When we fly out to Santa Fe tomorrow we'll leave behind a kitten-free house, but take along a passel of furball memories from 2010. If those recollections are a like huge pot of cooked spaghetti thrown against the wall, here are some of the images from 2010 that stuck.
We ushered in the year tube-feeding Margo every four hours. Each meal and its accompanying meds took over 30 minutes, so we put a portable radio in the bunkhouse and listened to a lot of "Johnny Dollar" and "Hot Jazz Saturday Night" while slowly pushing food and water down Margo's tube.
The Ragtops (Risa, Raleigh, and Ryder) took their places on the villa podium. All three graduated in January, and Raleigh and Ryder went home together.
A tragic fire consumed the Ritchie County, WV animal shelter in January, killing over 60 cats and dogs and leaving incoming animals with nowhere to go. Homeward Trails took several animals from Ritchie, including one of most friendly kittens we've ever met. We found out later that his real name was Tony, but he was introduced to us as Remy, and that's how we remember him. He stayed with us for a few days, then moved to another foster home before being adopted.
Fellow Ritchie-survivor Kitkat shared the villa with Remy for a few days, then went home with a visitor from the Big Apple. We heard later from his adopter that he loves to curl up inside designer shopping bags.
Pregnant sheriff Minnie laid claim to the villa in mid-January. She entertained us with her vocal stylings while waiting for her kittens to arrive.
Minnie's five Moochers quickly learned how to tap the Minnie-bar.
But it took over a week for Mamie and her Moocher siblings to open their eyes.
Jackie-O was the smallest and perhaps the cutest of the Moochers. She was born with an abdominal hernia that didn't slow her down but took multiple attempts to surgically repair.
In different ways, both Mamie and "Furricane TJ" resembled their mom.
Alpha kitten and class-clown George was the first Moocher to head home.
Clinton spent about a week at 50K and captivated us with his happy-go-lucky personality and relentless purring. He went home with Jackie-O, then a few weeks later succumbed to the feline leukemia virus that had killed his siblings, leaving us shocked and deeply saddened. Like Arnie, he'd seemed totally healthy when we sent him home.
Luckily, Jackie-O was never infected with FeLV.
In mid-May, gorgeous mom-cat Samantha took over the villa along with her lookalike blue-eyed boys. We named them Sly and Robbie, the Reggae-Rats.
Two of Samantha's kittens had died before she came to Homeward Trails, so we wondered whether Sly and Robbie would stay healthy. They turned out to be two of the cleanest and lowest-maintenance kittens we've ever fostered.
The Reggae-Rats were all about wrestling and having fun.
Our roughest week of the year started on Memorial Day, when we agreed to take five kittens from an experienced fosterer who was away on vacation. Her housesitter was a shelter technician, but she had more kittens to care for than she could handle.
My heart sank when I picked up the kittens. Their eyes were swollen shut and you could hear them breathe from across the room. They all weighed less than a pound and had stopped eating on their own. Expecting the worst, we never gave them individual names. We just called the litter Les Miserables.
We nebulized Les Miz several times a day and hand-fed them around the clock, but since their lungs were filled with fluid, eating felt like drowning, and they fought us tooth and nail at every meal. The arsenal of medications provided by their fosterer wasn't enough to save them. The first kitten died on Wednesday and the last two on Friday.
By Saturday we were sleep-deprived zombies wondering what had hit us. To avoid infecting the Reggae-Rats with whatever killed Les Miz, we barely touched Sly and Robbie for a week. They still had their mom, so they rolled on without a hitch.
Before Sly and Robbie found their forever home (together and they kept their names!), we agreed to take five small furballs from Virginia's rural King George County. We were told that one of the kittens had a broken leg that had been examined and splinted.
They didn't mention that this kitten also had the heart of a lioness. The World Cup was getting started, so we named her Pele and called her litter the FIFAs.
Since Samantha remained in the villa after her Reggae-Rats went home (and since Queen Margo still presided over the bunkhouse and playground upstairs), the FIFAs were stuck in the windowless half-bath we call the 50K nursery. As they got bigger, they learned to squawk when they heard us moving around in the adjacent kitchen and back-room. We'd put the dogs outside and let the FIFAs out to play. So they got plenty of quality time with their peeps.
