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Bonus Child

Recently, my family unexpectedly expanded. It was not that Computer Cowboy and I conceived a surprise; many years have passed since I’ve been eligible for mikva visits. Similarly, we didn’t adopt. The two of us have grown tired and kvetchy so much so that we’re delighted to leave the care of the newest generation to our children.

Rather, a few weeks ago, a feral, neonatal kitten was foisted upon us. More exactly, an hour or so after the Fast of Tammuz ended, a man clutching a baby cat knocked on our door. He wanted us to foster that furry purry.

He had found that young thing in the middle of a road. Neither a mama cat nor a nest was in evidence. What’s more, allegedly, that slightly-older-than-newborn had twice nearly been run over.

Since our neighbors equate our leaving water for community cats on hot days and talking gently to them on all days (instead of enacting the typical, local response of running from  or tormenting them) we were foremost in that fellow’s mind as ideal kitten carers. However, we were not foremost in my mind for the job. I told that stranger to take that mewing baby to a shelter. It’s one thing to give charity to individuals who ring our doorbell. It’s an entirely other thing to accept indigent kittens. Very young cats need their mother, her milk, and the kindle into which they were born.

Besides, ours is a nearly empty nest (just one adult child remains at home). Our domicile hasn’t sheltered companion animals since we made aliyah (with the exception, years ago, of a sad street cat who lived with us for about a month until it was rehomed at a farm where a friend, who is a vet, lived.) Computer Cowboy and I can adequately nurture grandchildren but have long since stopped harboring familiars.

Nonetheless, the unfamiliar person in our doorway replied that he could do nothing more for the wee kit than his pulling it out of harm’s way as he was returning to the States the next day. Although he was a sabra, who was here visiting family, our neighborhood “reputation” made him believe we were the kitten’s best hope.

Sigh. There’s kindness and there’s mishigas. On balance, Jews are compassionate to animals. We’d care for the critter overnight.

Meanwhile, that very small kitten needed heat and medical attention. Our hefker friend was immediately brought to a 24-hour clinic at Kibbutz Kiryat Anavim.

For a span, he was fed every few hours via a syringe and then wiped to encourage him to eliminate his waste. Small Furry graduated to a tiny bottle and then weaned himself to wet kitten food. We can’t wait until he’s old enough for moistened kitten kibble.

As per temperature regulation, initially, he slept with a hot water bottle whose contents were refreshed every few hours. Today, he cuddles on a blanket that’s on the sofa bed in our guest room/ Computer Cowboy’s office (given COVID, it was fortunate that we had a space for my husband to work.) As well, he no longer needs to have his tokhes wiped— he now uses his litter box and does so independently.

In these four short weeks of fostering, that tiny dude’s been treated for fleas, a fungal infection, an eye infection, and worms. Additionally, the vet diagnosed him with a heart murmur, and, resulting from his cardiac issues, labored breathing.

Still, our animal doc doesn’t think our animal is suffering. That spry young thing leaps, pounces, rolls, and zoomies. He owns bits of knotted rope, balls of crinkled paper, and a manufactured cat toy that looks like a fishing rod whose “fly” is a small plush creature that’s tailed in actual feathers.

All in all, we don’t know how long this little moggy will live; the vet thinks maybe a year or two. We also don’t know if we can keep him. It’s rare to receive a heter to neuter a male.

So, our yet unnamed kitty lives in limbo. We’re trying (and failing) to not grow too fond of him. For instance, when either of us nap, we time our rests to coincide with his (after all, our sofa bed’s meant for humans.) Likewise, we drop almost anything if he cries for attention and certainly everything if he cries for food (halachically, animals must be fed before their owners.) Plus, during these four weeks, I’ve “had to” interrupt my spouse’s work with repeated visits.

All things considered, we’re not in in Hutz l’Aretz, anymore. In Israel, cats are regarded by most denizens as rodents. Accordingly, before making aliyah, we rehomed the members of our clowder with friends—we didn’t want our fur babies to be treated, by locals, as squirrels.

I don’t know what the kitten’s future will be. We can’t keep an intact cat and I don’t think we can neuter him. Nevertheless, he’s sufficiently ill that every time my husband returns with him from the vet, I’m surprised and relieved. On top of that, he’s too immature to survive in an outdoor environment full of larger cats and hostile humans. Hence, Computer Cowboy and I will continue nurturing that furball on a day-by-day basis.

About the Author
KJ Hannah Greenberg has been playing with words for an awfully long time. Initially a rhetoric professor and a National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar, she shed her academic laurels to romp around with a prickle of imaginary hedgehogs. Thereafter, her writing has been nominated once for The Best of the Net in poetry, three times for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for poetry, once for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for fiction, once for the Million Writers Award for fiction, and once for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. To boot, Hannah’s had more than forty books published and has served as an editor for several literary journals.
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