Those of you who have been reading along for at least the last two years will recall that I seem to have a penchant for discovering cute, orphaned/abandoned animals on the run. The last time this happened, we wound up with a pet bunny. This time the story has a different ending (though hopefully will be just as happy very soon).
This past Saturday, I was suffering on a long run. I was relaxing into it well enough, but it was warm, and oppressively humid (the humidity this summer seems worse than last, even if the temps have thus far been generally milder – “feels like” temps notwithstanding). It was my second attempt at a 10-miler since the marathon, and this time I was actually going to do it, aided by dedicated friends and ample water stops.
At the final water opportunity, about two miles from the 10-mile mark, I stood in Five Points, spraying myself with the hose attached to the side of Athens Running Company, dousing my ponytail and down my front and back, contemplating an easier route. The group run route would take me down Lumpkin hill, and then up its long, heartless climb. It isn’t even the early, steep portion of the hill that gets me; it’s when it flattens out just enough but keeps on going at a long, slow, steady, grinding uphill that destroys me. The stoplight at the end of the hill? With every step of approach I’m praying for it to be red when I get there.
Braided ponytail soaking down my back, I debated the possibility of turning back, and taking the flat path down Milledge instead. (It turns out Shannon had decided to do exactly this.) But as my pals geared up after a bathroom and water stop, we headed down Lumpkin and I was braced for battle. We jogged past the track at an easy pace, when I heard a little, crying, chirruping sound. I paused. I listened. It sounded either like a bird…or a kitten. And it was coming from the opposite side of the street. I stopped my watch, asking the others what they thought. They agreed: kitten.
I jogged across the street. The little sound was increasing in volume and the tone was desperate, and it was coming from a dense area of shrubs in front of UGA’s international education building. I tried to move branches, but it was so thick, there was no seeing through, and certainly no reaching through if I caught sight of a little furry critter. The little voice was moving around the bushes, and we tried for several minutes to encourage it toward the edge of the shrubs, pushing aside deep grass to try to reach it. But to no avail.
We soldiered on and finished the run, which included for my friend Maricia and me a short out-and-back to get it to 10 miles. I found Shannon after and filled him in on the tale. We got some fluids, I got an iced coffee, we recouped from the difficult run a little more, and then headed back to Lumpkin Street, parking the car at the Catholic Center next door. We trampled that grass, trying to dig through the shrubs to get to the kitten. We were sweating in the sun and getting scratched up, and at one point, Shannon seemingly stepped in an ant hill, as his ankle swarmed with them and he has tons of painful, swollen bites for his trouble. At last, we encouraged the kitten to the other side and in between short bushes under which we could grab him. We also got our first full look at him: black and white, skinny, and absolutely tiny. Only a few weeks old. He slipped our grasp and it took another several minutes to chase him back to the bushes. I was more strategic this time and we were able to corner him. But after I scruffed him and had Shannon go to the car for a towel to wrap him in, the act of trying to burrito him into the towel caused him to slip our grasp, and he dove back into the deep shrubs.
While this was going on, we were also seeking help, calling and messaging friends who volunteer at local Athens animal shelters. One, Sherrie, was able to put us in touch with a woman who had humane traps for just these occasions. We headed home after the second failed attempt, got cleaned up, ate, and waited to hear from the woman. Shortly after we did, we went to her house to gather supplies. She gave us a trap suitable for a kitten, as well as food bait, including tuna, and paper plates to help create a trail of bait. We thanked her profusely, and she asked that we not leave the trap unattended. We made a plan as we drove back over to the shrubs: we would set up the trap, and I would watch it while Shannon went home to get more supplies in case it took a while. I would text him in the hopeful event that I caught the kitten right away.
We set it up, tucking plates with tiny bites of tuna into a line leading to the baited trap, with a pile of tuna in the back, just past the trigger. Shannon headed out with a list of supplies in hand (including a blanket – I realized the kitten probably would be comforted by an enclosed space and covering the trap after we got him wouldn’t be the worst idea). When he left, I started to make mewing noises.
Within a minute or two, the kitten was mewing back, more and more urgently. I heard his little voice getting closer and closer, and soon, he appeared. I was crouched a couple feet behind the trap, and my heart was pounding. I didn’t dare make a move for him. I needed to see if he’d come to me.
He sniffed at one of the middle baits in the trail, and for a few moments, I worried he would go the wrong way following the food. Soon, he approached the side of the trap closest to me, sniffing at the bigger piles of food within, but at first mystified as to how to reach it. I kept mewing to him, and he moved around to the entrance of the trap, tentatively stepping inside, bit by bit. He approached the newspaper that covered the trigger, sniffing at the heaping pile of tuna awaiting him. C’mon, little guy, just a little bit farther, I pleaded silently. He stepped onto the trigger, and I worried that maybe he was just too small to set it off.
Another step later, and the trap triggered, and the kitten flipped. out. He bounded around, hissing and crying. I felt awful. It was pitiful to see. I pulled the trap back to make sure the closure wasn’t caught on anything (at first it seemed like it might have) and then moved him to a nearby shady patch where I could sit next to him. He hissed and cried, hissed and cried. After a little while sitting by him, he seemed to calm down to my presence, which I took with hope. He was so young, that socialization was definitely a strong possibility, which would make him adoptable as long as he was healthy.
I texted Shannon to let him know I’d been successful. A few more messages to my animal volunteer friends, and we had a game plan. I called animal control to see if they had space for a kitten (I actually had called earlier to see if they could assist, and they couldn’t send people out to help; could only lend traps, but they couldn’t do so on the weekend), and they did.
Shannon arrived, and we covered the trap with a blanket to try to comfort him a little. He quieted for a little while on the drive, but then got riled up again, especially once we got to the shelter. I filled out a form, and a woman in scrubs cooed to him and took him back to get checked out and cared for. They assured me that I could check in on him, since my name would be tied to his record. I called on Monday once they opened to do just that, hearing that he was doing well, had a healthy appetite, wasn’t yet two pounds so not ready to be adopted (and of course he needs to be socialized) — oh, and he’s definitely a boy.
When I posted about it, we of course got a lot of “you should keep him!!!” reactions. And don’t think we didn’t think it ourselves. Had we called animal control and they said they had no room, and there was no room elsewhere, we certainly weren’t going to leave him. Our plan B was to stick him in our guest bathroom til we could get him to the vet and get checked out, and see if we couldn’t take care of him ourselves to help ready for an adoption. And who knows what might’ve happened then…
But the fact is, we have a 17-year-old senior kitty who has been a single cat her whole life, and who lives in denial of her bunny sister. Adding a kitten to the mix would not be great right now, for her or probably for any of us. Still, we hope to make a donation drop of kitten food this weekend, and perhaps pop in to see how the tyke is doing. When a little kitten’s cries interrupt your run, they tend to stick with you for a while.