I have always wanted kittens. A litter of tiny kittens I could watch grow from birth through kitten-hood. I want to see the tiny babies born, licked clean by their momma, and then nursed. I want to see their ears open, their eyes open, and watch them take wobbly first steps. I want to have kittens chewing on my fingers, crawling up my leg and sitting on my shoulder.
I am a responsible pet owner. I spay and neuter my cats just like I’m supposed to. I think letting your cats have kittens is irresponsible, but I really want kittens.
My daughter wants kittens. We sit together and watch the Animal Planet show Too Cute, and we marvel over the tiny furry babies. We coo as they take first steps. We laugh when the fluffy ones get their first bath and become wet and sad looking. She asks me, “Mom, why can’t our cats have kittens?” I tell her that our cats had surgery and they can’t have kittens, but I want kittens too.
Our last cat we adopted from the shelter was a foster cat. A seed was planted. A lovely woman I met at the shelter had my kitten at her house, and had cared for the tiny kitten until she’d grown “big enough.”
I found the program. I signed up. I went to training. I was interviewed. I went to more training. My house was inspected. Finally I got the e-mail that I was an approved foster parent. If I could get to the shelter within the hour I could bring home kittens.
My daughter and I had discussed the perfect number of kittens. Three: one for each human in our house. We wanted them to be fluffy. We wanted a momma and her kittens. No, we just wanted kittens. We wanted them to like our other cat. We wanted them to love us. We discussed how we’d have to give them back when they were 8 weeks old and 2 pounds. That would be hard, but we could do it. We dreamed about our kittens together.
We did not discuss the other side of fostering, but I learned. Kittens die. Kittens get horrible diseases. During my interview I heard about an entire dead litter. Kitten after kitten inexplicably dying. It had only happened once, my interviewee assured me. Pan Luke she said, but I didn’t know what that meant. I heard about ringworm that infected your entire house and sounded like lice on steroids. That had only happened once my interviewee assured me. There were terrible things that could happen, but I really wanted kittens.
We came home with three tiny fluffs. They were four weeks old and black head to toe. They were exactly what we dreamed. Two tiny boys and one big girl. We laughed at the mistake we made at the beginning assuming that the aggressive big one was male and the small one we named Tiny was a girl.
Tiny had a purr inversely proportional to his size. Holding him would start a motor in his chest that could be heard across the room. His sister Adventure would purr, but not as big. His brother Blackie had a quiet rumble that you could feel but not hear. They all had personalities and we fell hard and fast.
Something wasn’t right with Tiny. He ate less each day while his brother and sister got bigger. He’d climb onto you and sit and purr but wouldn’t drink and wouldn’t play. Five days after we got him I took him in. I knew something was wrong. They tested him and said the horrible words: panleuk, not Pan Luke. He was going to die.
He sat on my shoulder while they filled out paperwork. Someone mentioned the other cats in the litter. Tiny just sat while I said I’d take any litter mates that weren’t sick. The kittens had to be quarantined for two weeks. They might as well all be together at my house. They brought the two litter mates in. One more time I heard panleuk. There were five kittens in the litter and two died. I brought three home, but not the same three I brought from home.
I watched my daughter when I told her, “Tiny died.” She crumpled in a way I’ve never seen before. This grief was bigger than any she’d ever felt. I watched her and for the first time saw her feel sadness the way I feel sadness. She tried to stand tall, but all she wanted to do was curl up and sob. We are too proud to show that grief, but we feel it, and you can see it as our head drops and shoulders slump.
It took us four days to name the new cat. Finally he became Sneaker because of his ability to escape. As if the name had attracted the attention of unknown spirits the next morning he was lethargic and had lost weight. I took my daughter to school and we both worried silently.
At home alone I went to the kittens. I held all three and sobbed. Alone the tears fell and the cries become audible. How could I have done this to my family? How could I have done this to myself? I wanted kittens. I didn’t want dead kittens. What kind of person does this to herself and her family? All three kittens purred in my arms as I wiped my tears and snot from their soft fur. Then I e-mailed the shelter and made an appointment.
“It’s negative.” she said looking at the test. He was sick, but he wasn’t dying. Or if he is dying it’s of something else. I’m instructed to give him a huge shot of fluid under his skin twice a day. Gleefully I box up the same three kittens and take home the needles and fluid.
He spent the day next to my heart in my jacket. It wasn’t fair for me to keep my distance because I was hurt by his brother. I wanted kittens. His warmth and motor kept me company through spreadsheets and graphs and conference calls.
“You are such a good person.”
“I am moved by your dedication.”
“You are an amazing person and foster parent!”
“Thank you.” I reply, but inside I know I just really want kittens.