Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Inter Mothering

 Among the feral cats who take shelter on our hillside are Mama Tortie and her two surviving daughters--Baby Tortie and Dilute.  Miss Jane Hathaway disappeared never to be seen again, although this morning I dreamt I saw her out on the front porch when I went to feed the cats.  Sadly, she was not there in reality.
 Mama Tortie had two babies about a month ago, but only one survived, a little gray dilute, although paler and more gray than her older sister Dilute.  Mama took up housing in the kitty basket.  One day when I went out to feed and water, Mama and Baby Tortie were in the basket together.  I said, "Well, what are you two both doing in there?"  Out they both walked, and there in the little nest were 3 more new kitties.  I noticed that Mama would nurse Baby's babies while Baby was out eating or taking care of kitty business.  I went to get another kitty basket, and moved Baby Tortie and her kittens into it, right next to Mama.  Baby looked at the kittens in the new basket, looked in her old basket with the older gray kitten, and promptly set about moving her kittens back into co-rooming with Mama and first kitty.  I learned then--don't mess with the cats.  They will work it out.
 Meanwhile, Dilute had her kittens--three little grays (that is Cousin Tortie in the back, Baby Tortie's kitty.  Yes, I know, getting a little complicated here.)  Mama and Baby helped Dilute clean up her kittens and herself.  Apparently, it is not uncommon for mother and daughter cats who have kittens at the same time to co-reside and co-mother.  It is particularly more common in feral cats, where the mother leaves the kittens alone to hunt for food.  Now while these cats are not truly feral, as in I feed them, and obviously give them shelter, they are in essence wild cats in that they are not house pets or especially loving sit-in-my-lap cats. 
A couple of days ago, I checked in on Dilute's babies and there were only 2 grays in the basket.  I thought one might have died, but when I looked in the other basket, there were now 5 kittens, and one of them was Dilute's.  But, I did not know the back story, so I did not act.  Could Dilute have not been able to make enough milk for 3 since she was the tiniest cat?  Did Mama take a baby to replace the one she lost early on?  Who moved Dilute's kitty?  Dilute walked up, looked in her basket and then looked in the other basket.  Then she hopped into her basket with the two kitties.

I confess, I worried about it, but also did not worry--thinking they would sort it out just like they had the other system.  Then Thursday while I was sitting out on the porch, I heard mewing sounds of distress.  Cousin Tortie was in the basket with all the other cats, but crying, and seemed to be weak.  All the other kitties were nursing except for Cousin, who just kept crying and sort of pushing herself around aimlessly.  I put her in the basket with the gray cousins, and she settled in with them and stopped crying and went to sleep.  Later, Dilute was nursing all 3 of them, and there Cousin Tortie has been ever since.

I find myself dwelling on it, thinking I should not interfere.  The cats seem perfectly capable of sorting it out and dealing with it.  Did Dilute wonder why they took her other kitten?  Did she wonder how Cousin Tortie ended up in her basket?  Did Baby Tortie realize her baby Tortie was in Dilute's basket?  So many questions, and yet, it seems to have stabilized for the moment and that human interference has not traumatized anyone.  They all three come up to jump up on the arm of the chair when I am on the porch, and two of them like to be scratched behind the ears, although Dilute will not tolerate touch.  I guess I will just see how it works itself out from this point, but one thing is clear--that one basket will not hold 2 adult cats and 4 kittens much longer.  Cousin Gray is already moving around enough that he was out of the basket yesterday, checking out the front porch.  The others will not be far behind.


Beth said...

So sweet! It has to be fun to watch, it will be interesting as they grow larger!And, I'm smiling about a cat named Miss Jane Hathaway (I remember her)and guessing there's a story behind the name being bestowed on a cat!

Suzassippi said...

Obviously, most of the cats don't have names beyond descriptors, but I described a plain Jane yellow tabby, when Miss Jane Hathaway popped into my head. Miss Jane was the sweetest and tamest of the kittens, and the one who had been so brave and adventuresome.