Ginger Ale & Kittens: Adventures in Getting Over a Mid-Summer Flu
By Ryan Kemp
My first thought when I noticed my sore throat was “I bet a glass of wine would help.”
We hung out in the courtyard of my apartment - spontaneous wine and grilled cheese and tequila and beer on the reg - another laid back Saturday night in Santa Monica. Among the casual conversations, my explanation of how I’m drinking wine because I’m not feeling well was interrupted by my outspoken neighbor Mons: “You got a kitten! You got a kitten!”
Two nights prior, we heard a tiny munchkin kitten howling at the top of its little lungs for its mama.
“We” meaning the concerned citizens of my apartment complex - like four of us. I brought out some tuna and water after we saw it under a car in the garage. It ate the food, but we couldn’t get it in. The same thing happened the following night. That’s when I contacted a cat rescue organization who let me borrow a cat trap. They don’t just hand out traps to people. I have experience but that’s a story for later.
I borrowed the trap and successfully caught me a kitten.
This interesting twist to the night was a neat accomplishment. We rescued the baby kitten! Yay! Surely we had to be some kind of heroes that we miraculously saved this helpless, abandoned kitten’s life!
And somehow in movies, they never have that scene where the hero is like “Oh shit. Now what.”
7pm: Ok. I’ll keep the thing in my room until this rescue group finds a foster. There’s already a few emails of people who will take it. Great! Just hold onto it overnight and someone can help out.
So I take a random adorable, probably 6-week-old kitten into my home and give it a bath. Poor thing was infested with fleas. When I came close to it, it hissed. But not like a real hiss. This was more like the kitten saw hissing on TV and decided to try it out. Like a kid who’s learning to whistle. Adorable.
In a few seconds, the little cupcake was purring and rubbing its face on me.
I wasn’t feeling great at this point so I went to bed early and closed my bedroom door to keep my other cats separated from the runt.
In the middle of the night I realized I couldn’t breathe. I got up and it felt like a truck hit me. I went to blow my nose and according to the mirror, I was dead. Pale, gross, sick… I didn’t actually take my temperature, but I know what a fever feels like - y’know, standard bone and joint pain, soreness, fatigue, headache, sore throat, cough – basically the Robitussin commercial.
A breathe-right strip and some night time cold meds did me until the morning. As awful as I felt, I managed to answer the two dozen calls, texts and emails about the kitten. I’ve rescued before, and it’s a lot of work, especially when trying to socialize a feral kitten and you have the flu.
Now, I’ve never been accused of paying really close attention to anyone, but somehow in my fuzzy brain state, I agreed to meet some people from a local rescue organization and show them where the rest of the feral family was hiding. I did so in a zombie-like fashion, slowly shambling down my street wearing my pajamas with a nasty case of bed head while two angelic spinsters excitedly walked ahead, traps in hand, giddy with the idea of rescuing a family in need.
That was about the end of road for me. I showed them where the kittens were, and proceeded back to my apartment to sit and drink liquids. After that grueling 100 yard walk, the flu got really pissed and placed me in timeout on my couch.
I woke up to my door opening and closing a few times. I didn’t acknowledge the coming and going of strange cat-ladies – I couldn’t. I feel like they may have mentioned some things to me in their adventure, but I couldn’t be sure what was real, and what was TV.
Finally, it was dark, so I woke up, took a swig of ginger ale and decided I should try to eat something.
To my surprise, one of the ladies was sitting in the chair in my living room – all bright and cheery and creeped me out to all hell. You ever wake up when you have the flu and you just have no idea? Just no idea. If I had an idea, I might have jumped, been surprised, or had some reaction. Instead, I said “Are you here?” then asked her if she wanted soup.
Who the fuck is this lady, why is she in my home, why the fuck did I offer soup?! I don’t even have soup!
She said no on the soup (thank God) and told me the good news. She caught the family of ferals – 3 kittens and a feral mom. I’m sure I responded with numbed exasperation and relief in my quest to create soup from cupboard remnants.
“Do you want to see them?” she asked. Oh man… You know like when you’re kind of in the middle of something and your neighbor wants to show you that new thing they’ve been working on that they’re super excited about and you have the flu and you just want everyone to fuck off?
So, of course I said “Sure.” I’m glad I did because she opened my bathroom door to reveal four kittens in my tub and an EXTREMELY feral mom cat, still in the trap. This. This is too much. “Why are they here?” I asked. Unfortunately, the rescuer didn’t have a foster lined up and her home was full, so they had to stay here.
As the room started to spin, I may have managed to get a few questions out. Talking was tough on my throat and it took a lot of energy to make sentences. From what I remember, it came out something like “fuck me.”
In the true spirit of martyrdom, but mostly to get this lady out of my home so I could not talk to anyone, I accepted the challenge of keeping these kittens and their mom safe while mildly hallucinating from fever. Kind of a unique experience. She informed me she would stop by tomorrow to get them.
