I Bottle-Raised a Friend's Kitten; Giving Her Up Broke My Heart
It was a dark and stormy night -- no, wait! It was actually a breezy, warm spring evening in April when, as my husband and I were lying in bed watching videos on YouTube, a dark figure approached our sliding glass door. The light from inside revealed my friend Carla standing there. “Rusty and I found a kitten on our evening walk!” she exclaimed, holding out her hands.
In her palms lay a tiny newborn kitten. Its eyes were still sealed shut and its pink skin showed through the light fluff of calico fur on its tiny body.
“I don’t know what to do with one this young,” Carla said. “I’ll raise it for you,” I volunteered. And so began my first fostering experience.
I had bottle-raised many of my own cats through the years and was up for the challenge. I knew the hardest part would be giving the kitten up in six to eight weeks, but I also knew that I had no choice: I was going to save this kitten and give her a forever home with my friend. We decided that I would keep and care for the kitten, and Carla would pay for all of its needs. Once the kitten was weaned, Carla would become its forever mom.
I set the kitten up in our spare bedroom, away from our adult cats. I lined a cardboard box with our heating pad set on low, a towel over the pad, and an old Beanie Baby cat for her to snuggle against as a surrogate littermate. I got into the habit of referring to her as Little One, which my husband shortened to L.O., and it stuck.
For the first couple of weeks, I fed L.O. every four hours round the clock. Luckily, she took to the bottle immediately, drinking in great gulps until her belly was round and full. She would wiggle and claw at the nipple trying to get more when it was empty, but I never let her overfeed and get sick. Unfortunately, I also had to stimulate her so that she would go to the bathroom. This is something mama cats do via licking; I used an organic wet wipe to simulate a tongue and it worked wonderfully.
After about a week, L.O.’s eyes were fully open and she could see the world for the first time. She began to explore her box and cry in greeting when I would come in for a visit or feeding. She would nuzzle me under the chin and loved to nap on my chest as close to my face as possible, purring all the while. L.O. purred from the first day we had her, which I understand is unusual for a kitten that young, but she seemed to be a happy baby. We were forming a real bond, no matter how I tried to fight it. My head knew she was not going to be my fur baby, but my heart did not.
The weeks seemed to fly by in a haze of feedings, bathroom habits, and love fests. L.O.’s eyes were clear and her ears had unfolded. She was also feeling playful, and trying to train her not to bite was impossible -- she is still a biter to this day! She loved to pounce on my legs, and bunny kick my hands, and bite anything she could reach. Her favorite toy was Pink Kitty, the surrogate toy. L.O. loved to snuggle with Pink Kitty and also bite and kick her. I laughed so much and so hard playing with L.O., watching her find herself and become a little wildcat.
All too soon it was week four: litter-box training, hard-food introduction, and weaning time. I had been dreading this point in the fostering cycle, as I knew that once she took to the litter box and hard food, her time with me was over. Sure, L.O.’s forever mom was my friend, but I would no longer have 24/7 access to her, and she would quickly forget our time together as she aged. It was a bittersweet time. I was thrilled that L.O. had survived and thrived under my care, but a part of me wanted to freeze time so the bond we had formed could stay sweet forever.
L.O. took to the food and litter like a pro and was actually ready to go to her forever home at only six weeks, rather than the customary eight. She still loved the bottle but enjoyed the hard food just as much. Plus, she no longer wanted to snuggle after bottle feedings. She was in full kitten mode, playing, romping, chasing, and sleeping. I knew it was time to turn her over to Carla so they could form their bond and start their lives together.
Giving L.O. over to Carla was one of the hardest yet most rewarding experiences of my life. I cried for days, weeks, missing L.O., but never once did I regret it. With Carla’s help, we had saved a little life. An abandoned kitten had become a spunky, rambunctious, lively, adorable fur baby. I never thought I would be able to raise a kitten only to give it away, and I consider it one of my finest moments, because it made someone I care about, Carla, very happy.
L.O. celebrated her first birthday this April 9. I have visited her often over the year and she no longer recognizes me as the one who raised her. She has formed a bond with her new mom and siblings, Rusty (a Golden Retriever she loves to devil) and Sonny and Emmy (two adult cats she loves to play with). She has free reign over a three-story house and loves to look out of the windows at the birds and neighbors. L.O. has the life she deserves and every other cat envies.
I put together this video of my favorite L.O. moments, which I'll always have to remember her by.
While I still miss her and the bond we once shared, I am thankful every day that I had this opportunity to help a friend and learn something new about myself. I am stronger than I thought. I can foster a fur baby and not keep her for myself. I have not decided if I will foster again; however, if the same circumstances presented themselves today, I would react the exact same way. Turning away an animal or friend in need is not something I could ever do.
Have you ever fostered a kitty? Tell me about it in the comments below!
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