Not Just for Kids

 Vol. 9, No. 51
December 20 - 26, 2001 
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The Kittens Who Live Next Door
by Sandra Martin

Nobody lives in the house next to Bay Weekly. But lots of bodies live under it: The seven cute furry bodies of a mother cat and her six kittens.

Since their discovery, we name our days by how many kittens we’ve seen. First, a little black body squeezed out from behind the cinderblock that’s the door to their ground-floor apartment. He made his appearance close to Halloween. Another clear autumn day, his orange brother or sister came out to wash in a sunbeam. There too was mama, a pretty calico cat in black and orange and white.

One very good day we counted six kittens: Our black kitten was a triplet; there were twins, too, of the black and orange mix that’s called tortoise shell; sixth was the orange kitten.

By then we’d started setting out dishes of cat food.

“Put out fresh water, too,” Mary Baldwin advised us. “It’s been so dry this fall that there’s no puddle anywhere to get a drink.”

Mary is a volunteer with Calvert Animal Welfare League. She promptly answered reporter Kim Cammarata’s call for advice on what to do about our kittens.

The advice we got turned some of us at Bay Weekly into part-time cat wranglers.

“Unless you catch them,” said Mary, “a hundred cats could be living next door within a few months.”

A mother cat can have 30 babies a year, we learned from Carol Hall, another Calvert Animal Welfare League volunteer. Feral cats like ours are multiplying across the country. They might once have been pets, but escaped or abandoned, they turn wild.

Like ours, they want nothing to do with people. Our kittens were cute but cautious.

Carol’s son, Chad Hall, brought us cages and showed us how to bait them with food. When a hungry kitty walked inside, it would trigger a trap door.

Two trap doors slammed shut the day we baited our traps with the tuna we’d planned to have for lunch. The kitties wanted nothing to do with the canned cat foot we’d brought from home. But canned tuna was a different story. As well as the bait tuna, we’d sweetened the trap with dabs of tuna just out- and inside the open wire traps. Then we’d camouflaged the traps with towels and blankets. If it hadn’t been for the smell of tuna, we don’t think we’d have fooled a kitten.

But in each of our traps that Friday night we’d caught one black kitten. One was calm, but the other threw himself against the wire frame. We had to be slow and quiet, Mary said, lest we make their fear worse. She tucked the cages into her car.

Our kittens were both healthy boys, Mary reported the next day. The boys had been neutered by one of the many local veterinarians who work with Calvert Animal Welfare League to manage the number of feral cats. They got their shots, too.

At about 16 weeks old, they were still young enough to learn to get along with people. But taming them would be slow, patient work. Chad volunteered to be their foster parent. He moved the twins, still caged, into a room in his basement. Slowly and patiently, he talks to them and strokes them. Once they come when he feeds them, they’ll be able to move out of the cage into a closed room. He thinks the boys — and their calico sister, who we trapped last week — will always be shy. But they’ll make good pets someday.

If they were any older, they’d probably never trust people.

We’re still trying to catch the rest of the family, so they can be neutered or spayed and vaccinated. But once they’re four or five months old, they’ll never forget the call of the wild. We’ll turn them loose again, to live as our neighbors, the cats next door.

If you need help with a homeless animal, here’s who to call:

  • SPCA of Anne Arundel County: 410/268-4388
  • Calvert Animal Welfare League: 410/535-9300
  • Patuxent Animal Welfare Society: 410/326-1616
  • Chesapeake SPCA: 301/855-6950
  • Humane Society of Calvert County: 410/257-4908

Kids’ Stuff

Thursday, December 20
Santa’s Secret Shop
Thru Christmas Eve–Visit Santa for photos and a free gift. Then shop for your family and friends from gifts priced under $10. 10-9 F, Noon-9 Sa, Noon-6 Su @ Glen Burnie’s Marley Station, Upper Level, near Center Court. 410/766-2033.

Friday, December 21
Ski Trip
Register by today’s deadline for ski trips to Ski Liberty Jan. 18 & Feb. 8, 2002. Packages and prices for all levels. Sponsored by Calvert County Parks & Rec. Ages 6 & up. rsvp @ Southern District, Lusby: 410/586-1101.

Rudolph’s on His Way
Stop by Barnes & Noble for Rudolph and Santa stories, crafts and a snack. 10am @ the Bookstore, Annapolis: 410/573-1115.

Saturday, December 22
Wildbird Wreathmaking
Join Ranger Brian for last minute nature gift giving to our many feathered friends. First, look for some common winter birds, then create an all-natural bird wreath to hang in the yard. Ages 6-14. 11am @ Kinder Farm Park, Millersville. $5; rsvp: 410/222-6115.

Monday, December 24
Ice Skating Lessons
Have you been wishing you could ice skate like the kids in all those holiday TV specials? Today you can learn how from experienced coaches. Ages 3-8, any level. 9-noon @ Bowie Ice Arena. $25: 301/809-3090.

Thursday, December 27
Holiday on Ice
Wondering what to do during Christmas break? Learn how to ice skate, or improve your current level. Coaches on hand teach tips and tricks for ages 6-13, any level. 9am-5pm @ Bowie Ice Arena. $38: 301/809-3090.

Copyright 2001
Bay Weekly