A scrum of snoozing FIFAs. Note how the splint on Pele's right hind-leg has shrunk. A few weeks before she went home, her doctor removed it completely. We were amazed at how well her shattered leg healed. By the time she went home, the minor stiffness resulting from her injury was barely noticeable.
Led by alpha-kitten Bafana, the FIFAs were enthusiastic and synchronized eaters.
And after eating and romping, they loved to relax on the couch with a magazine.
Pele joined a young male cat named Bandit at her new home. Bafana and Zela were adopted together as first pets. And we were thrilled to see Vuvu and Beckham join a family with two elderly cats and a long history of adopting rescue cats and dogs.
Before they found homes, all five FIFAs tested positive for FIV. That sometimes happens with young kittens that have inherited immunities from their mom but aren't actually infected. We told their adopters that even if they did have the virus, they had a good chance of living full lives. Our favorite response came from Beckham and Vuvu's new dad "well, they still need a home."
We took Samantha to get spayed and brought her back to 50K the same day. When her grogginess and lethargy turned to drooling and appetite loss, we got worried. She reminded us of Lynxie, the pneumonia-doomed mother of last year's Hellions kittens. We took Sam to the vet, where they diagnosed calicivirus and a 106-degree fever. They immediately rehydrated her, gave her penicillin, and prescribed antibiotics. Untreated, she would likely have died within a day.
During three days of subcutaneous fluids and hand-feeding, Sam's drooling gradually diminished. Eventually she nibbled a little Weruva Paw-Lickin' Chicken (which looks like slivers of cooked breast meat.) We bought more and she kept eating, much to our relief.
As Al Pacino said in The Godfather, Part III, "Just when I think I'm out, they drag me back in!" Minnie was returned to us after she became reclusive and semi-feral in her busy new home. Her adoption didn't work out, but by spending several weeks there with her kittens Lincoln and TJ, Minnie helped them acclimate to a family with four young children and a grown collie. Lincoln and TJ thrived, and Minnie relaxed and became friendly again in the quiet villa. She was adopted by a single woman a few days after we left for summer vacation.
In early August, we heard that five tiny kittens had been left on the doorstep of a girl-scout camp near Harrisonburg, VA. Luckily, a Homeward Trails volunteer was visiting the camp that day. She immediately took the starving kittens to Petco and fed them milk-replacement formula before leaving the store. A day later we picked the kittens up at her suburban apartment. We called them the Campers and named them after girl-scout cookies.
All the Campers were scruffy and flea-infested, and brown tabby Chief still hadn't opened his eyes. But we worried most about orange tabby Scottie. He lost weight the first two days and had trouble drinking from the bottle. His shrunken head, distended belly, and fragile limbs reminded us of Regis.
Savannah (who ended up going home with Scottie) was the opposite. She'd get so excited about meals that we had to devise a new way to hold the bottle, so she wouldn't knock it away with her flailing front paws.
By week three, all of the Campers looked solid even Scottie. We took off for two weeks in Glacier and Waterton National Parks, in Montana and Alberta, where we met some slightly bigger furballs.
Back at 50K after vacation, we moved the growing Campers into the villa. Samoa felt right at home and took over from Chief as alpha kitten.
Completely healthy now, Scottie became Samoa's deputy and wrestling partner.
Given lots of peep-time, the Campers turned into one of most outgoing litters we've fostered. Among the cutest too. Left to right, Samoa, Scout, Scottie, Chief.
Chief says, "I'm a hugger, not a fighter."
Happy Campers Chief, Savannah, and Samoa.
Our phone rang Labor Day morning. Two sick kittens had been brought to the Homeward Trails office. When we drove over to meet them, we immediately flashed back to Memorial Day. Congested, anemic, flea-infested, and starving, these two looked even worse than Les Miz.
We brought them home, warmed them up, and started syringe-feeding them a few cc of milk-replacement formula every hour or two. Their breathing was audible, so were worried they'd resist, but they were too weak to fight us. As with Les Miz, we were reluctant to name them. We called them "orange guy and gray girl" (later O.G. and G.G.) and referred to them as the Divers.
For the first few days, we syringe-fed the Divers every 2-3 hours, nebulizing and bathing them in-between meals. We kept the nursery at 85 degrees. Every time we entered the room, we had to wipe mucous from their swollen eyes and pry them open. We thought it likely that each kitten would ultimately lose one or both eyes.
