This week on Through the Keyhole, we’re trying not to trip over cat toys and fall into litter trays. Careful! You almost stepped in a Beco bowl. Shhh! You’ll wake the girls. Wait! Do you hear that rumble? No, it’s not purring… It’s coming from overhead. They’re scampering downstairs! A pack of them, and they want to play! Now this one’s yelling for food, but they just ate. Ouch! Something attacked my foot!
Whose house are we in? Can you guess?
That’s right! We’re with Chief Cat Carer, Laura. Now that she’s fostering Mountolive and Estella, Laura is living under the rule of four cats. In her contribution to the Cats in Quarantine series, she tells us about daily life in a household where cats outnumber people.
Diary of a Chief Cat Carer…
When I was deciding which cats should be fostered by whom, I knew that Olive and Estella would have to be placed together. Although they are not biologically related, we think of them as having come from the same litter. They joined the Lady Dinah’s family last summer when they came to the Emporium from The Scratching Post rescue shelter. Mountolive’s brother, Balthazar is currently being fostered with Estella's sister, Pip. This was the best arrangement since Pip’s hyperactivity emboldens Baz whereas it tends to make Stel anxious. Olive is more subdued and her calming presence makes Estella braver, plus they were always napping and playing together in the café. Now that they are living with me, their bond has strengthened and they are practically inseparable!
I was slightly concerned that Olive and Stel might prove to be difficult to care for since they are both quite nervous compared to the other cats, and Estella is notoriously resistant to grooming checks. I knew that the cats would all have to be given preventative flea treatments during lockdown, and I didn’t want to be indirectly responsible for someone else’s arms being clawed to ribbons! I concluded that I should foster the girls since I have the most experience in animal care and have already fostered many cats for the Emporium over the past four years.
In preparation for the kittens’ arrival, I made my guest bedroom into their kingdom. This would be their domain, but I decided to sleep with them at night since they know me and I wanted them to feel safe in their new surroundings. I knew that they would appreciate some privacy, so I put a litter tray under the bed and made a fort by draping their favourite piece of fabric from the café over some furniture. I also covered the floor with toys and blankets so that they would have lots to play with. The stage was set!
Just as I’d predicted, Estella was very displeased about being put in a carrier to be taken from the café to my house. It was a bit of an ordeal to catch her, but we managed it without sustaining too many injuries! Olive, meanwhile, couldn’t have been more relaxed. She was sleeping by a window when we scooped her up to join her friend. Once we got to my place, I was glad that I’d prepared some hideaways for the cats since they immediately made use of them.
Estella spent the next three days under the bed. Olive came out occasionally for playtime and cuddles, but she never left Stel alone for long. Initially, they were only allowed in two rooms since I already have two cats. My cats, Nyx and Atlas, are accustomed to having to share their space from time to time, but I didn’t want them to feel that they were being made to cede all of their territory straightaway. Still, I introduced the kittens to Nyx and Atlas quite early on because I sensed that this would reassure them. Normally, I would advise a different approach so as avoid premature introductions, but the kittens were encouraged by the presence of other cats. After all, being around adult cats reminds them of life at the Emporium!
My cats are not quite three years old and are used to visitors, which means that they aren’t generally that perturbed by having foster siblings. Still, Nyx was a bit confused by the presence of the kittens at first and dealt with this disruption by spending a lot of time in a cupboard in the bathroom. This was rather unnerving for me and my husband, Ibrahim, since we had to contend with her staring at us whenever we needed to use the bathroom! Atlas was unfazed and probably hasn’t noticed that he’s gained an admirer. Estella started coming out from under the bed whenever he was around, and now I’m convinced that she has a crush on him.
Now that we’re a few weeks into our lockdown routine, the girls have emerged from their room and it feels as though they’ve always been a part of our household! Here is my breakdown of what an average day looks like for us:
A DAY IN THE LIFE…
4:00 - The morning starts early! Atlas is a man about town and has plenty of urgent business to attend to, so he yells until someone lets him outside. Olive and Estella hear movement and they interpret this to mean that playtime can commence, so we have to convince them to stay in their room with some food for a little while longer. During this kerfluffle (that’s not a typo) we might accidentally trap Nyx somewhere and then have to locate and rescue her!
6:00 - Not content to stay in the bedroom forever, Estella and Olive start rampaging through the house. Nyx, who likes to sleep late and is already annoyed due to the upset at 4am, decides to take her frustrations out on me. If she can’t snooze, I shouldn’t be allowed to either!
