Wednesday, February 16, 2011
SAN DIEGO In nature there are no unintended pregnancies. The desire to mate and reproduce is a part of the intelligence of all species. So why had I never owned a pet that had pups or other progeny? My family had always had our pets neutered, and we’re told it’s wrong to allow animals to mate. “To Neuter is Cuter,” says one bumper sticker on my block. In fact, polite liberal society finds unbridled fertility downright offensive. You’ve heard of Bristol Palin.
But when I brought a farm cat named Maya back from Kansas, where I was visiting relatives, and Maya went into heat –and she went into heat at age 7 months – I resisted having her spayed. The result was five kittens born last Thursday.
My son got a book from his school library about cats and one chapter offered tips about breeding a cat, which seemed funny because I had no hand in “breeding” Maya. All I did was let her roam the neighborhood and make her love call in the canyon behind my house. When a cat’s in heat, it’s a relief to get it out of the house.
Here’s my primer on kittens.
Newborn kittens look like rats. They’re about that size. Their tails are pretty bare and they have small, round ears that have yet to take on a cat-like pointedness. Best I can tell, our new cats are American Shorthairs and their appearance comes from the maternal side. Four of the kittens look just like Maya (white with black spots atop their heads) and one is calico, the only clue to the father’s identity.
Kittens open their eyes in about a week and they’re weaned after about six weeks. The pet store told me to feed Maya kitten food because it’s more nutritious for nursing mothers. Our vet had told me some mother cats reject their kittens, forcing the human owner to let them die or bottle-feed each kitten. That would have sucked.
Fortunately Maya is a responsible teenage mom who spends her energy feeding the kittens and being protective. Whenever I take a kitten out of my bedroom closet, which has become the cat den, Maya runs out, picks up the kitten by the scruff and carries it back.
The birth of the kittens was all I had hoped for. They came Thursday evening just as I returned home with my kids, who are 6 and 10, and they were thrilled to see them come out of Maya’s back end and begin life, blindly groping for a teat. Kittens are born over the course of several hours. Ours came out an about once every 45 minutes.
Now we’re wondering who is going to adopt the new cats, which gets me back to the subject of responsible pet parenting. Some animal lovers would call me ir-responsible. You know… “Don’t breed or buy when shelter pets die.” But are they dying?
I’m sure they do in many jurisdictions, though a spokesman for the San Diego Human Society told me his organization follows a no-kill policy and they have not euthanized a “healthy or treatable” animal in ten years. He said no-kill basically means you don’t euthanize an animal for space or for time. I asked what they did with vicious dogs that they couldn’t responsibly be given away to an unsuspecting… or even a suspecting human. He said that kind of dog could be considered “unhealthy.”
It’s illegal in California for a shelter organization to adopt out dogs and cats that have not been neutered or spayed. Maya’s kittens, on the other hand, will be given away to owners who will decide for themselves whether to allow them to mate. As for Maya, this will be her last litter. When the kittens leave home we’re having her spayed.