This true story was recorded in April 2021 by Wendy Mirrotto, Founder and CEO of Kitten Krazy.
A Krazy Story!
My cell phone rang…again. Running a nonprofit cat shelter is typically a very busy job and can take you in a different direction every few minutes. This phone call would top them all. Actually, this fascinating, almost unbelievable story would change directions several times over the course of five days before we had any idea about what we were dealing with.
I’m Wendy Mirrotto, Founder and Executive Director of Kitten Krazy, Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit cat shelter in Medina, Ohio. I opened Kitten Krazy in May 2004 in my backyard in a 20’ x 8’ space in my garage. It’s now 17 years later and we are operating in a 6,000 SF facility, and I still encounter cat situations and medical problems that I’ve never seen before. This story is definitely one of the Kitten Kraziest!
So, the phone rang and I said, “Hello, Lisa!” (gotta love caller ID ;). Lisa Novak and I have worked together for over 15 years in the rescue world. Her focus has always been on wildlife rescue, so when she comes across cats or kittens, she sometimes calls me to take them. This time, she said she just needed advice. She went on to tell me that she got a call from a friend who is a city official and they were at an apartment building that had caught on fire a month ago that had been boarded up. They went back in yesterday (March 24th) and found a mom cat and two kittens sleeping under a burned out metal bed frame that was tumbled over on some other burnt items. They said they would trap them if she would take them but that they were only going to try once and, if they could not catch her, were going to board the building back up (seriously?!). My heart was pounding – not sure if it was from anger or anxiety or both. She told her friend to call her and she would be there to pick up the cats. Lisa is one of my favorite rescue people for this and many other reasons! The day she called me she had received pictures of the cat and kittens from her friend that she forwarded to me – seeing their deplorable condition I immediately said, “I’ll take them!” She said with a great deal of relief, “Oh, thank God!” Showing me the pictures proved Lisa to be a genius!
The next day, the city official caught the cat in a carrier and put the two kittens inside and handed them over to Lisa who drove them straight to me at Kitten Krazy. Knowing approximately when they would arrive, I asked my staff to have food, milk replacer and a nice cage ready for them. Momma cat stepped out of the cage – she was still covered in soot, but one could see that she was a sheer beauty underneath – and super sweet! I had already picked out a name for her – Phoenix. A phoenix symbolizes birth, death, and rebirth, as well as eternity, strength, and renewal. The whole idea that this mythical bird is reborn from the ashes of the flames of death signifies a journey through fire or adversity – isn’t that fitting?! The volunteers came up with names for her two female kittens; Ember for the buff tabby and Smoke for the gray one. Purrfect!
Phoenix is a medium-haired calico, mostly white (well, currently “gray” from the soot). Stepping out of the carrier, she immediately greeted us with purrs and hugs. She saw the food and dove in. Two full cans and a good deal of dried food later, she was finally satisfied. She was obviously starving - locked in a burnt out apartment complex for a month – how absolutely horrible for her – and her kittens!
When we saw the kittens walk out of the carrier, we all gasped. Ember and Smoke had severely infected eyes full of pus. Smoke looked like one of her eyes was already beyond saving; Ember’s eyes were completely pasted shut and she was temporarily blind. Both were so skinny you could feel all of their bones – little 10 oz & 12 oz skeletons. Typically, kittens of that weight are approximately 3 weeks old. I knew by their behavior they were much older, maybe 5 to 6 weeks old - just severely malnourished. They, too, dove into the food and didn’t stop for a long time. I thought they would bust! I have lots of sayings (my friend’s call them “Wendy-isms”), I said, “An eating cat is a living cat.” Live – they must!
The first thing I typically do is weigh each cat when they arrive, cut their nails and then do a physical exam. With this crew, we weighed them and then let them eat until they were content. So, it was time to examine mom and she was in excellent shape, all things considered. I could slightly feel her back bone, but her stomach was protruding out each side and felt like a water balloon. I said, “It looks like she’s pregnant!” But I knew that it was impossible because her kittens were only 5 weeks old (ish) and she had been encapsulated in the building for a month. Besides, if she was pregnant, the math would not work for a second pregnancy since her kittens were so young. So then I thought maybe she was full of worms, but I dispelled that quickly because I know how a belly full of worms feels (got lots of experience with that!) and it didn’t fit. I then told my crew that it was possibly FIP – a deadly disease that I feared perfectly fit her symptom of a big mushy belly. But it was too soon to panic. I then checked her ears and teeth – they looked great. I estimated her to be approximately 2-4 years old. Overall I thought she was in terrific shape for what she went through – except her belly...
