My next-door neighbour’s little girl, Jennifer, came running into my house; red-faced, gasping for breath, and with all the earnestness that a 5 year old could muster.
“Rosie, my mom says to tell you to come over!” She said. “It’s important!”
So, out I went into the Florida sunshine and walked across my front lawn to my neighbour’s driveway. We’d been friends from the day I’d moved into 6339 Brack Street , a day that the then three year old Jennifer had decided she wanted to be friends with the new people moving in, and had walked in through my back door and said “hi, I’m Jennifer. Are you my new neighbours?” Her mum, Patty, and I had hit it off immediately, and only two months later, I’d started babysitting Jenn while Patty was at work.
“Hi Rosie,” Patty was lounging in her armchair, cradling the phone to her ear, “I need to ask you something. You know about these things...”
Like a lamb to the slaughter.
“If you’ve got a dog and it’s feeding puppies, would it feed an abandoned kitten?”
“You’d have to go about introducing it carefully,” I said, “maybe make it smell like the other puppies, but yeah, it’s been done plenty of times, why?”
“Jeannie at work has found this kitten under her trailer, and it’s only about a day old. It’ll die if we don’t do something about it, and this guy I know has this dog that’s just had puppies...”
So, I was going to get roped in to play nursemaid and get this dog to adopt this kitten. Ok!
Off we went, Patty driving, and met Jeannie at the Amoco gas station by SR520 in Cocoa. The creamy white kitten was about 2" long, covered in what looked like dirt but was actually flea waste, and fleas - more fleas than I was used to seeing on my adult cats. I felt so sorry for the poor little thing. We took it from Jeannie, wrapped in a soft towel, and got back into Patty’s car.
“Rosie,” she wheedled, “I’ve been thinking - this guy, his dog’s a purebred, so he won’t want to let it feed this kitten; it’ll ruin it’s purity.”
I looked at her.
“Patty, are you going to try to raise it yourself? It’ll need feeding regularly every couple of hours, just like a baby - are you up to that?”
“No, Rosie, not me!” she said, “I couldn’t do it. I’m not into that sort of thing, but you could...”
There it was. A well-sprung trap and I’d fallen right into it! I was well-known amongst my neighbours as the local home for waifs and strays - be they animal or human, it seemed they all found their way to my doorstep, one way or another. Well, with four dogs and four cats already, I guess what was one more?
“Mark’ll kill me, Patty.”
“Mark won’t. He’s as stupid as you are about dumb animals,” she laughed.
“Oh well, let’s get home then.”
Mark didn’t kill me, and deserves a medal for what he put up with over the next few weeks. From the time I walked in with that poor little scrap, our lives became more hectic than usual. To begin with, I wasted no time in concocting a milk and water solution with sugar and a pinch of salt and fed him that from a nose dropper. He had a good appetite and polished off about an ounce of fluid within the first hour. I didn’t want to overdo it, as he hadn’t had anything at all (that I knew) in 3 or 4 hours. First was one dropper full, then about 10 minutes later, another, and so on for about six more times - all with about 10-15 minutes inbetween. I filled the bathroom sink with lukewarm water, and washed him with a tiny bit of baby shampoo, trying to get off as much of the dirt and fleas as possible. The water turned orange from their excrement. After drying him gently, I nestled him into the cleavage of my bra (this is my reason for being so amply endowed, I suspect!) so that he had a heartbeat to listen to and bodily warmth. I was surprised at how calm he seemed with me, and it wasn’t lethargy. He was quite perky and moved around, took food well, but seemed very “comfortable” with my being the one giving him all the mothering.
The next morning, I called my vet and explained the situation, and they said to bring the kitten down to them for a check-up. By then, I’d already named him Nathaniel, which my husband had shortened to Nat-Nat. The check up went ok, the vet suggested I use a proper dog/cat milk substitute instead of my own concoction - although they thought I’d done very well with that! They said that I could spray a flea spray LIGHTLY onto my hand, and then rub it into his fur (usually you can’t use flea spray on young animals under about eight weeks) as he still had fleas hatching, and we did not want fleas! No thank you! They were surprised that he was doing so well having been abandoned so young. They thought he was about a day old when I’d got him, in fact - his eyes didn’t open for another eight days so it’s possible he wasn’t even a full day when Jeannie had found him.
I started him on the animal formula, still feeding him by the dropper about once an hour, and he’d drink maybe three or four droppers full each time. He was a little piggy! At first, I’d taken care of the other end by wiping him gently from the tummy downwards, imitating the way the mother animal licks her young to stimulate them to excrete. However, my dogs would all clamour around and Cairo particularly took a liking to him, so after feeding, I took to holding him carefully in the air, and allow the licking volunteers to do their bit. Far more natural, and efficient.
