It happens from time to time that some of the furry 4-legged friends (dogs and cats) come over to find a temporary shelter or, as it happens, to sort a temporary food-situation. Nobody abuses the hospitality, so we’re all okay and happy with it.
This time everything was different.
It was one of these nights where the dogs kept on going, making it difficult for me to find sleep. Towards early morning the sound had changed and they were clearly on a hunting-mission. I checked, Mr. Max was peacefully asleep on top of my duvet and Liza never leaves the boat anyways, so these two were safe for sure. I finally managed to get some peaceful rest, although it felt like only half an hour or so and I hear a tiny kitten desperately calling for her mum. Can’t be, there are no kittens close by, you must be dreaming!
No, there it is again! Daylight was just breaking. I got up, checked around the boat, found nothing and back to sleep. And again: there is definitely a kitten calling for her mum!
I gave up on sleep and got up to get some breakfast. Still no kitten. Hang on, here, there it is again, and very close by! Together with Mr. Max I started looking and for sure, behind a scrap-piece of plywood there was a kitten. Green eyes, black with longish fur and some tiny white tufts of hair at the breast and under the armpits. I recognized her, she’s one of Janis’s little ones from the workshop at the far end of my road.
Hm, and now what? First things first, so I gave her some food and water and she was wolfing it down instantly. Then she found herself a new shelter under the plastic I’m covering my masts with. Good, I’ve won some time, my turn for breakfast now!
The plan now was to find Janis and convince her to come here so she can take care of her little one. I actually managed to attract her attention till she was here at my boat. But then the little one was quiet and Janis got bored and wanted to leave. Finally I managed to get the little one to call for her, they found each other and my problem was solved.
About a week later we had the same dog-situation again. Getting up I already felt very lucky that there was no kitten calling desperately for her mum. I had breakfast and then went upstairs to open the boat and start working on her. Till I opened the hatch of the aftcabin that is. There was Janis and 2 of her kittens. She had had 4, but the other two ended up as prey for the dogs that night.
We’ll sort this somehow, I’m not gonna chuck you out!
Janis is quite a character, I always liked her. She was born and grew up in a workshop at the far end of “my” road – or better: the road where my workshop is. They were four siblings and had their own dog with the name of Legua (which means League in English, like the ancient nautical term for distance). As soon as they could run he would take them for walks, he would wash them and he would teach them how to behave if a dog with mysterious behavior comes towards them. None of them is used to cuddles or being touched, they live a pretty free life, and Janis even went out fishing with the guy who owns the workshop in his open boat. Simply because she wanted to.
Then, one day, Janis got pregnant. When it was getting towards her time she started looking for the proper place. The normal thing to do would have been like everyone else did, having them somewhere in this workshop. But she had watched the guy who owns the workshop taking some of the newborn babies away never to be seen again – unfortunately the only way he brings it over his heart to avoid an over-increase in his cat-population as neutering/spading them is out of the question financially.
Hang on a minute, I’m not gonna have that! I want to keep all my babies!!!
She found herself an abandoned boat in the second row behind the boatyard. Apparently she didn’t give a damn about this being next to an old steel tugboat which was being worked on, day in day out with heaps of noise.
Her babies were born the 11th of April and for weeks she was leading the guy who owns the workshop on the wrong track. When they were 6 weeks old, had their eyes open and were starting to go walkabout she allowed him to find them. He took them all home, everything was fine and everybody happy.
Till the second night of the dogs that is.
When Janis realized that neither I nor Mr. Max have any objections and Liza actually turned out to be super-happy about having some playmates, we found them more and more often on deck and the kids playing happily. For some reason they were even using the litter-box for their needs instead of finding a hidden place somewhere in the boat, which I found really impressive and of course I was very happy about it!
I still couldn’t touch the kids, but by and by they would let me and even started to purr. Liza, being nearly 4 months older, was playing with them, sharing her toys (lines, the little plush-dolphin I had found etc.) and sometimes playing rough to very rough. But the two little girls had a big advantage over Liza: they were heroes in climbing.
I guess Janis worked it all out: there was a damaged area at the end of the plastic cover/tent I’m using to keep the rain off the new part of the deck which is waiting for the last jobs to be done. And very conveniently I had installed “Brise-Vent” (some kind of tissue that lets the air get through but keeps the sun out) under big parts of this tent. So they started to use it like a hammock, completely out of reach for Liza.
Liza tried and tried. After some very funny attempts she developed climbing-skills and suddenly the 3 young ones were playing hide-and-seek on top of my tent which is about 6 m above ground-level without anything to catch them should it go wrong.
