But the sneak thief had a good head start. Note the smug expression on the larcenous little rat’s face
But the sneak thief had a good head start. Note the smug expression on the larcenous little rat’s face
The mother of at least twenty kittens, age about three and a half, shown here on the roof of the Sammymobile
Note to those who have never known the love of an animal: substitute the image of a child in poverty for every mention of a kitten in the following.
Turtleback, who was found dead a week or two ago, shown here as a five week old kitten playing with his mother’s tail, had three siblings. Two girls and his brother Whitefoot.
Turtleback was interactive and very interested in humans, but did not let a human touch him. Once when he was lying close by, watching Whitefoot brush me with his tail, I put my hand close to him and he raised a soft paw, his claws retracted, and gently but firmly swatted my hand away. I thought this a very noble gesture on his part, since he had a fist full of claws as sharp as hypodermic syringes in that paw. I’ve never known a kitten to show this kind of restraint. It was touching and spoke well of his character.
His brother Whitefoot was that rare feral kitten who loves to be petted by humans. He was the dominant kitten of the litter, much bigger than the rest, and he was the most friendly. He was always ready to play, to roll over to have his belly scratched, he’d rub his face happily against Sekhnet and me, even if he didn’t want food. As a tiny kitten he was already adept at the tail caress. Naturally his affectionate nature endeared him to us. Turtleback often sat close by, clearly interested, but not yet ready to try this tenderness with another species.
Because these kittens depend on us for food, greet us happily when we bring their food, because they live in the garden and sit close by Sekhnet, watching her as she works, because they are beautiful, mysterious, playful little creatures seemingly doomed to live very short lives, it is easy to grow attached to them. We try our best not to, since they rarely live beyond five or six months and we can do little to get them adopted as pets. It is hardest to keep this detached view in the case of a kitten like Whitefoot, who so clearly wants our affection and so freely gives us his. He was born wanting to be a pet, ready to make the deal of his love for kindness, safety and a full cat’s life.
Those are Sekhnet’s legs and garden shoes. She captioned this recent photo “Handsome 4 1/2 month old cool cat seeking contact…” He is lying, as familiar cats often do, partially using a human as a pillow. One white foot is stretched out making contact with the human’s other leg.
Think now for a moment, not of a doomed kitten wanting love, but of a tiny human child doomed to die because people rich enough to prevent her misery cannot be bothered to look at her tiny hopeful face and do what any of them would want done for them. In defense of the world of self-serving competitive “winners”, that poor baby’s face is one tiny hopeful face among billions, after all.
A woman spraying organic insecticide on Sekhnet’s fruit trees was the one who called to tell us Turtleback was dead. She was very upset to find his little corpse and contacted her friend, a cat rescue person, about getting the other kittens adopted, or at the very least, spayed, neutered and given shots against the major diseases that kill cats who live outside. Her friend came by a few days later and gave us instructions. She would trap the kittens and take them to the vet.
On the appointed day she reported two captured: Whitefoot and his father, a strange, sharklike looking cat with wide shoulders and a massive head. His coat is mostly white, but he has a few large, ill-placed spots that do nothing for his looks. Sekhnet calls him Spot and chased him from her garden for a long time, until she saw him and Mother Kitten nuzzling one day and realized he was the father of all these kittens. He comes by once in a while for a feed, but is very wary, as any feral cat that grows to adulthood should be. Sekhnet noted that he has enormous balls. For all we know he rules a large area and has as many offspring as Genghis Khan.
Spot and Whitefoot were at the vet’s, their operations done. The woman was coming back soon to try to trap the females. The next day she reported that Spot was fine, eating well and almost ready to be released back to his former domain. I did some reading on cats and learned that his status would probably be very quickly challenged by a male cat with balls. Spot, castrated, would lose status and the aggressiveness necessary to defend his turf. Nature is cruel that way, or, at the very least, indifferent.
Whitefoot was not coming out of the anesthesia, we were told. They were keeping a close eye on him. The woman meanwhile dropped Spot off. He hasn’t been seen since. The two remaining sisters were suddenly staying much closer to Sekhnet. The bold little female who looks like Whitefoot, and faces off Mama Kitten when her mother gets aggressive, was now rubbing against Sekhnet and letting herself be petted. There are a few adorable little phone videos of this loving exchange.