Mark and I had gone to Wal-Mart and got a laundry basket solely for Nathaniel to sleep in, his space. I’d put some soft fluffy towels in it, and lay him in there during the night, bringing him out only for feeding and toilet-ing. I was working as a nanny, to a family 15 miles away in Merritt Island, and ended up taking him to work with me for a couple of weeks. I was still caring for Jenn, and she would go there with me - a situation we’d all discussed when I’d been hired for the position. Alison was a few months younger than Jennifer, and Kenny was 18 months. Nathaniel’s care became a learning experience for a couple of weeks, and the source of various other activities - drawing, stories, etc. Every morning, 6.30 am would see me loading my car with a sleepy Jenn, and any toys she was taking for the day, and a big, blue laundry basket complete with kitten, plus a bag with animal formula, and nose dropper. He’d already been fed once and Cairo had usually assisted with the ablutions, and I’d do a toilet-ing session with a damp cloth during the day, once or twice.
Sometimes, during the night, I’d be half asleep when I fed him, and he’d be nestled on my chest taking the dropper. I’d awake with a start, thinking he was still snuggled with me and that I might have rolled on him, only to find him safely in his basket next to the bed. My poor hubby got woke up all the while, but never complained. He KNOWS his wife is dotty anyway, so I guess he thought, what was the point in complaining. We laughed that it was just like having a new baby in the house - well, we did really, didn’t we?
We’d had Nathaniel 8 days when his eyes opened, and that was the beginning of the end of his innocence. I’d already started adding the juices from canned cat food to his milk formula, and his little face had scrunged up in distaste the first couple of times. I was still feeding him from the dropper, but offering him a teaspoon too, to encourage him to begin to lap. He was fattening up nicely, but his legs still couldn’t quite support him, and he was crawling along on his belly most of the time, with his legs splayed out alongside of him. It was a comical sight.
Funnily enough, our cats had less to do with him than our dogs. Ten year olds, Babe (who we’d inherited in Arkansas) and Moddy (a souvenir from our time in Germany) took one look and spat savagely, accompanying it with a snarl. Spooky, 4, and her slightly retarded daughter, Spazz-cat (2, and still occasionally feeding off her mother!) looked disdainfully and walked off. Of the hounds, 4 year old Cairo was definitely the self-appointed adoptive mother, but Kaz, 8, Bubbles, almost 2, and Pepsi,1, all did their bit at times. It was a joint effort, and we all played our part!
Mark took some pictures of him when he was that small - one of him in a regular size coffee mug shows it perfectly. It’s so hard to believe sometimes, that he came from such a beginning and made it at all, let alone did so well. There were some hiccups along the way. He had a definite identity crisis from about three to six months - he wasn’t sure if he was human, dog or cat, but gradually he found his way and figured it out for himself. He had a thoroughly spoiled attitude for a while too, and was very mischievious AND expected to get away with it. You could see the look in his eyes, surprised when he was chastised for doing something he shouldn’t. He’d pounce on all the dogs (and cats too), especially when they were sleeping. Babe and Moddy both slapped him more than once, and not gentle pats either. Big, wide swings of a paw, claws extended, accompanied by angry snarls, sending him sliding across the floor with a yowl. It took him about a week to figure out that he’d best leave them alone, they did NOT want to play!
Mark felt most sorry for him the day that he went in for his op (spaying) and came out very woozy, and obviously sore, and looking at my husband with a pleading look as if to say “why me? What did I do to deserve this?” Mark felt guilty, and I think imagined he could share the pain! All of our animals were spayed though - we’d got each of them through others not wanting them - it would be cruel to let them bring more unwanted animals into the world.
Sadly, returning to England in 1998, we had to leave them behind. Babe and Moddy had already died, and Pepsi had been snatched by an alligator one day as the dogs ran down by the Indian River. My neighbours across the road, owners of five dogs, took Spooky, Spazz-Cat and Nathaniel, so that they could still roam the woods where they’d been used to all the time we were living there. Kaz, Cairo and Bubbles were taken to the local animal shelter, who promised they would not put them to sleep. I cried, they were a part of our family, but although I agree with the idea of keeping England rabies -free, to have taken three dogs who were used to all creature comforts in a hot country, and put them onto concrete floors behind wire fencing, in a wet and colder country, would have been far more cruel. Kaz and Cairo both suffered with rheumatism, and the dampness would have made it far worse. I hope they are all happy, wherever they are; I think of them all the time and miss them terribly.