Perfect. I can help these guys out for one night.
Cat food. I have a lot of cat food here. I have rescued and fostered cats before. Kittens this young are barely weened and usually can’t eat dry food yet. I think they were around 6 weeks old. Their eyes were no longer blue and they were eating tuna. I did my best - I went through every can of wet stuff and tuna I had, but they ate a lot. A LOT.
After a few hours I was out of wet stuff and my cats were all pissed - “Hey. Dad. So us cats were thinking… We heard the can opener, but we got no wet stuff. You mind explaining this?” (Please remember I had a severe flu). It was only a matter of time before they realized what was going on and decided not to come inside the house.
If you’ve ever been sick, you know one of the best treatments is to have a pet near you. And trying to call your cats in for the night is a real pain in the ass when you’re sick. You can’t just pass out and sleep. You have to try to get them in before you go to sleep. But they weren’t having it. Don’t worry - I purposely chose a home in one of the rare coyote-free areas of Los Angeles.
Next day: The phone calls and texts about the cats started long before the NyQuil wore off. I repeated – “Do whatever you need. I may be awake, I may not. Just come in and get the cats whenever you can. Please.” She continued to update me throughout the day of her schedule and other things I didn’t care to know.
I realize at this point how difficult and thankless a cat rescuer’s job is. This poor woman drives all over Los Angeles, which is its own version of flu hell, trapping, transporting and rescuing all sorts of animals – this day she had an emergency fledgling bird rescue. God bless her. Seriously, all of you who donate your time to the cause are truly selfless and play an invaluable role in contributing to our society. Thank you, sincerely.
At some point the woman came and got the cats. I did it. I’m done. Phew. So I, in my sickened state of subdued diligence, began cleaning my bathroom when someone came in the door. It was her. And she had the cats. “Wait, what?!”
Much to my chagrin, she took the cats to get them fixed, vaccinated and treated for fleas, but the babies weren’t old enough to get fixed. And the mama was too feral to put in foster care in someone’s home.
Leaving the only option: my fucking bathroom. She helped me give the cats the last cans of wet stuff she brought over, fresh litter and water, and then she was gone.
Next day: My fever hasn’t let up at all and was still kicking my ass. Every movement was a battle. My bones and joints hurt, I had a migraine. I was sore, weak, and had very little idea what was going on.
Luckily my friend Dave came by to drop off some more ginger ale so I asked him to drive me to “the cat store to pick up cat food.” I couldn’t drive myself at this point in the flu.
I continued to email and call cat rescue groups to find a foster. I continued to clean up after the incredibly messy family of terrified kittens and their mom. I had no idea kittens could poop so much. I wasn’t sure how much more I could take, but surely, I had surpassed that point a long long time ago. But damn, you ever try to stay mad at a helpless tiny kitten? Doesn’t work.
Many people emailed, called and texted to see if I had found a home for them, but no one offered a solution. After countless (I say that because at this point I couldn’t count anymore – I was never really good at it anyway) responses, I finally found someone who could safely foster the kittens and socialize them. Tomorrow. I had to drive the kittens to Norwalk – not safe for me to drive that distance in my condition, but I had to do something.
The next day: My fever was still there, but I mustered up strength to take a bunch of cold medicine to get me through. Unfortunately the mom cat was too feral for a foster home. The most humane thing to do was release her back into its neighborhood (assuming the neighborhood is safe – which mine was) or take it to a feral cat sanctuary. This cat has been around my hood for the last couple years, and it was familiar with my cats and several other random cat feeders on the street. This street would make a nice forever home for her. I carried her inside her trap to the place she was caught, opened the cage and she ran off to her nest under a house. I filled food and water dishes for her – something I would have to continue forever.
Now for the little guys. I put all four of them in my carrier and caressed their little faces to make them feel comfortable. I met a transport for the rescue near USC so I didn’t have to make the long drive. I was essentially high on cold meds, but it had to be done. I drove slow, one finger in the carrier for the kittens to nibble and rub their tiny cat faces on.
The woman who received them was the perfect cat lady. Grandmotherly and soft, gentle and most likely single. I was done. We parted ways and I wished the little tykes luck. And then I went home. I scoured the bathroom and eagerly awaited my own cats’ return to smell and see their home was again their home, and only theirs.
And then I drank some more ginger ale. The next day the fever broke. And despite all the stress and inconvenience, I got better and managed to help some cats and my neighborhood.
The point of this long, rambling, at some points intimate episode of my life is that there is no “easy” rescue story. It’s hard, exhausting, intense, stressful, and heart-wrenching. And it’s entirely worth it.
Please remember this story whenever you deal with animals. They’re not disposable and they won’t make it on their own. Support your local rescues. Help animals in need. And for God’s sake, ADOPT. And when you do, remember these are living creatures that huge amounts of effort go toward just to ensure they get to have a life. A warm loving life preferably, but that’s entirely up to you.