Little Lady Lulu-belle

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Lulu is one of the litter of four found by Jonna of Pawsome Cats on the side of the road, aged just one week old. When they were aged two weeks, they all came to live with me as my first bottle babies, and as fosters.

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Never having had a tortoiseshell kitty before, Lulu is a fascinating riot of colours. Mostly golden, there are also various shades of cream and brown in her fur, accentuated with black and topped off with a grey-tipped tail! As the runt of the litter, Lulu was a tiny little precious baby, the last one whose ears unfolded, and the last one whose eyes opened. And of course when they opened – both ears and eyes – they were destined to be huge! Continue reading

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Out with the Old, In with the New

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Fostering Tully and Shay was quite different than my other experience with bottle babies; a bit like how parenting a second child is easier than the first. The biggest difference was of course that I had four kittens with my first foster litter, which was stressful and time consuming to manage alone. Two were easier, plus – maybe because they had spent an additional two weeks with their mama – they were spotless! None of the perpetual grubbiness of my first litter, Shay was always sparkling white and they both smelled like the sweet little fluffy darlings that they were. I can’t recall now, but I don’t think they were ever bathed as babies – they just took care of themselves perfectly.

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Shay was an independent, spirited little kitten from the time I collected her aged 3 weeks. She complained all the time -wow, wow, wow, WOW, wow. Non stop complaining when she was out of the nest, and very 2014-12-22_1419241962determined to do everything on her terms, not mine. Tully, on the other hand, was sweet and placid – possibly the easiest and relaxed little baby kitten I’ve ever seen. He never cried, he drank all his formula, obliged with a little burp when he was finished, then lay on his back to be de-pooped and de-peed and promptly fell asleep. Feeding Shay was much more difficult. Firstly, she would almost purse her little lips and refuse the bottle; she’d move her head to avoid insertion. If I switched to a syringe it was no better. She was so defiant! Eventually I learned that she had a process and I just needed to follow it for a smooth feeding session. When she knew there was a bottle nearby, she needed about ten minutes to suckle and knead her blanky before she would accept the bottle. So I settled into a routine of letting Shay smell the formula, putting her on my lap with her blanky while I fed Tully, then by the time he was finished, she was ready to go. Whew!
2014-12-22_1419241641Also with my first bottle litter, there wasn’t enough time between feeds to do anything but rest, but with only two, and my houseguest Trisha who was keen to participate in the feeding (but not the de-pooping), I was actually able to have a life outside of the feeding schedule. Handy, given it was Christmas! We managed to arrange the feeding schedule so that there was enough time to go out for Christmas lunch, unhurried, and be home in plenty of time for the next feed.

The little sweethearts started to explore their surroundings more as they grew, with Tully curious and quiet, and Shay nipping at the heels of the big cats, biting Tully on the bum, and generally being a little Madam.

 

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Trisha left on New Years Eve, and we turned in early at Kitty Central, with all the cats bunking in my bedroom for the night because of the raucous fireworks going off outside. Back home, there are organised fireworks on the harbour each year – 9pm for the kids, midnight for the grownups, and most functions gather in view of the display. In Manila, there are no restrictions on fireworks or firecrackers, so  the bang-bang-bang’s start in the morning, continue all day, then once darkness descends, fireworks are hurled off balconies and set off in streets and parks. The kitties were very brave, watching the bright lights from the windows and not at all frightened by the noises.

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2015-01-06_1420535415On the fifth of January the movers came and packed up the apartment for our relocation to Cebu. I was keeping some cat toys and scratchers, the window hammocks, one third of their cat condo plus litter trays and bowls and just a bed and a table and chair for me. Basically the bare minimum we could survive on for the short time until our house in Cebu was setup, then I could take most of the remainder with me in big suitcases, and the large items would follow later.

And then we waited. And waited. Our shipment was delayed in Manila port, partly due to congestion that been ongoing for some time due to a “customs department re-2015-01-07_1420595617organisation”, and partly because the Pope was visiting Manila. The Philippines is the third most Catholic country in the world (by population) since Catholicism was introduced during the era of Spanish colonisation, so the Pope’s visit was a big deal. As he also decided to visit the typhoon ravaged city of Tacloban on the island of Leyte, the port decided to close completely for security reasons. So our brief interlude in a bare apartment stretched on and on and on. Eventually the shipment departed Manila and we were just waiting on a time frame for delivery. I originally planned to set the whole house up in Cebu before travelling with the cats but I was tetchy and they could sense it so were behaving 2015-01-07_1420593160differently. I could tell Pip was stressed without his wheel and there was some hissing and fighting going on, and it was about this time that Maxi started to be very reluctant to go in the cats’ room at night, so she was allowed to roam free.

