The Smell of Dawn

A gray and white kitten snuggled together among towels

One year ago (give or take a few days), Querido texted me a picture of kittens. Not just any kittens–kittens that a friend of a coworker had found in a box by his car. They were about three weeks old: their eyes had opened but they were otherwise totally and completely helpless. The friend of the coworker couldn’t take them, and neither could Querido.

I text-shouted SOMEONE MUST SAVE THE KITTENS and that was my last coherent thought until I was sitting in the car with an Ikea tub on my lap, looking down at two squirming, mewing little alien kittens (like very new babies, very new kittens look like aliens). My thought at that point was “Holy cow this was not a good idea.”

That thought lasted through the entire drive home, the hour and a half spent delousing them and bathing them with foaming Dawn dish soap, and their first feeding (kitten formula stinks to high heaven). The kittens are saved! briefly resurrected itself as I put them to bed in a fresh nest of clean towels, but that is definitely not what I was thinking when I had to wake up at two in the morning to feed them again.

Tabby kitten sleeping on a person's stomach
Bathe, sleep, repeat

So many things I didn’t know about kittens. Like how the litter-box instinct doesn’t kick in until they are more than three weeks old. And how they mew constantly, a tiny, high-pitched sound that will drive you right out of your mind. Malthus wouldn’t eat if the bottle wasn’t held at the right angle, or if the formula wasn’t the right temperature. Nor would she eat when Eloise was clambering up my chest to get at the bottle, using her little needle-sharp claws as crampons.

Angelic kitten

Thank goodness Querido was there, to ooh and aah and marvel at their tininess and show me my text to remind me I was the one who shouted SOMEONE MUST SAVE THE KITTENS. During the twenty minutes a day they weren’t crying because their bottle wasn’t right, getting bathed, or shivering and crying under a towel post-bath, they were pretty cute.

Small white kitten with formula on her face
Eloise’s first attempts at eating

Sometimes they were even cute when I knew a bath was imminent.

Small tabby kitten chewing on a woman's finger
Early instinct to kick in: chewing

And when I was sacrificing my hand to make sure they got practice gnawing apart prey.

Two kittens sitting on the carpet
Practicing sitting like big kitties

After three weeks of a trial-by-fire introduction to kitten-keeping, suddenly their cat instincts started switching on. Litterbox switch–on. Do not swim through food, eat it–on. Walk, turn, climb–on. Suddenly they weren’t little mewing alien kittens, they were big playing destructo-kittens. At one year, Querido says they’re not even kittens any more, not really.

Two young cats playing

Maybe, but the smell of foaming Dawn soap still reminds me of kittens.

8 responses to “The Smell of Dawn”

  1. What a fabulous story. And kudos to you for your incredible kitten rescuing abilities. You may not have saved the world as per your last lovely post, but you saved these babies.

  2. Wow. That is a lot of work, but they are so cute I am sure you are glad you did it… though I think the lack of sleep in the initial stages may have had me wondering which way was up. 🙂

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