But the Divers fought hard, survived, and kept their eyes. We knew they had turned the corner when Oggi licked baby food from a wooden knife. A day or two later, both kittens were eating on their own.
In mid-September, Martha's sister Fran moved to St. Louis and decided she was ready to adopt Margo, whom she'd met a few times while visiting us. Martha packed up large Marge and flew her to new home. Our longest-tenured foster cat had been with us for nine months. We miss Margo more than our staff cats do, since they once again have access to the full second floor.
As with Les Miz and the Reggae-Rats, we again had sick little kittens (the Divers) in the nursery and healthy big kittens (the Campers) in the villa. The Campers got less attention than the Divers, and when we opened the villa door, they were ready to climb the baby gate and jailbreak.
With Margo gone, the bunkhouse was free again. We offered to take an almost-feral 'fraidy cat named Brett who needed some hands-on socialization. On his first day, Brett had to improvise to find a hiding place.
At first he didn't eat and lost weight, but Brett eventually learned to trust us (most of the time) and eat from our hands.
Once they started eating, the Divers never stopped. They gained weight faster than any kittens we'd previously fostered, maybe because they'd been starving to death when we got them. Aside from the weepy eyes and corneal cloudiness that still affect them, things have been looking up for Oggi and Gigi ever since.
Samoa, Savannah and Scout posed for a senior picture before jetting off to their forever homes in late September and early October.
Brett slowly became more comfortable being held. By the end of his three weeks with us, he purred readily when stroked. Homeward Trails transferred him to another foster home, where he found a kitten-buddy but then backslid on his people skills. We suggested that he be transferred as an only cat to a single fosterer with a small apartment. We're not sure where he is today, but will try to get an update soon.
Scottie met his new dad, then went home with Savannah as the last two Campers to graduate.
And the Divers inherited the villa.
We reset the nursery for the arrival of a cute brown tabby from the shelter in Prince Georges County, MD. His mom and all of his siblings had died, but Sonny tested negative for the usual feline viruses.
When he remained healthy after his first few days at 50K, we integrated Sonny with the Divers. The hissing subsided after a day or two.
Oggi and Gigi got bigger and stronger. We posted them on Petfinder and placed ads on Craigslist, but they only got a couple of nibbles. We worried that despite their winning personalities and impressive athleticism, their eye-weepiness and cloudy left corneas would deter adopters. We still worry about that.
Chief and Scout (now Eddie and Cooley) e-mailed us a shot of themselves at home. They're big football fans now. Hard to believe they root for different teams.
Savannah and Scottie were adopted by a couple that lives ten minutes away, so we stopped by twice to give them booster vaccinations. On both visits, they smelled the Divers on our clothing and hissed at us!
A professional photographer who volunteers for Homeward Trails stopped by on a kitten errand and brought her camera, since Oggi always blinks when we photograph him. She solved that problem with a ceiling-directed flash.
The same volunteer handed off Piper to us, so she could take in a mom-cat nursing five kittens. Piper lived up to her name by issuing a full spectrum of yowls, mews, and squawks. For the first few days, she hissed at the Divers so frequently that we nicknamed her "Piper the Viper."
But despite her carefully-crafted biker-chick image, Piper is a softie at heart.
We took Sonny and Piper to an adoption event and were amazed by how willing Sonny was to be held by strangers. A woman who arrived at the opening bell held him for half an hour while chatting with us.
As the Divers contend with weepy eyes, ringworm, and Gigi's diminishing "rhino hump", we don’t expect to let go of them for at least several more weeks…
…but we heard last weekend days ago that Sonny closed the deal with his performance at the adoption event.
And this week his new mom came by to take him home a final ornament to hang on our 2010 tree!
Despite the upcoming kitten-free holidays at 50K, we won't have to worry about our housesitter getting lonely while we're away she'll have the 50K staff canines and felines to keep her company. And we doubt we'll suffer furball-withdrawal symptoms upon our return, since we expect Oggi, Gigi, and Piper to come back to 50K a day or two into the new year.
Until then, happy holidays and all the best for 2011 from Chase (left), Khola, Reggie, Mia, Yogi, Martha and me!