Then I examined the kittens. You already know they presented themselves as walking skeletons. This did not add up in my mind either. Why is mom so healthy and the kittens nearly starved? And, they nursed – a lot. The whole time I’m examining them I’m raising these questions to everyone around me and sharing my concerns and possible explanations, but nothing I could surmise was explaining their situation.
I was off the next day but back in on Saturday. I checked on the happy family and the kittens were nursing and content. Every time we refilled their bowls – which was often – they would all run over, gorge then go back to sleeping in a pile. I noticed mom’s belly was even bigger and I voiced my concern again about FIP – Feline Infectious Peritonitis – a deadly somewhat contagious condition that has no cure. I asked my shelter manager, Kristen, to keep a close eye on her since I was off the next two days. Kristen reported that she seemed fine – still eating like a champ but her belly was still large. When I arrived on Tuesday I was more than panicked – her belly was severely protruding and she was a little crabby when we would touch her. I wondered aloud if she had resorted to eating inanimate items in the apartment to fill her belly, or if FIP was imminently going to take her life, or if her bowels were blocked – all extremely serious and potentially life-threatening situations. So, we sent her directly to the vet that afternoon where they watched her. The next day they texted me and said, “Best result possible” the x-rays showed - she’s PREGNANT!
How could this be?? Ember and Smoke were not old enough for her to have gone into heat again and then gotten pregnant and then gestated for 62 days! The math just did not calculate. I called Lisa and gave her the update and she was shocked. At this time, she told me that after speaking with the city official again, she was told that the apartment complex was so badly burned that Phoenix was not confined to one apartment. Could she maybe have been able to come and go as she pleased out of the building? Could she have “taken” another cat’s kittens? This would fully explain why they were starved and she was not – she did not have any milk for them – but they were “nursing” on her in the picture they sent and since they arrived at Kitten Krazy. Apparently, they were trying desperately to get some milk that didn’t exist. They also would have been too little yet to eat any prey she brought back for them. It also explains that she must have gotten pregnant outside of the facility a month before it caught on fire. Everything started to make sense…and then my cell phone rang…again…
It was the vet’s office – I had just gotten the news about her being pregnant a few hours earlier. Krystal said, “You’re not going to believe this, but Phoenix is having her kittens!!” Today?!! Over the course of the day, she had four beautiful kittens! Over the course of the day my emotions went from managed fear to super elation! Dr. Kirt Yant, of Copley Fairlawn Veterinary Clinic is our shelter vet and he called me at 8:30 pm to let me know he went back to the clinic to check on her after hours and she and the kittens were fine, but he thought there might be one more. In the morning, I called to check on Phoenix and Megan told me that Phoenix was back in labor. I said, “Oh, no – that’s not good. It’s been too long - that kitten might not make it.” And she said that was what they were thinking. I have been a part of hundreds of cat births over the past 25 years and this was the first one that took this long to finish – I knew it couldn’t be good. They called a little later and told me the sad news that the kitten was born dead.
A few hours later, one of my volunteers went and picked them up and brought them back to the shelter where they spent their first week. All are doing fine and are currently being raised at Medina Career Center by junior and senior high students in the animal handling field. They could not be happier – the cats and the kids!
As for Ember and Smoke, they too are in a fantastic foster home with Renee. She is a miracle worker when it comes to saving eyes (has lots of experience with Kitten Krazy cats who come in with severe eye issues). She is currently working her magic under doctor’s orders and their eyes continue to slowly improve. We are extremely hopeful at this point that Smoke might not have to lose her eye!
This true story is still being written as we continue to care for all seven kitties. If you are so inclined to help, we would really appreciate your support for them and the 650+ other cats and kittens we take in every year. Please consider a donation to Kitten Krazy at 930 Lafayette Road – Unit A, Medina, OH 44256. Or, you can donate through our website at www.kittenkrazy.org or website at facebook.com/kittenkrazymedina.
May God bless every good hand that touched these cats to help them and may God bless you and your furry friends, too!
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