It was time to find some names for the little ones. The black one really has guts, is an independent soul and adventure simply shouting out of her green eyes. She reminded me of my time in Ireland and an idea hit me: in the 1500’s Ireland had a female pirate-captain who came to great fame. Her name: Grace O’Malley. Well, she was “not only” a pirate-captain but also the head of the Ó Máille Dynasty in the west of Ireland. Done! It’s too long a name to call her, so I simply use Mal or Malley as a short form.
I had difficulties finding the right name for the black-and-white one. She was super-curious about anything I was doing, always ready for a joke or playing the little clown, super-fast, but, in the beginning, didn’t really mix with the others. She was very close to her mum, but needed more time to learn the ladder or jump off the boat to the scaffolding. Janis always came over in the late evenings to go on special adventure trips with the little ones. I remember one time Janis calling and calling her and the little black-and-white-one with panic in her little voice standing on top of my bowsprit trying to find the courage to jump onto the Caravan which was standing below. In the end she actually managed the ladder for the first time in her life. Still, the right name just wouldn’t come to me. Then I remembered a friend of mine who has a baby-girl. Cute, sweet, lovely, funny and just cool. Her name: Coral. I thought it over and it fits, so, she’s Coral now!
Coral seems to be developing a very special skill her mum has brought to perfection. I have never seen something like it, and I will never forget it. One day Janis was escaping a Boarder-collie. She was kind of flying, hardly ever touching the ground, a beautiful mixture of elegance, power and speed combined. When they were coming towards me I stopped the dog and Janis escaped alive.
And there is something else I’ve never had before in my life: I can start the hoover or any machine not far from the two of them and they can’t be bothered by the noise, not at all. Guess this is totally normal when you grow up next to a steel-boat being sandblasted for weeks on end.
However, once the names were sorted I took the little ones to the vet for their first vaccine, checkup etc.. They were super-brave and didn’t even complain with the vaccine, good, I’m pleased, well done girls!
Janis started to go off for longer and longer periods, but never longer than a few hours. Once back she would feed them, maybe eat something herself, sit on top of the companionway to watch what is going on in the forward cabin (something she’s doing at least since Liza is with us, if not before), cuddle her girls a bit or take them out for adventure-trips. Meanwhile one could clearly notice that she is pregnant again and I was wondering where her favorite place might turn out to be this time.
Then, suddenly, out of nowhere, one morning the girls and Janis were gone. It was September the 2nd., with full moon for tonight.
Around midday still no sign of the girls nor Janis. I started to miss our lovely lively lot and, to be honest, I got a bit worried when they didn’t even turn up for food. I went for a little poke around, but no success. When 6-year-old Pedro came around with his bike, his half-brother Daniel (7) and his cousin Gustavo (6) to play in the boatyard I asked them to keep a sharp lookout for our girls. Which they did, everywhere. A bit later they came over to fetch the horse and reported “still nothing”. Hm …. .
Towards evening they suddenly turned up. Lots of confusion going on, Janis going on several boats and calling them to come up with no success. I left them and went for Dinner with my mates which is close to where Pedro lives. The 3 boys wanted to know if the little ones have appeared and were very happy to hear me say “yes, they turned up!”. “We lost our cat today, she got run over by a car. Over there! There is still the blood all over. She’s in the bin now. You would have been in tears!!!”. And, true enough, the blood was still on the street and it was the boys who found her.
Once settled back up on Tonga for the evening, Janis and the girls appeared on board. It didn’t take long and Janis disappeared into the little transport-box next to my bunk (but lower), something she would never ever have done before. Coral and Malley on her heels, also inside the box, and you could hear them drinking happily although I haven’t got a clue how they all managed to squeeze in there.
Right, I guess I know what’s gonna happen tonight!
Everything was peaceful and calm, I had a really good sleep this night. When I woke up in the morning she had given birth to a whitish-colored baby. We all tried to make as little noise as possible, and I went downstairs for breakfast. When I checked a bit later, a black-and-white-colored baby was born. And then nothing, although there were clearly more to come. Before midday I tried to find out something on Internet. Although I found one site days later where they were saying in rare cases it can take from 24 up to 36 hours, the sites I found this morning were all giving the same information: if more than 1 hour has elapsed till the next one is born, you need to call the vet. Which I did. They told me to come over at 15:30, to Alcobaça (17 K from here) as the Nazaré-Office is only open 3 times a week.
I was super-lucky that she had chosen the transport-box for the job, coz now I only had to add the door and we were ready to go!
