Sharon Smallbone, texts and photo’s
I get all my animals neutered but over the years I’ve still ended up with kittens.
Usually they come from stray Mums I’ve been unable to catch in time but sometimes I get the Mums spayed only to find they already have a secret litter of kittens stashed away.
They all have their own twist on the role. There’s a saying that a neglectful Mum is
“no better mother than a cat”
but I’ve witnessed some pretty good mothering from some of mine.
Zelena (the wicked witch of the west) was fiercely protective of her babies. She foraged from the bin near my house and then worked out that proper cat biscuits were available on my balcony. She became a regular diner and made her presence felt from the very first instant. She beat up any cat who dared to come near her and extended the same courtesy to the dogs after she moved herself indoors.
She was a very smart cookie. She may have been a tyrant with the other animals but she was all sweetness and light with me and courted strokes and cuddles. Having discovered the outside biscuits, she watched the other house cats and learned there was an even greater level of comfort inside the house. She sussed out the kitchen window and cat flap as points of entry and was so fearsome that the other animals never opposed her joining them. She’d muscled her way in and feathered her nest.
Next she taught her kittens to come to the balcony for food. Trust me, nobody was going to bother them. Eventually they, too, moved into the house. But they must have taken after their father because they were a pair of real scaredy cats and much bullied once they were old enough to come out from under Zelena’s overprotective wing.
At around the same time Molly also had a litter of kittens but she approached it all very differently. Molly mostly summered at a nearby hotel but still supplemented her diet from the bin and my balcony. She habitually moved into the house with me in winter.
Molly was serene and watchful, but a lot less overtly protective than Zelena. Maybe that’s why her kittens all grew to be more confident and chilled. She was a fabulous Mum though and, after establishing her credentials and bringing her three little ones into the house, she went back to the hotel and returned with a boy from her previous litter too. I had a cat bed in the kitchen and she would squash herself in there with her four babies.
While all this was going on my Mum moved to Kefalonia and got into the habit of picking up kittens to save. She had great intentions but was not up to dealing with speedy little animals darting under her feet and climbing up her with their needle sharp claws. I always ended up removing them to add to my own menagerie.
Gizmo was one of those kittens. She was quite small, very young to be away from her Mum and absolutely starving. But once installed in my house she was doing OK, eating well and managing with all the upheaval. One evening Molly came in through the cat flap and her three youngest kittens started shouting their heads off because they knew they were getting milk. Gizmo was beside herself too and joined in the frenzy. Ella the kitten was less than impressed and still has very little time for Gizmo but Molly made room and happily nursed her along with the others.
But then there was Fatty. She was the first cat I officially adopted in Kefalonia and she was a real kitten machine. She had a couple of litters before I managed to get her spayed.
She was a much more matter of fact mother than Zelena and Molly though. She did her bit: she cleaned them, fed them and found them a good safe place to live.
But when they were big enough for independence she was done.
“Off you go kids, get on with it.”
Laki, one of the kittens from her final litter went to the hotel where I was working. That was where Fatty pretty much lived all summer, sucking up to the tourists and getting plenty of luxury food. One day little Laki saw his Mum walking past and was so excited as he ran up to her, miaowing in delight. She gave him a cuff round the ear and kept walking.
I suppose that’s what you’d call tough love.