Leveling up

This week, I’ve reached a new level of competence in my fostering.

Tiger developed a URI within 24 hours of being at my house. She was so congested that she couldn’t eat without choking on her food, so she just gave up. The consequence of her giving up eating was that she was unable to produce enough milk for her five kittens. I had to give Tiger a mouthful of food at a time with a syringe to keep her strength up. Between each bite she had to fight the snot blocking her nasal passages just so she could swallow. Additionally, I had to bottle feed her kittens a few times a day so that there was enough milk to keep them alive. It was a rough few days.

Just like with all the kitten ailments, this couldn’t have come at a worse time. I had to leave town for an overnight business trip with Michael. Normally, for a single night, my petsitter could watch the kittens (the shelter is cool with this, given that they are a kill shelter and it’s better to keep the cats in a home, leaving space for others to be adopted out). The catch was that the kittens contracted their mother’s URI, and they couldn’t breathe either. Additionally, mommy stopped caring for them in any capacity, effectively making her kittens bottle-fed orphans with a living heat source. I couldn’t leave a sitter to deal with that, so I sent the kittens to the shelter while I was gone.

I called once during the trip to check in on the babies. One of them had to be euthanized while I was away. The shelter staff found him bloated and unwell, and the vet thought he had an obstruction. The necropsy revealed that the kitten had a perforated bowel, a very unusual condition in a kitten who was only 10 days old. I believe that his mother stopped stimulating him to go to the bathroom, so it all backed up and basically burst on him. Poor guy.

I was able to retrieve the kittens on Saturday. Michael picked them up for me at the shelter so I could get a little more sleep before embarking on the full-time mommy thing. When Michael got the little ones home and into the kitten room, I prepared a bottle for them.

I should add here that I did name the kittens. The dark ones were Bard and Paladin, only distinguishable by their weights. Paladin was the one euthanized while I was gone. Two of the silver ones were of similar weights, but one had a white face. I named the dark-faced one Ranger, and the light-faced one Cleric. The runt, also a silver kitten, I called Rogue.

As I picked up the kittens to supplement their feeding, I noticed that two of them weren’t like the others. Bard and Ranger wouldn’t latch on to the bottle, and they were cool to the touch. The spark that I call life was missing. I knew these weren’t viable kittens, despite the fact that they weren’t in the active stages of dying. For the first time ever, I called the shelter and asked if we could please euthanize the two kittens who just weren’t there anymore. While the foster coordinators did feel that I knew better than anyone else did about these kittens, protocol required me to have them examined before the call could be made. The staffer who met me to make the final call recognized Bard and Ranger from her rounds that morning. “I had them scheduled to be euthanized this afternoon,” she said. “I was surprised to learn that they were back in their foster home.” She then took the boys away to give them some final peace.

These are all that I have left now:

You might notice that the kittens are in the bathroom cabinet. Their mother apparently didn’t feel that the carrier was a safe place to keep a nest, so she moved the kittens to a dark, quiet space. I was shocked, and I thought she was getting rid of them, trying to start over. Now I think that she noticed that kittens were disappearing, and she was trying to hide them to keep that from happening again.

I have been bottle-feeding the kittens and helping them go to the bathroom since they’ve been back. On Monday, I believe, mommy started nursing the kittens more regularly. Today, she started minimally cleaning them. I would say that this was a good thing, except that now it is apparent that I am going to have to ask the shelter again to euthanize a not-quite-dying kitten. Rogue can’t find a nipple even when I pick it up for him and put his face right on it. He isn’t gaining weight. He won’t latch on to the bottle anymore. I also think he has aspiration pneumonia (fluid in the lungs due to inhalation of milk, in his case) because I can hear him breathing with a crackle. It’s bad, and I think it’s his time.

My plan is to call the shelter in the morning if Rogue makes it through the night. In truth, I kind of hope that the poor little guy just dies in his sleep so that I don’t have to make the decision. I now know that I can do the right thing, no matter how much it hurts: I just don’t like having to. The what-ifs will plague me, regardless of the fact that someone else will have to agree with me to make it happen.

It’s appropriate that I leveled up on this litter, the ones with Dungeons and Dragons class names. I’ve lost all of the party except the healer. One the bright side, Cleric is clearly robust. He eats well with me and with his mother. He’s gaining weight. Now, it’s just a matter of finding him some traveling companions.

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