisperer. And he’d been sitting outside the spare room trying to see the strange ‘minicat’ that had come to live with us. I knew the kitten would interact with him first. She’d seen him almost constantly since she’d arrived, and she soon realized he wasn’t going to eat her.
We’ll leave it there for now, and in my next post we'll find out what happened when she decided it was safe to come out of her room. Did she make the right decision?
Till next time, keep the faith ...