Janis has never been in a car before. I asked Birte, also Liveaboard and my neighbor in the boatyard since mid-August (http://www.sytanamera.de), if she could drive us so I could have the box with Janis on my lap and calm her if necessary. Turns out this was a very good idea as I found some water under my car and I absolutely didn’t feel in the right state to investigate at this moment. I’ve got no kids, but I don’t think a would-be-father could be much better off than me in this situation.
We got to the vet safe and sane, they did an echography and confirmed there are babies alive inside. They had to do a caesarean and I asked if it would be possible to sterilize her at the same time. Several papers to sign and they asked if I could collect her at 19:30? Yes, sure!
Birte and me went into the town of Alcobaça, no use to drive home and back again. I wasn’t really useful for anything but managed to show her some nice little corners in the old part of the town, we had ice cream, and when we were sitting at a coffee-place having a slice of cake my phone rang. That was the moment I discovered I actually got jumpy! It was the vet. Everything has been going fine, there were 3 more babies, 2 whitish-colored ones and a black-and white one. They are not sure if all of them will survive as they are all a bit smallish compared to the first 2, and one was very slow to start breathing. If I could come over at 19:00 already? Sure, we’ll be there!
“You should have a drink now instead of chain-smoking cigarettes, something you haven’t touched for years!” was the dry comment of Birte. Well, I first wanted to see that all is good with my own eyes. And actually, now that I think about it, I don’t even think we had a drink together this evening!!!
We collected Janis and the babies. I was meant to give her medicine (Anti-inflammatory and Antibiotics) and I didn’t have a clue how to achieve it with a cat I hardly could touch. And Saturday in a weeks time we were meant to turn up at the vet in Nazaré to pull the stitches. Again: no clue how to get this done! Well, one step at a time!
The medicine was the easy part: there was one kind of food, something like paté, which she really liked. I only had to bury the medicine inside a spoonful of this stuff and the whole thing was gone in less than a second. Good!
Life at home slowly calmed down. It didn’t take Janis long to realize that 5 babies, herself, plus her 2 kids were a really tight squeeze at eating-time in this little box. She moved. Where to? You guess!
On top of my duvet of course! Janis didn’t want anyone near, her kids were the exceptions, and Mr. Max got chucked out. I made it clear to her that this is my bed, that I have no-where else to sleep, and that I will sleep in this bed tonight! She was cool about it, all went well. Okay, turning in my sleep was out of the question. After the third night in this constellation I was full of aches and pains, mainly in the shoulders. This is no good!
At lunchtime, she attacked Mr. Max who, of course, wanted to have his share of the food. With the consequence that Mr. Max went off. Janis and I had a talk. I explained to her that Mr. Max is not a stray-cat but my lovely companion and friend for the last 5 years (and I admit there were some tears involved). If anyone has a right to be here in this space, it is Mr. Max.
When I came back from dinner with my mates, Janis had moved the first 2 babies to the boat behind me, which was followed by the remaining 3 during the rest of the evening. I brought her a cushion the next day, so they wouldn’t just lay on a painted wooden surface.
The girls mainly stayed on Tonga, only went over to the other boat to take care of the babies when Janis had something else to do and Janis continued to come over for the meals. Or to fetch her girls for one of her adventure-trips. While Coral is completely in love with the babies and tries to spend as much time with them as she may, Malley is not particularly interested and tries her best to avoid her babysitting-duties. To the joy of Liza, who has started to distribute her toys to the different resting-places (1 toy each :-D!) instead of hiding them in her secret place.
It was time for the vet to pull the stitches. Janis would not let me take her up to get her inside the box. I remembered the paté, got some on a food-tray and thus managed to trick her into the box. Unfortunately I had installed the door the wrong way around, which luckily could be solved without her escaping again.
At the vet I had the hindsight to close the door, because the first thing she did was rushing off. The vet managed to get hold of her, the job was done in seconds, and she was back in the box so I could take her home.
I try to visit the babies every other day to make sure they get a bit used to me. In the beginning they were hissing at me, but now, when they can smell it’s me, they are okay. There will be a time when I will have to find a new and happy home for them. This in itself will be difficult enough, but try this with a bunch of wild kittens and it will be next to impossible!
And yes, the eyes are starting to be open :-D!
2 days ago Janis has moved them again. I’m not gonna tell where to, but it’s a safe place.
Meanwhile Mr. Max starts to find his way back into my bunk (at least for an hour or so), and he enjoys the little ones – from time to time!
He made his peace with Janis (more or less)
and Malley and Coral seem pretty happy