Whitefoot, meanwhile, reportedly came groggily out of his comatose state and was showing affection to the people attending him. They all saw this handsome little feral had all the qualities to be quickly adopted as a pet. He was dehydrated, they gave him an IV. He was trying to eat a little but didn’t have much appetite (which made Sekhnet cry because he always ate with gusto, more like a dog than a cat in his eating habits). The cat rescue woman was beside herself with worry over Whitefoot and every detailed report from the vet she sent Sekhnet released a new wave of sorrow. The details were all horrifying.
It was possibly an error in the amount of anesthesia given the small kitten. Nobody at the vet’s was close to admitting a mistake could have been made. We don’t admit such things here in the USA, USA! An apology is an admission of liability here. It’s a tic, really, since no legal action can be brought against a veterinarian for accidentally killing a patient. The remedy at law, for the loss of a cat, is another cat of equal or greater value. The value of a soul? A trifle with which the law does not concern itself. Something I immediately realize is necessary to the speedy administration of justice, most of which revolves around actual, quantifiable economic harm.
The cat rescuer, a religious woman who takes a very different view of the value of each tiny soul, was inconsolable about the critical state her actions had seemingly put Whitefoot into. I am, for better and worse, a man– meaning I have been trained since my earliest days to show how little I give a shit about emotionally difficult things that I can’t control, while somehow not being a monster (if possible). I’d skim these long, agonized texts from the cat rescuer that Sekhnet would forward and I realized Whitefoot was a goner, no matter how you sliced it. It made me very sad, but my job was to console the inconsolable Sekhnet.
Over the next few days, Whitefoot in critical condition, in a cage, on life support, the texts and veterinary theories kept coming. Decreased liver function, increased bilirubin, a possible heart issue. The woman had already spent close to a thousand dollars on medical tests and life-saving treatments for Whitefoot. She had him “ambuvetted” to her own veterinarian, who held out some hope for the little cat’s survival.
It is worth noting here again that 95% of Mama Kitten’s more than twenty kittens do not survive beyond six months. We are going to have Mama Kitten “fixed” as soon as this latest newborn has been weaned.
A few more days, Whitefoot listless, enlarged heart, decreased lung capacity, only 25%, further tests. In the end the question was whether it was worth keeping him alive if he was suffering with no hope of recovering to lead a decent cat life. This was not a question, really, but the cat rescue woman was desperately trying not to give up hope.
Turtleback looking on as his little sister attacks Whitefoot, who does not take the attack lying down.
The vet and the cat rescue woman decided there was no hope for Whitefoot, and so, after almost a week trying to save him, they gave him a quick, peaceful death yesterday afternoon. The cat rescue woman arranged for a private cremation, so that the one ounce box of ashes would contain only the mortal remains of Whitefoot. She wanted to know if we wanted the ashes. She was praying over him and was prepared to bury the ashes in her own yard. We are sure she’ll give him a proper burial.
Sekhnet cried. I was very sad, but this news yesterday was not really news, and so my only tears are the metaphorical ones here, writing this poignant post. Poignant only to those who know the caress of a cat’s tail.
Sekhnet’s caption: The sweet, energetic 4 and a half month old semi stray who wrapped his little body around my leg seeking affection; now a stiff baby corpse and me, a terribly sad human…
This morning, as an exhausted Sekhnet slept late (she drove for hours yesterday on less than two hours’ sleep) , I went down to feed the kittens. Mama Kitten jumped up on to the rusty metal table where we petted each other a little and I gave her some food. The two girls had some food. The little one who looks like Whitefoot, who had always been wary of me, was suddenly rubbing against my legs. I sat down and she came over to be petted. I obliged her.
As I came back inside to finish this piece I heard the cries of a hawk and went downstairs to… I don’t know what. From the hawk’s point of view, he has his own problems, eating being one of the main ones. For all I know his cries were hunger pangs. My new friend popped out from her hiding place into the open and started toward me. I shooed her away. Go hide, I told her. Might as well have told her to stop being so delicious.
which arrived above this caption:
April 5th 2017 group… Including the beautiful sole survivor.
