The Online Magazine FOR and ABOUT Southside Virginia
Fleas No More
(Or "There's more than one way to catch a cat")
By Gertrude M. Slabach
I had no idea the appearance of a tired, scared, scrawny calico kitten at my back door would lead to a marathon of cats and kittens—and fleas. I’m a mom, for goodness sake. I have a mothering instinct. What did you expect me to do when a hungry kitten meowed up at me? I fed her, of course. The kitten with the crook on the end of her tail was dubbed Crooked, and later it was shortened to Crook.
It had been quite a while since we’d had a cat, and I needed a mouser. A day later, another kitten showed up. This one seemed to be a stray, too, but she was plump and fat and gray. And she seemed to be house trained. The kids named her Priscilla. It fit, for she tends to be a tad prissy.
We adopted them both. I’m not prejudiced to shape, size, color, or sex, whether it’s a kitten or a kid, so both were welcome. We allowed them in the house if they wished, and in time they purred their way in. The only thing was, Priscilla was the only one who liked to stay. Crook would waltz into the house as though it were her domain; yet as soon as the door closed behind her, she’d run back to the door, wanting to get outside. We thought perhaps in her previous home she had had some bad experiences being cooped up.
When we were kids, my sisters and I played with our kittens: dressed them up in doll clothes, played church on the porch steps, and blanketed them down in baby carriages for strolls across the yard. One day we dressed Goldie, a male cat, in a doll dress. We played church and made him sit still, and then put him in a baby carriage. He jumped out of the carriage and took off to the woods, tripping over the dress. A few days later he was back, minus the dress.
When my kids were younger, they always found the hiding place of baby kittens and befriended them. Our kittens were tame. They learned not to resist and seemed to enjoy cuddling and mothering. Each one had a name, and each child usually had a kitten that belonged specifically to him or her. Some of their kittens were named after people they loved, specifically cousins. That’s why our kids' kittens had names like Fred, Darla, Spike, and Samantha.
So it stands to reason that the vote was a majority yes for harboring the two stray kittens. Dave would rather have dogs than cats, but he didn’t resist the addition to our farmette.
When our Crook had kittens with somebody else’s cat, however, Dave was not happy. He wanted to take care of the problem before it got worse. I begged him to let us keep the kittens. Varied colors, different fur, and green or blue eyes . . . all of them charmed me. I didn’t want to cause them harm, and we needed some good mousers around, I said. So he allowed them to stay and bought more cat food.
The kittens grew, and the next thing I knew, they’d become mothers, too. Only problem was, Crook was not only a mother now; she was a grandmother and a great-grandmother. All the mothers were impregnated by her own son, Tom. Tailless Tom strolled around the back yard, his front legs a little shorter than his back legs. Because he had no tail, all one saw was his large protruding rump and obvious male parts as he strutted his territory. Truly, gray tiger-striped Tailless Tom thought he was the cat’s meow.
We had kittens hiding in the garage, under an old shed, beneath a storage building, in the motorcycle building, and below the deck. Only problem was, we didn’t realize how many there were because they’d always run and hide when anyone came outside.
Until, that is, the fleas found us. We dubbed Priscilla the guilty culprit because she was also outside with the kittens along with her time inside the house. The kittens and Crook tolerated Priscilla but never really befriended her. Neither did Tailless Tom. It seems that, at her former home, she had either been neutered or just was not able to conceive.
The fleas didn’t bother us much until an 11-year-old niece came to visit. She couldn’t seem to leave the kittens alone, even though she complained about the fleas in the house that were actually more her doing than ours. Day after day, I’d find her outside, sneaking up on a kitten and pouncing on it. The kitten wiggled in her arms, and the fleas claimed her as temporary transportation.
One afternoon I decided to count the mama cats at our house. I counted five (including Crook, who was by now, as I said, a great-grandmother.) Considering that each mama could well have four to five kittens herself, we could possibly be feeding twenty kittens plus their mamas as well as adolescent cats. Twenty infested kittens and one Tailless Tom who continued to believe there was only one cat’s meow: himself.
We bombed the house, but our niece was still visiting and still picking up kittens. We tried to dust the kittens with little success, for they scurried away as soon as we came near. After a week of attempted treatment, the kittens still had fleas.
I felt like the woman in Danville, Virginia who had forty-four cats taken away from her. Or the older couple I came across as a teenager who had so many dogs and cats in their house that there was no room for guests to sit. Oh sure, it was different here. My cats were outside. But we still had those cats—and those kittens. They still had fleas. So did our house. Enough is enough. It was TIME. So . . . before I bombed again, I decided it was time to get rid of the cats.
I called some folks who knew some folks who wanted cats or kittens. They were all going to come. One of them even had a cage and was coming that very afternoon. I promised these kittens would be good mousers. I waited several days. No one came, and the kittens stayed.
So I called the pound. Do you have any idea how long it takes to trap five adolescent cats, twenty kittens and their mamas? I never thought about it before, but I surely found out. Animal Control is now on speed dial on my cell phone.
The kind man at the pound brought a cage and a can of food on a Friday. I told him he didn’t have to bring food for the cats; I could feed them. But the can stayed and we used it for bait. Monday morning, I decided, we’d begin. Having the kittens come into the trap to eat was not a problem. . I had been feeding the kittens in the cage all weekend long, hoping to convince old and young alike that it was a safe place.
