AT THE ANIMAL SHELTER
A DAY WITH THE KITTENS
My job for the day sounded simple: Clean three kitten cages in a small room.
The cleaning procedure:
1) Move the kittens to a smaller cage on the floor
2) Place fresh supplies (food, litter, padding, and toys) in their regular cage
3) Squirt the kittens with a ringworm repellent
4) Move the kittens back to their original cage.
As I quickly learned, this process is much more difficult than it sounds.
The middle cage looked easiest, with just two white kittens and their mother, so I started there.
I took one kitten out, closed the cage door, and put the kitten in the floor cage; no problem. I took the other kitten out and set him in the floor cage, at which point the first one noticed that the cage was not tall enough to keep him from jumping out. Both kittens jumped out before I could close it, and they were clearly convinced that it was playtime.
I managed to catch one as the other chased him toward me, but the other had no intention of ever letting me catch him. Once I accepted that, I decided to move the mother into the floor cage instead, which thankfully went without issue.
I finally cleaned the cage while letting the other kitten run around the room to tire himself out. I eventually caught and returned him after the cage was ready.
As I moved the second kitten back to the cage, the mother decided that it was her chance to be mischievous. She jumped onto a two-inch-wide ledge on the wall and wedged herself into the corner behind the cage, where I couldn’t reach her. I left her there for the time being and moved on.
The bottom cage held kittens only. I found a way to keep most of them from jumping out of the floor cage by putting my hand on their noses, but the last kitten figured out how to open the unlocked door on the main cage and proceeded to climb the wires all the way to the top of the 7-foot stack of cages before I took him down. I cleaned the bottom cage and moved the kittens back without too much trouble.
Another employee came in to see how it was going. I told him that the mother from the middle cage was hiding in the corner. He managed somehow to coax her out of the corner and put her back in the cage. Two of the three cages were then complete, and he left me to take care of the last one.
The top cage contained six kittens and a mother, most of which were sleeping. I moved most of them to the floor cage, and to my surprise, none of the kittens tried to jump out or run away.
The mother was extremely reluctant to go into the floor cage, but she eventually let go of the wire and allowed me to put her in.
One kitten was still in their original cage, sleeping in a corner I couldn’t pick him up from, so I had to convince him to come to me.
I picked up a ball and bounced it in the cage until the kitten woke up. The kitten was highly entertained by the bouncing ball and watched it wherever it went, so I hid the ball behind my hand near the cage door. The kitten was curious and came over to bat my hand repeatedly with its paw until the ball appeared again, and I finally moved the kitten to the floor cage.
This set of kittens made it difficult to spray the ringworm repellent, because they all insisted on staring directly at the spray bottle. I had to summon the ball again in order to distract them while I sprayed, and then I cleaned their cage as instructed.
I opened the floor cage to move the kittens and mother back, but I found that they were making use of the new cage for nursing. Not wanting to interrupt them, I waited until each kitten looked up at me before putting him back in the regular cage.
When I saw only the mother remaining in the floor cage, I left the main cage’s door open slightly—somehow thinking that would be safe, because no kitten would dare jump that far—so that I could more easily put her back in. In the time it took me to turn around and pick her up, one of the kittens had already pushed the door open and taken the 5½-foot leap of faith, miraculously landing on its feet without injury. I put him back and closed the door.
I turned to pick up my supplies, and I noticed that the smallest kitten was still in the floor cage, where his nursing had been interrupted a minute earlier. As he stared up at me with his sad and longing “Why did you take my mommy?” eyes, I quickly picked him up and reunited him with his mother.
Finally my daily two hours of work was complete, so I picked everything up, bid adieu to the rest of the kittens, and left the shelter with nothing but severe allergies.
I was never asked to clean cages again.