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2015-01-20_1421788949I couldn’t stand it any longer so decided to relocate the cats to the new house, where they could get used to their new environment and recover from the journey before our stuff arrived. I experimented with some natural calming medications for the cats to relieve the stress of the journey. I didn’t want them knocked out as I had had a bad experience with that years before, but I did want them to chill a little. I chose this one for it’s not-so-subtle effect on Kai especially! The flight was only 90 minutes, but airport regulations for travelling with pets are strict. I had to present all their vaccination papers to the Bureau of Quarantine to get authorisation for them to travel. They had to travel in IATA approved crates with access to provide them with food and water – I bought these ones from Amazon.
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On moving day, we packed up everything, I gave the kitties some medication and got them in their cages – seven cages for eight cats as Tully and Shay were sharing. Two vans arrived to take the seven cages, fourteen pieces of luggage plus myself, my wonderful helper Lyn, and my friend Alex to the airport. At the airport, eleven porters came to assist us. The cats were terrified of the noise, the sights (I forgot to provide a cover for the cages), and the porters and spectators meowing at us as we passed. I snapped at the porters to stop scaring them, but the onlookers were still fascinated. After check-in, the cats were taken to a separate area and the three of us waited to board. We had to be at the airport more than three hours prior to departure, and the flight was delayed so the cats had been in their cages for more almost five hours before we even took off.

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I was worried about them during the flight, knowing how frightened they must be, feeling every bump and startled by every noise. Fortunately Cebu Pacific serves alcohol (unlike Philippine Airlines domestic – why is that?) so Alex plied me with several drinks. We had been advised that the cats would come out at the same area as our luggage (which is also what happens in Australia) but on arrival into Cebu, we were told we had to pick them up from the cargo area. After collecting our bags we travelled the ten minute journey to cargo, only to be told the cargo was more than an hour away from arriving. This was the last straw for me – we had left home at 11am and it was now almost 7pm and no sign of the cats. I exploded in a stereo-typical expat torrent of tears and frustration, much to the bewilderment of the staff. It’s just cargo, right? Oh pets. Well, just cats, right? Finally the cargo arrived, in the dark, all kitties present and accounted for but very very frightened and stressed.

Alex, Lyn, the luggage, Maxi, Pip and the babies travelled in one van to the house, while Kai, Lulu, Chico 2015-01-07_1420619025and Asha travelled with me. The van didn’t have foldable seats, so the cages were propped on the seats, and I took Asha out of her cage and cuddled her all the way home, sobbing pathetically into her white fur, glad I was alone in the van. The final horror of this journey still haunts me. As we travelled home – it took more than an hour – poor Lulu’s cage kept falling off the seat, and I couldn’t get myself in a position to secure it. I can’t imagine how terrified she must have been – her ordeal was ongoing.

At last we arrived home – first priority was to get all the cages into the cats room, which was already prepared for them. Lyn was in charge of getting food and water, I sat in the room with them, while Alex took charge of getting the luggage unloaded and paying the drivers.

It was over. Needless to say, I will be spending the rest of my cats’ lives in Cebu, because I will never go through that again.

December 2014

 

January 2015

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Preparations

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The back end of 2014 was spent planning and preparing for a number of changes in our household. I had decided to locate my new company in Cebu, the second largest city in the Philippines and one of the top ten most beautiful tropical islands in the world. I spent a bit of time travelling back and forth from Manila to Cebu to find us a house and to secure office space. I could have moved us as early as November, but a good friend was coming to stay in December for almost the whole month. We had met in Manila more than five years earlier; she arrived about the same time as me on a posting with the Australian Embassy and returned to Australia the same time that I moved to India. We had lived in the same apartment complex and she was coming back to visit former colleagues and friends. I had extended the invitation for her to stay with me over six months earlier, so I would not relocate until after her visit.