The problem was that it didn’t seem fair to ask the man from the pound to come to my house five times a day for a week. We caught our first two kittens, and he came, bringing more cages and more food, and setting the traps for me. Ten minutes after he left, we had caught two more. So he came back and brought more cages. It was going to be a long week. I, for one, didn’t want to spend my days calling the Animal Control man to come get more cats. At this rate, we’d be two weeks getting rid of the cats. If the door closed every time a cat went in and I had to wait for Animal Control to come pick up the cat and bring another cage, it would take a long, long time!
So I moved a garden wagon to the edge of the cage and turned the wagon upside down. Then I used a golf club to prop open the door. Only problem was, I had to be close enough to the golf club to pull it out when I had a cat in the cage. But when I moved in to close the door, the cats would run. My family thought I was crazy, at first. You should have seen their raised eyebrows when they first saw my contraption. You should have seen the look on the face of the man from the pound when he saw what I’d done. I’m not sure what he thought, but the look was priceless.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Dave had stopped in that morning and tied a yellow rope to the gray golf club attached to the brown cage next to the yellow wagon. We hid on the back porch behind a partially open door, rope in hand, after setting cans of tuna inside the cage. Then we waited . . . and waited. As soon as we had three or four kittens/cats in the cage we’d pull the rope, which dropped the golf club, which shut the door, and the animals were caught. Next we lifted the other end of the cage, opening the area to the wagon. The cats scrambled into the wagon, thinking they were finding a way out. As soon as they were trapped in the wagon, we closed the “door” and set up the golf-club rope for the next round of “capture the kittens.”
Once I stood beside my kid who said, “Now you tell me when to pull the rope. I’m not going to be blamed for waiting too long or not waiting long enough.” So, how does one decide when there are enough cats in a cage to slam the door? If there are six inside eating, but two more are meowing their way to the entrance, should we wait? Or will they become startled and run, making us wish we’d closed the door sooner?
It was hit and miss, but we hit more than we missed. By the end of the week, we had caught them all except Tailless Tom. At least so we thought. That evening, we found two kittens playing outside, each of them obviously from a different litter. The fluffy black and brown with brown paws, a brown-tipped tail and blue eyes was the leader of the two. Tiny Tiger Tom followed her lead and stayed hidden longer than no-tail Calico.
Tailless Tom had defied every attempt to catch him. Once when I pulled the rope that lowered the golf club, he sprang to the door of the cage and pushed it open as it slammed shut and bounced out quickly. Ever after that, he’d wander inside the cage and keep an eye on that open door. If he saw or sensed any movement anywhere, he was gone in a flash. One other time as one of the last kittens neared the opening, Tailless Tom stood guard at the opening of the cage. He swatted at the kitten, sending her bounding away. Not only was I not catching Tailless Tom, but the kitten refused to come near the cage again.
Dave didn’t appreciate Tailless Tom’s arrogance as he strutted around the yard (and neither did I), When I shared my woeful tale about Tailess Tom keeping no-tail Calico from the cage, he took care of the problem. Hence, we now needed to catch only two more kittens.
We caught the first one Monday evening and moved her to the yellow wagon with plenty of food and water for overnight. I came downstairs in the morning and looked out the back door. “Hmmm . . . that kitten is larger than I thought,” I mused as I put my glasses on so I could see better. It was a kitten all right—an opossum—that we had caught.
He relayed how the opossum had wrapped his tail around the wires of the cage, making it difficult to extract him from the cage. Even so, Dave won. One opossum plus one husband = end of problem.
“Let’s just say,” he told me when I asked him what he did with the opossum, “that the opossum is no longer.”
One more can of tuna and a cage set properly—and two hours later, we had our last kitten. The folks from the pound came –again – and took the last of the kittens away.
I can’t tell you what happened to our wild animals except for Crook. She went to the humane society and will hopefully end up on a farm somewhere, where she can continue having babies and teach them how to be good mousers. I will miss Crook.
We’re left with one faithful cat: Priscilla. She comes and goes as she pleases and doesn’t seem to mind being the only feline on our turf. We’ve de-flead Priscilla and bombed the house—again.
I have to admit that I miss seeing the kittens scamper about in the flower beds. I had learned to know their personalities as I watched them from my computer window. But I don’t miss the cat food bill or the fleas.
I like having cats around. I especially appreciate a cat who is a good mouser. I’d rather have a cat than mice. Yet I realize there has to be a balance.
I’ve learned that prevention is a whole lot easier than treatment. If I had listened to Dave in the first place when he wanted us to get rid of some of the kittens, we would not have been in the situation in which we found ourselves. But I begged for mercy, simply because I had memories of kittens as a child, because I thought they were cute, and because I wanted a few cats to keep the mice away.
I’ve learned that there are plenty of people around who are there to help us with our problems, if only we ask. [Thanks folks from the pound!] They’re around us everywhere. Sometimes we have to find them. If we don’t know who they are, there is usually someone who knows someone who knows someone . . . Many folks are trained and equipped to help. Our taxes pay for these services, so it makes sense to use them.
I’ve learned that, if I want to be able to treat a cat for fleas, I must become his/her friend first. Trust can be earned but friendship comes first.
And I’ve learned that there really is more than one way to catch a cat.
Born and raised in western Maryland, Gertrude Slabach has claimed Southside Virginia as home for over twenty four years. She is an RN and works part-time at Fuller Roberts Clinic in South Boston, Virginia.
Gertrude and her husband Dave have six children; four sons and two daughters.
She is the author of three books: Aren’t We Having Fun Dying?!, Southside Glimmers, and Always Mama’s Girl. The books can be purchased at Windmill Farm Bake Shop, the South Boston-Halifax County Museum, or by contacting her at:
Read more about Gertrude Slabach's Books in print here >>>
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