The beautiful sole survivor is the now banished Paintjob, eating turkey off the paper near her mother (now her feared enemy) and her three doomed little siblings.
Paintjob continues to survive somehow, she was photographed eating yesterday by Sekhnet who sent the photo with the caption “Yay!”
Mama Kitten, who was pregnant again by the time her kittens were two or three months old, showed up a couple of weeks ago skinny again. Sekhnet and I concluded she must have had a miscarriage. Then this breaking news photo came across the Sekhnet news wire. Mama nursing a single mouse she had carried by the scruff of the neck to the area of the garden where Sekhnet was working.
This photo was taken an hour before the one of Turtleback lying in his box, the last photo taken of him. This is his three siblings having dinner. Turtleback was off exploring and didn’t return in time to join them. Here are the three of them, Whitefoot and his sisters.
Not many people read this blahg and I am not on social media, so the reach of this post will be virtually non-existent. If I could somehow get it out to enough people, one or more of these kittens could be saved, live a full life, give and receive a lot of affection.
My request: Send this out to your thousands of “friends” on facebook and your legions of followers on twitter. If you find anybody in New York City or Nassau who wants to adopt one, or all, of these beautiful, tame little cats, please contact me via the comments and I’ll make the arrangements.
Sekhnet informs me that they were born on March 31. Any one of them would make an excellent pet. Whitefoot already solicits petting and is very playful. The girls are a bit more shy, but also very interested in humans.
I also happened to find, among the few photos that remain on my willful fucking “smart” phone, this picture of Whitefoot, his first official portrait by me. It looks like an extreme zoom and cropped screen shot, a bit more like a pastel than a photograph:
Oh, wait, I see by the non-white foot (check out that nice little claw, already deployed) that this is Whitefoot’s equally good-looking sister. She deserves a life.
Death waits, in no particular hurry most of the time, since every living soul must go with Death in the end. Some beings get to live the full wink of an eye, eighty, ninety years. Many delightful winks are far briefer. It helps to think of the quality of a short life in these cases.
A tiny colony of feral cats coexist in Sekhnet’s garden, along with a couple of large, gingery raccoons and the occasional giant possum, who come by after dark to finish off whatever food the cats leave over. We get to witness the brutality of nature up close, its brutal cuteness and its seemingly random viciousness.
These two brothers, Whitefoot and Turtleback (foreground) were photographed hanging out in a flower pot on July 17, 2018. They were three months old at the time. I am lucky to have this photo, one of very few pictures I’ve shot in the last year or so that I’m still able to view on my phone. 
Their mother, the beautiful Mama Kitten, had her first litter two or three years ago, at six months old. Talk about babies giving birth to babies. Six months old and Mama Kitten. When they were big enough she dragged them from their hiding place and marched the adorable mice in front of Sekhnet.
“You see,” she told her kittens, “soon, when I stop giving you milk, you will come to her, act cute, and do just what I’m doing now, see?”. Mama Kitten would fix Sekhnet with a winsome look, make a quick cat move toward her and rub her head and her side along the human’s leg, using the tail to give a gentle caress as she makes her circle.
Sekhnet and I became familiar with the exquisitely gentle touch of a cat’s tail from my original cat Oinsketta, an affectionate cat who practiced the art delightfully. The late A.W. Skaynes was also a master of the tail caress. A few of these feral cats get pretty adept with their tails too, they’re generally the ones who like to be petted. Mama Kitten did not let a human touch her until she was several months old. She took to human affection cautiously, but she is now a very tactile cat who sometimes loves to have her sideburns scratched. And she uses her head and her tail very tenderly.
We had many great photos of those adorable kittens interacting with mom, playing with each other, eating food off of spoons. Suddenly it seemed Mama Kitten was in a hurry to wean her kittens and turn them over to Sekhnet for feeding. We didn’t understand the urgency. We soon realized she was pregnant again. Chemicals coursing through her body telling her to protect her turf, make it safe for her offspring who were about to be born.