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I planned for the apartment to be packed up on 5th January, leaving minimal belongings for us to live for the 7-10 days it would take for our stuff to arrive in Cebu. I’d fly to Cebu, get everything packed and set up, then return to Manila for the kitties. That was the plan anyway…..

Once I had a house picked out, I was so excited for the kitties! I did love the benefits of having indoor cats –  they were always clean, always safe, and I didn’t have to worry about the wildlife, or them getting lost or injured. But I really wanted them to experience the kitty joy of lying on the grass in the shade of a tree on a sunny day, and chasing butterflies, and the sights and smells of the outdoors. How exciting for us to live in a house with a garden! I knew I’d miss my big-city views from the 30th floor of my condo, but suburban living beckoned.

There was just one thing that still bothered me, after all these months; those foster kittens Munro and Leyte, that I had never been able to recover. They haunted me, and one day I realised there was only one thing that would help. Now, I have a lot of Instagram followers, and while I don’t always thank people for their comments, I do read every single one, and I answer all questions. I also check out the (non-private) accounts of all new followers. And so it was that one day, I looked at the account of a new follower, Purr Haven Cats, and realised it was also based in Manila. And – whoa! They had a houseful of tuxies!! My only contact with a tuxie kitty was Munro, and I had loved him to bits.

I contacted Nyree from Purrhaven, and told her that if she had a tuxie kitty, I would adopt it. Just the one, and I’d prefer a little one. She didn’t have any just then, but she had just rescued a pregnant cat who was black and white, and she promised me one of the kitties when it was old enough. We kept in touch over the coming weeks, and then the mama cat gave birth prematurely – she was young and unhealthy. The first poor baby was still-born, the next three were live births – two “cow” kittens and a tiny baby panther, and sadly one of the cow-kitties died in the first night. Over the coming weeks Nyree shared information and pictures with me of these sweet little babies, until one day the vet said they would be better off separated from their mama who was unwell and not producing enough milk. Of course I wasn’t going to say no to another house panther! And in my nice big house in Cebu, an extra two kitties would be just fine. I collected the two babies, when they were there weeks old and brought them home – my houseguest was travelling for the weekend but had a nice surprise when she returned! I named them Tully and Shay, Irish names for a very good friend of mine. The mama cat, still with Nyree, has also been given an Irish name – she is now Bailey and a really beauty.

My household of six kitties, two babies and a houseguest celebrated Christmas together, and ushered in the New Year with much anticipation of our upcoming move.

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Lulu Comes Home

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One day while all of us at Kitty Central were bunking at my friend’s house during our air con upgrade, the new mum of my foster kitties contacted me – let’s call her “Ray”. Lulu was sick, she had terrible diarrhoea and was leaving poop drops all over the apartment, and as Ray’s boyfriend was out of town, she didn’t have transport to get Lulu to the vet. Could I help? Could I collect her that evening and take her to the vet?

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Lulu was very thin and her tail was scrawny when she finally came home

Jonna, the lady who found the kittens and who found Ray to take them, and I realised we should have screened her much more closely than we did, and maybe done a home inspection. We were so desperate to find a home for the babies that we didn’t do our due diligence. I had also been contacted by some Instagram followers concerned about how thin the kitties were looking, like they weren’t getting enough to eat, and how grubby they looked. It was all very upsetting.

2014-12-22_1419209159The only timeslot Ray was free for me to collect Lulu was one when I was not available – I had a conference call booked that I couldn’t move. I asked Lyn if she could assist, knowing she would love to see Lulu again, and off Lyn went to collect Lulu with my driver, to take her to the vet, get some medicine and return her to her home.

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A few hours later, I received some very distressing text messages from both Lyn and my driver. Lulu was filthy, covered in poop, pus in her ears and nose, her bottom was red-raw and she was all skin-and-bones. Lyn was in tears. The vet was equally horrified – she had cared for them when they were first found roadside when they were just one week old, and she knew how much love and care I had given the babies. Lulu could not be returned home that evening, she needed urgent attention. The vet’s assessment was that Lulu had been sick and untreated for some time.

Over the next few days, I spoke to the vet frequently. Lulu was famished all the time, eating huge amounts of food regularly, but her hunger was never sated. She had been cleaned up and given antibiotics, but the diarrhoea hadn’t stopped. She couldn’t go home until it did, but I was adamant that Lulu should not return to her home at all. I had several discussions with Ray who eventually agreed to surrender her. I would care for Lulu until she was well enough to go to a new, fully vetted home. Lulu spent two weeks at the vet, and didn’t gain any weight. Her diarrhoea did not improve and the vet was at a loss as to how to treat it.