7:00 - The kittens are as alert and active as ever, and they want everyone else to wake up as well. They try to achieve this by making as much noise as possible and generally causing mayhem. They jump on me and Ibrahim, run around, climb on the bannister, attack the blinds (they have already broken one), rustle around in bubble wrap, and bat around all of the noisy toys that I thought I’d hidden the night before! I’ve come to realise that Estella has a secret stash of toys that she’s been stockpiling. During this ruckus, Atlas returns from his adventures outside. He’s now tired and wants to go back to sleep, so he comes to me to lodge a formal complaint… by which I mean, he shouts in my face. This is the life of a foster mum!
8:45 - Olive, who thinks she’s always hungry, reminds me that at the Emporium she’s used to be served breakfast promptly at 9am. I wash the innumerable bowls, water fountains and trays we have strewn around and then I top them up. I try to give the cats different food in accordance with the café guidelines, but I give up after about twenty seconds. I let them eat from whichever bowls take their fancy. I wrote those guidelines, to be fair, so I know when they can be relaxed!
9:30 - This time is set aside for cuddles and playtime with the kittens. Olive approaches me first for cuddles, but Stel soon comes bounding up to us for affectionate headbutts. When they’re done with belly rubs and chin scratches, the girls love to chase a toy around the living room.
11:00 - After sulking a little bit and catching up on some sleep, Atlas joins us to eat the girls’ leftovers. Unlike the girls, who insist on fresh food from clean bowls, he really isn’t fussy! He’s not too haughty to enjoy another cat’s food.
14:00 - A blissful calm has settled over the house. Ibrahim and I are working in separate rooms while the cats are snoozing in their favourite spots. We realise that we haven’t had lunch, but we know that any disturbance now might rouse the cats and cause mayhem, so we opt to wait so that we can enjoy some more peace and quiet.
15:00 - My mum and I exercise together for half an hour via video chat every day. Before calling her, I lay out my yoga mat and then leave it unattended while I change my clothes. When I return, I discover Nyx hiding under one side of it. There’s a vicious glint in her eyes and I know that she’s plotting to maul my feet! Olive is hugging the other side of the mat, kicking and chewing it. Estella is too prim for such a display of savagery, but she’ll watch from nearby because she doesn’t like to be on her own.
17:00 - My workday is over and I close my laptop to find Olive and Estella staring at me, expectantly. Time to play! They are both particularly fond of leaping around in pursuit of a cable tie which is attached to a rod by some string. In addition to the exercise I’ve already done with my mum, the girls want me to run around with them for at least thirty minutes! The game ends when Estella captures the toy and runs off with it to hide it among my shoes. Now that the girls are satisifed, it’s time for me to play with Atlas and Nyx before preparing more food bowls. It’s incredible how much four cats eat!
20:00 - Ibrahim and I try to cook together, but Olive and Estella’s appetite for play is almost insatiable! This means that one of us cooks while the other entertains them. If our efforts haven’t been sufficient, we have to eat our dinner in the glare of four bright green eyes. We must also be careful not to incur the wrath of Nyx, who MUST sit between us and make biscuits otherwise she’ll behave as though she’s the most miserable, neglected cat on Earth.
22:00 - Olive and Estella are running around, of course. I find a bird video for them to watch on our tablet so that Ibrahim and I can also enjoy a movie. The parenting hacks that work with kids can also work with cats, though I would definitely caution against relying on screen time!
23:00 - I relinquish my hopes of being able to watch a movie without interruption, and I leave the sofa in search of the famous cable tie toy. They have several hiding spots for their toys, so it takes me a while to find it. Once their favourite toy has been recovered, I play with the kittens until I’m exhausted. They’re never too tired, but they’ll have to wait for Ibrahim to play with them later!
00:30 - I count the cats to ensure that everyone is in, then I fill their bowls for the last time before breakfast. Atlas loves to sit on the bed with me and observe the girls chasing each other around the room and in the corridor. I pass out.
So, there you have it! That’s a typical day in a household overrun by four young cats! I love having Olive and Estella at my house, but it can be quite challenging. The girls are constantly scratching my carpet and clawing at the furniture, but the most difficult thing is satisfying their ravenous appetite for play! Not only this, but there’s always something to clean what with all of the food bowls, water fountains and litter trays around. Let this act as a reminder to anyone who likes the idea of adopting lots of cats: committing to caring for an animal means taking on a lot of responsibility in order to give them the good life they deserve.
The benefits of fostering two kittens are obvious! I really enjoy our cuddle sessions and it’s been wonderful to watch them grow in confidence now that they’re comfortable at my house. They’ve been more affectionate towards me than they were at the café, which I put down to the fact that they’re not able to spread their love around as much. I think they miss tussling with the other cats in the clowder and meeting new people who are eager to play.
Even though it can be hard work, I know that I’m lucky to spend my time in lockdown with these guys. When my husband and I first started dating, he was adamant that he would never be able to live with cats. This was a grim prospect for me, so I’m very glad that he changed his mind. Having four cats is infinitely better than having none!