Mama Kitten had her most recent litter, four beautiful kittens, two male, two female, in April. These four made the number of good-looking little cats Mama Kitten had given live birth to around twenty. She has been pregnant or taking care of a litter continuously since before she was six months old. When she is about to give birth to the next brood she drives her young kittens out to fend for themselves. Of course, they only know how to hunt by being cute to the humans who feed them, and there is only one other house on the block where feral cats are welcomed (see this here for that).
We once trapped three of her kittens who had lived to be five or six months old. We took them to a vet and had them all neutered. Each of them was dead within a very short time. There was no connection to the minor surgery, they were all fine after they got back from the vet’s. They simply disappeared, one after another, in the space of a couple of weeks.
Their lives tend to be short. The oldest so far was probably Grey Guy, who lived almost two years. There are hawks around that love a nice one or two pound kitten for lunch. We assume the hawks get most of them. A few have died from some kind of poisoning, we think they may have drank anti-freeze on a hot day. All four of those kittens died within a few hot early summer days one awful summer before Mama Kitten was born. A feral cat in this area that lives to be a year old is a survivor, an outlier.
It is a cruel thing to grow attached to these beautiful little creatures who have little hope of surviving more than a season or two. We try not to give them names, remembering the fate of oddly cute Dobbie, or Cathead (a playful, affectionate kitten I would have made a pet, if it was up to me, and we’d had her spayed, too) since the attachment makes their disappearance more painful.
Still, it turns out that just for reference you need to call each one something. Sekhnet takes care of that, keeping it simple. Whitefoot advances on a white foot, both of his front feet are white. Turtleback, mostly white but with nice markings, including a large beautifully painted section on his back that looks like a tortoise shell. Here is a picture of Turtleback taken two days ago. We were a little worried since we hadn’t seen the adventurous young male when his siblings were having dinner. I later found him relaxing on their favorite box, and snapped this to send Sekhnet to reassure her that Turtleback was alive and well.
Sekhnet has been furious at Mama Kitten since seeing how viciously she keeps attacking her almost year-old daughter, Paintjob (talk about a beautiful coat, that little cat was painted by a genius). Mama drove that poor soul Paintjob out of the yard two or three litters ago and somehow the timid Paintjob is still alive and, until recently, managing to get fed by me or Sekhnet every second or third day.
She eats fast, warily, wolfing her food and then stopping, tensing every muscle, marshaling all of her senses for threats. Then she will eat another can of food, using the same procedures. Paintjob is skinny but appears otherwise quite healthy.
Lately, even though she has lost her last pregnancy through some kind of natural miscarriage, Mama Kitten has been particularly vigilant and ruthless in violently chasing Paintjob off.
Sekhnet has seen this many times, how Mama Kitten discovers each secret place where Sekhnet has arranged with Paintjob to throw her a quick feed. Paintjob was quite adept at making Sekhnet know where she’d be for a fast secret feed. Mama keeps guard, watches Sekhnet like a hawk, peeks around every corner, pops out of nowhere and viciously attacks Paintjob who runs off at an amazing speed. Their screams are heart-rending.
I keep telling Sekhnet not to make such human judgments against Mama Kitten. I point out that Mama is, and has always been, in pure survival mode, plus she’s crazed with chemicals produced by her constant pregnancies. I point out that she’s programmed to survive and is by far the longest lived feral cat to live season after season in Sekhnet’s garden in the back. Sekhnet points out that Mama is a complete psycho bitch who savagely attacks her own daughter when there is plenty of food for everybody.
Yesterday as I fed the kittens, Mama Kitten came around to see what was on the menu. She was not impressed with the first offering, which her kids all ate quite happily. She tasted a bit of the tuna and found it not to her liking that day, though her kittens were quite pleased with that one too. As everyone seemed interested in having a bit more dinner, I opened a third can, and this one Mama Kitten found to her liking. I fed her some slime from the spoon, to test it before dividing it among her kittens, and this one she wanted. She ate a bit.
Then I saw, suddenly standing less than two feet away, an emaciated, haunted, desperate looking Paintjob, staring at the food, almost hypnotized. I was aware that as soon as Mama saw her the savage attack would occur and that there was nothing I could do to get any food to Paintjob, or to stop what was about to happen. A few seconds later Mama Kitten took off screaming in savage pursuit of a wailing Paintjob. The kittens scattered in terror.