The rest of us had eventually moved back to our own apartment as my friend had returned from overseas, but the “five day” air con upgrade would not be completed for another four weeks. Despite the mess, the disruption and the tradespeople traipsing through our home, the kitties were overjoyed to see their cat-condo again, and Pip went straight to his wheel and ran and ran!

2015-07-10_1436497850About a week after we moved back, I collected Lulu. On the car ride on the way home, she kept biting my face, which I didn’t like much so I kept moving her away. Poor Lulu, it was later I read that this is a sign of affection, the little sweetheart must have been so happy to see me, and so happy to be leaving the vet where she had boarded for two weeks. Lulu remembered our apartment straight away, and Chico – her brother – warmed to her the fastest. There was a bit of hissing with the other kitties, but Lulu had a very clever technique for winning them over. She would sidle up to them and start grooming them. And sooner or later, they would groom her in return, and Lulu LOVES to be groomed. The big kitties seemed to sense that Lulu was fragile, they were gentle with her and washed her often. Meanwhile, we let her free-feed on dry biscuits and fed her wet food on demand. When she was hungry, she would find Lyn or me and cry, and we would feed 2014-10-31_1414715497her wet food. We did it whenever she wanted, which was hourly during the day and I would get up three times in the night to feed her. And we weighed her every day. Slowly, slowly, her meals got further apart, until she was having just two more meals than the big kitties, and then one day, she weighed in at the 1kg (2.2lb) mark – hoorah! But she was tiny at nearly 6 months old. Her brother Chico was nearly 3 times her size at almost 3kg (6.6lb). I was adding various supplements to her food; rice cereal, probiotics, slippery elm but nothing stopped her poop problem, which went on for several months. To this day she has occassional bouts of diarrhoea.

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Her situation was so sad, I realised I could not rehome Lulu, she had been through too much. She was back where she needed to be, in her forever home with me. It saddens me also to think how much her sister Leyte must have missed her, and vice versa.

While we were caring for Lulu, I contacted Ray again to suggest the other two kitties, or at least one of them should also be returned to me. It was clear she wasn’t in a financial or personal position to care for five cats, and reducing by just one wasn’t going to be a lot easier. Surely she loved them enough to see that they needed more care than she was able to give? But she didn’t agree. Her Instagram account was closed, her phone number was changed, and 2014-12-21_1419158495while Jonna, my driver and I went to great lengths to track her down, I ultimately had to concede that Munro and Leyte, little sweethearts that I raised by hand, are lost to me.

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Footnote: There are many, many people around the world who work with fosters kittens, disabled and senior cats in their homes and in shelters, rescues and sanctuaries. I have only fostered five kittens – Asha plus these four, and it was such a sad and difficult experience, it’s not something I will do again. I have the greatest admiration for kind and strong people who help hundreds of kitties – I don’t have the emotional fortitude that you do, and I know you have stories much more significant and tragic than mine. Thank you for all that you do.

~Michelle

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Kitty Central on Vacation

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A few weeks after three of the four fosters left, we had to pack up and relocate to my friend Alex’s place about2014-09-04_1409793457 ten minutes away from home. My air conditioning system was being upgraded – six large units were being replaced, and it would take “five working days plus a few days for repairs and painting“. Alex was overseas for two weeks so I had plenty of time.

My apartment was in Salcedo Village, one of the inner “suburbs” of Makati, which is the central business district of Manila. It was an older, ungated community undergoing a revamp with lots of new condos and retail outlets opening. Today it is quite a foodie hub. There were a few embassies around, so it was safe and accessible and the place where many expats chose to live, however when the new area of Rockwell was built, many expats decamped to that location.

Getting into the Rockwell area required travelling along a major congested highway or through the red light district, neither of which I enjoyed so despite it’s close proximity to my apartment, I didn’t visit often. Once arriving in Rockwell, it reminded me of Singapore – pristine wide roads, lush greenery, and towering condominiums. My friend’s apartment was on the 35th floor and was twice the size of mine – a massive four bedroom place which like mine, had floor to ceiling windows but with a different view. The kitties had been allocated a bedroom for overnight which was twice the size of their room at home, so before they arrived I set everything up for them to make it as familiar as possible, and removed all the objects that non-cat owners have lying around that looked perilous to either the cats or the object itself.

