One night in early June, my Border Collie, Sage, alerted me to something in the drainpipe that runs under my driveway. We have a lot of feral cats in the area, so I figured the noise was from some felines. Sure enough, when I got a flashlight and reached into the pipe as far as I could, I was greeted by two sets of kitten eyes.
I’ve always found it impossible to ignore that vulnerable look I recognized in those kitten eyes staring back at me. Like many of my colleagues at the Hartville Group, I’ve made it my personal and professional mission to help animals as much as I can. That’s been my goal in the eight years I’ve worked at Hartville, and when I moved to Florida, I got involved with a local rescue group that spays and neuters feral cats. So I assembled one of the group’s humane traps that I have on hand to try to help those little kittens.
A few hours later, I caught one of them and arranged for the kitty to spend the night in our garage. I set a second trap but, unfortunately, it was still empty in the morning.
Meanwhile, my husband and I brought the first kitten into the house for a bath and check-over. He was just a little guy, about 8 weeks old. Despite how scared he was, he was still very sweet, and he purred while I picked fleas out of his fur, cleaned his ears and trimmed his nails.
It was only a few days before we named him Oliver and made him a permanent place in our home. Oliver quickly adjusted to his life on the inside, and his new feline siblings, Ranger and Jetta, readily accepted him.
Over the next few months, I often saw a gray kitten sitting on our back porch, and I knew it was the second kitty from the drainpipe. I fed him and tried to catch him several times, but with no success.
Sadly, one Sunday morning in October, Oliver died suddenly. We learned he had a rare congenital heart defect. We were absolutely heartbroken. In his honor, we created a “cat café” outside so the feral cats can have a constant supply of fresh water and food.
Two weeks after Oliver passed away, I finally caught the other gray kitten I’d been feeding. At this point, he was 6 months old and almost completely wild. After we neutered and vaccinated him, we moved him into our spare bedroom. We borrowed another Charles Dickens name and called him Fagin, which also means “joyful.”
Poor Fagin was lucky to have even survived six months outside as his belly is a roadmap of scars where another critter attacked him. He’s also had a few medical complications from a chronic infection that resulted from the attack. But, as I slowly work to heal his infection, I’m also trying to socialize him.
It’s possible that Fagin may have the same heart defect as Oliver, but I’m not going to worry about it. Instead, I’m focusing on giving Fagin the best life I can for however long he is with us!
Jaclyn Carrington, Hartville Group’s Veterinary Services Manager, volunteers with a rescue group that spays and neuters feral cats in Florida.