This scene was truly heartbreaking. I understood why Sekhnet finds it so hard to forgive Mama Kitten for this seemingly heartless, irrational and murderous rage against her own kitten. True they’re now both adult females, we get that, but, it’s hard to understand why it has to be this way. Only a cruel god would design nature to feature this kind of nonchalant, horrible savagery.
After I told Sekhnet this story of witnessing the vicious attack on Paintjob she became morose. I had a text from her at 3:20 a.m. (we stay together half the week) and I called her right away. She was tearful, couldn’t stop thinking about the doomed Paintjob. “As she gets weaker and weaker from lack of food it will become impossible for her to escape her psycho mother,” she said, her voice cracking, and it planted an image in my mind I did not want to see either.
Sekhnet reported a bad night’s sleep. She dreamed of Paintjob, lying on her side, her paws cut off, crying for food. In the dream Sekhnet was unable to get any food to the helpless cat. I tried to reassure her that she had not made the world, that nature was cruel, we’d seen it first hand over and over, the short, brutal lives these beautiful little animals live in the extremely limited, ruthlessly competitive wild in that part of Queens. Then she got a call, there was a dead white kitten near the area where the backyard animals eat dinner.
It was one time when, being a man, all I could say is what a man should say at such a time. I told Sekhnet I’d go to the house, carry away the body, that I would take care of it. We arranged to go together. There was a real-feel of 99 degrees in New York City again today. We had images of the little cadaver getting ripe, covered with flies, possibly bloated.
Halfway to the house, the sky got dark and a deluge fell from the sky in a massive electrical storm. It rained as hard as I have ever seen rain fall, the traffic began to crawl along cautiously, and it continued to pour down in sheets for a long while. The windshield wipers, on their fastest speed, had a hard time keeping the windshield clear. There was flooding in places.
We killed some time, gassed up the car, sat in front of the house until the rain stopped. I went to the back of the house. It was Turtleback, on his side, feet stretched in a slightly grotesque final pose. His timid little white-faced sister, who looks like him but without the turtleback, looked sad. All of the kittens, and Mama Kitten, seemed determined to make sure I knew that their fellow was dead, was just lying there Before I fed them dinner they all made sure I noticed the dead Turtleback lying there on his side, skinny and soaked. Each one passed close to him as I went to get their food.
Sekhnet brought a sturdy box, just the right size, and handed me a shovel. It took a moment, but it was an easy operation once I got the shovel positioned the right way. He fit in the box perfectly. “Watch his tail,” said Sekhnet and I tucked it into the box before I closed the flaps.
I carried him a short distance, to a wooded place by the highway. The area was filthy, littered with plastic bags and plastic take-out containers and probably much worse. I did not venture far in the dark, placing his coffin behind the closest trees. I got back and Sekhnet and I agreed that Turtleback himself was not there in that squalid place, just an empty vessel that had been, briefly, the beautiful little cat.
I am aware that nature is cruel, even as it can be so generous. That severe thunderstorm struck me as a gratuitous, a mocking touch for a gentle God to interpose in the path of two people heading somewhere to try to do a decent thing. I had several thoughts about God as that rain pissed down, as we killed an hour in the car before I could go back and lay whichever poor devil had died so young to his or her rest.
Afterwards we hung around a bit hoping Paintjob would show up for a feed while I was there to distract Mama in the back, but no sign of her anywhere. It is hard to shake the thought that yesterday’s desperate move by Paintjob may have been her final one on this earth. I got back home and began writing this, my attempt to, as they say, process all these thoughts and feelings. Then a notification beep, a WhatsApp from Sekhnet.
Sekhnet, among her many talents, apparently also has the power the make me sob in loud, honking notes, my nose drowning in snot, alone in my apartment. My emotions all night had betrayed nothing but manly resolve, stoically placing the tiny cadaver in its carboard coffin, stilly carrying the dead kitten to his eternal resting place, manfully reassuring Sekhnet at every turn. I don’t know what my neighbors must have been thinking to hear me weeping that way, it is rare to hear a grown man sobbing, especially a grown man prone to angrily cursing.