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Why is mum packing OUR stuff?

I did two car trips before I loaded all five kitties into the car. Food, toys, their tunnels, blankets, bowls, the chair from their room – everything I could fit to make the relocation less stressful for them. We were moving to Rockwell!

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The decor at Rockwell was much better suited to Maxi’s pretty colouring

 

Moving to Rockwell

Moving to Rockwell

Four kitties travelled in their cages in the car for the journey, smuggled down through the basement of my condo, where I was allowed just one pet. I don’t like cats roaming free in vehicles, I worry they will distract the driver and if the car comes to a sudden halt, they can become lethal projectiles, harming others as well as themselves. But I only had four cages as I had donated a couple with the departure of the fosters. Rather than squishing kitties together when they were already stressed, I carried Chico (formerly Kabo) on my lap. Pip and Kai tend to travel in stony, shocked silence, Maxi and Asha bleat repeatedly. All are more comfortable with a cover over the cage so they can’t see anything. But Chico! He was so excited by this new experience! Once clear of the basement and the condominium security guards, he squirmed out of my arms to look out the window. People! Cars! So much happening! His big eyes were wide with delight!

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When we arrived at Rockwell, Kai wailed his misery at the change. Most cats don’t like change but Kai gets upset even if he is served his food in a different location. The other kitties scampered around, sniffing unfamiliar objects and patting their things from home. They met Perlita, my friend’s helper who was a cat lover herself and who loved to dangle their toys in front of them to see how high they could jump. Lyn remained at my condo dealing with the mess, but visited the kitties each morning.

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Chico was adjusting perfectly well to life without his siblings, but me? Not so much. I had been following their new Instagram account and their new mum (let’s call her Ray) had told me that she had decided to keep the three kittens herself. Munro, Leyte and Lulu (now Oreo, Velvet and Lulu) would live with her and her boyfriend and their other two cats. I was a bit concerned about this. The Instagram photos I saw showed that they lived a modest life in a very small apartment, and raising five cats is not an inexpensive exercise. When the fosters were handed over, they were still too young for vaccination and spay/neuter so there were expenses coming up. And I had already had some feedback from Ray about how they ate a lot of food. As well as living as indoor cats in a very small home, both Ray and her boyfriend were out at work all day for extended hours, leaving all five kitties unattended. Not that this is a problem – many cats (including my own back in Sydney) live like this, but I was struggling with the thought of my poor little babies wondering what happened to them that their lives had suddenly changed so drastically.  “When can we go back home?” I was sure that there was plenty of love in their new home, but I worried about the expenses and also what would happen when five darling little kittens grew into five big cats.

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One day I had a text from Ray. Oreo was sick and needed antibiotics, and she had to take time off work to get him to the vet. Could I help with expenses? Of course I could, but it confirmed all my greatest fears about these little babies’ future lives. Over the next few weeks, a couple of times I “accidentally” bought the wrong food, or too much food, so sent supplies up to their new home to help out. My driver did the delivery but it was always arranged at a shopping mall, so we never actually knew where the kitties were. I knew I had to let go, so I stopped following the kitties new instagram account and focussed on my own five, and our new life on vacation.

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One of the kitties favourite games developed at this time, and it’s still a regular hoot now. Each morning after breakfast, I would drag their tunnels out of their bedroom, up the hallway, around the corner, up the entrance hallway and into the lounge area. All five kitties chased the tunnel, taking it in turns to run in for a “ride”. Sometimes one would pop out of the hole at the top, making way for another to jump in for the journey, and sometimes one would run alongside smacking any little heads that popped out of the hole. It was hilarious! We had four tunnels so I would drag one at a time, with all five charging back to the bedroom ahead of me to take up position inside the next choo-choo-tunnel in the queue.  Sometimes I’d also drag a blanket off the bed and along the same route, and all five kitties would jump on the blanket for a free ride. In the evening at bedtime, we played the same game in reverse.

On a recent trip from Cebu to Manila, I visited Rockwell for dinner with Alex, and it was a lovely memory, that time we spent living there, the week that turned into two weeks, before we got the call about Lulu….