 Naturally, of course, the format has been randomly dicked with, it is not displaying full frame as I shot it, it’s messed up. I never inserted those moronic blocks of black at the top and the bottom. I am not even sure how to edit those out with the programs and apps I have.
Background: I took dozens of photos of these beautiful cats. Yesterday my phone spontaneously deleted over 2,400 photographs. The girl at the T-Mobile store said there is no way T-Mobile can recover the photos and that they were probably deleted because I accidentally hit something. I told her I had hit “restart” after several days of being unable to move or delete photos. When the phone restarted, 3,000 photos were wiped out. She was a pretty girl, and friendly enough, but there was something about her reply “you must have accidentally hit something that deleted the photos: that made me want to ask her to come around the counter to take a nice, quick knee to the stomach.
“A Samsung problem,” she told me. She showed me how to find the randomly saved photos in something called Google photos that I never signed up for. Apparently Google randomly collects images from your phone, to show you how they provide this great cloud backup for all your data. If you pay them, they will save everything. If you take their free version, which you might not ever know you even are using, they will choose what to save and what to delete, probably by some brilliantly calibrated algorithm.
This was the only photo remaining of perhaps 100 shots of these great looking feral kittens and their beautiful mother.
In spite of the generally accepted idea that a feral cat, once it reaches a certain age, will not allow itself to be touched by humans, we have a feral cat, Mama Kitten, who at first would not be touched and now very much likes to be petted. On her terms, of course, being a cat, but nonetheless, quite affectionate when the mood is on her. She came by this gradually, sitting near us when we were outside, showing her newborn kittens to Sekhnet in the garden, coming closer, rubbing against us, eventually letting herself be touched. We fed many of her kittens off a spoon, once she weaned them.
She is a beautiful cat, and a prodigious survivor, who, starting at six month’s old, has given birth to perhaps twenty kittens. She is a good mother, until it is time to push the latest brood out of the nest, to attend to the next. She can be quite savage driving off the surviving kittens when the time comes. Sekhnet, applying human morality (oxymoron?) condemns the little survivor as a bitch when she turns savagely on her children. In a better world we’d adopt Mama Kitten, get her spayed, make her an indoor/outdoor cat, extend her life by years, etc. This is not, of course, a better world.
Here are three of the latest batch of four, lounging on the ramp outside the back door from which, periodically, human servants emerge, opening cans of food. There are a few such cans on the right side of this recent photo by Sekhnet.
We generally don’t give these beautiful little strays names because every time we get attached to a particular individual he or she disappears. Sometimes there is a bad smell in the garden and we find a tiny corpse under a bush. More usually the kittens are whisked off without a trace, to become meals for the local hawks.
Yesterday, strolling back from Cunningham Park just before sundown, I passed several groups of cats, a lounging mother and two or three kittens playing under a bush. The kittens watched me as I approached, scurrying for cover as I got close. Their mothers eyed me warily until I was a safe distance away. Their looks said “that’s right, motherfucker, continue to carry your ass on down the street and stop looking at my children, you sick bastard.”
I recalled the debate Jonathan Franzen was involved in at one time, about wiping out the colonies of feral cats that kill, as it turns out, not thousands but billions of local birds and rodents every year. Often for sport, it appears. Sekhnet once saw Mama Kitten take down a finch, leaped up and tore the little yellow bird out of the air. “I hope she’s teaching her children to hunt,” she sometimes says when she laments that we are not always around to feed them.
It’s a brutal world out there for animals in the wild. Even more brutal, I suppose, in areas where humans have remade the natural world, turning local species into cagey outlaws. This brutality has been escalated (like a consumer complaint to any corporation, only for real) by the needs of the world’s top predator, homo sapiens, until not that long ago another insignificant and desperate prey animal, living by guile, as ruthless as necessary to survive. I’d love to be able to live without making constant judgements, the way I don’t judge Mama Kitten, but, as you may have noticed, greedy, ruthless, ignorant, loud talking motherfuckers will not give it a rest.
These are three very cute kittens, though, no?