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The Fosters Grow Up

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After our scare with Asha, all the kitties got extra hugs and extra treats, and the fosters got to move into the lounge room where the big kitties hung out. The introduction was slow – I had learned a lot from my experiences with the four original cats. At first they were in a playpen, which was a bit pointless because Lulu was so little she could squeeze through the bars, and Kabo – wailing the whole time – figured out how to climb up to the top and plop! drop onto the floor on the other side.

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Pip was an absolute darling – he was a doting big brother, and Lulu especially adored him, following him around, sitting close to him, with Pip chasing her around too. Maybe it’s a colour thing, because little Kabo idolised Kai, the two black cats together. Kai was a bit disturbed by the attention of this little squawking kitten. Maxi didn’t like any of them, and Asha just wanted to make sure no-one took any attention from her.

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The fosters were developing their own personalities. Munro was adventurous and independent. He occasionally stopped to have a snuggle near me, but he liked to sleep in the condo baskets or near the girls. Lulu and Leyte were almost inseparable. They snuggled together often and played together, gently. They were both quiet, placid little girls – playful when they were playful, but quiet and sweet. Leyte had developed the most amazing coat – like all the kitties, it was fine and short-haired, but it felt like silk, the softest fur I have ever felt before or since. Lulu’s weight was still worrying, she was thin and struggled to gain weight, but as she was otherwise healthy, the vet said there wasn’t too much to worry about.

Kabo was still a vocal kitten – he chatted all the time, something I enjoy in a cat, and he was also a bit of lunatic. He frequently photobombed other cats, ran around crazily and explored like a great adventurer. But one of my favourite things about Kabo was that he liked a cuddle. With eight cats, not one of them was a lap-cat. Pip, Maxi and Kai never ever had a cuddle, though Kai would sometimes snuggle next to my feet, and Maxi occasionally would sit by my hip. Asha liked to climb onto my left shoulder still, sticking her nose into my left ear and purring, and rubbing her face into my hair. None of the fosters liked a cuddle – except Kabo. He would run around the house playing, and then run to me and have a quick cuddle on my chest, purring and chatting, before hurrying on his little way again. He would do this often – it was adorable! He also had a fascinating growth phase where he turned half-grey. My instagram friend @cutecurlycat coined the term “rocking the Clooney look” which is exactly how he looked. Then, it just grew out and was black again!Xtag Kcs Fosters 1402650489

The time was coming when I would need to say goodbye to the fosters. I knew it would be difficult, but I was looking forward to spending time with the originals again. They were much loved of course, but my time had been considerably diluted with the arrival of the fosters.

The lady who was going to take all four fosters was originally going to take them to her parents property where they would become outdoor cats, with a lot of other outdoor cats. The vet and I shared a concern about their health in that environment, so I spoke to her about finding other options where they could be raised safely as indoor cats. She was able to find friends who could take them, as she already had two kittens of her own, about 5 months older than the fosters.

We were given a reprieve from the original departure date when Munro, Kabo, Lulu and Leyte were 12 weeks old as their new mum was travelling. So at about 13 weeks, we prepared for the handover. I thought about keeping some, but which? The girls were sweet, but I had never had female cats before Maxi and Asha and there was tension between them, so I was reluctant to add more females into the mix. I was completely besotted by Munro, his independent personality, his little face and his funny little tail, but I sensed there might be trouble between he and the big boys, Pip and Kai, when they got older; they were alike in personality. And I also knew that the new mum was similarly enthralled by Munro. Kabo of course was adorable – I loved his chattiness and his cuddliness, and I’ve always loved black kitties. I checked in with the new mum and asked if I could keep Kabo and she agreed.

 

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There was a looming deadline for us as well – since moving into my apartment in January, my electricity bills (always expensive in Manila) were astronomical, largely because of an ancient, inefficient air conditioning system. The landlord had agreed to upgrade the entire system, but it would be a huge mess with six tradespeople coming and going for ten days, so we needed to move out. Fortunately a good friend was travelling overseas for two weeks, and she invited me to move in to her apartment. What a friend! Allowing me to housesit with five cats! But I definitely couldn’t move there with eight cats, so the fosters had to move to their new home.

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So on a Monday night late in July, we had a farewell party for the fosters, bittersweet. And the next day I packed a bag for each of them with their favourite food, favourite toys, a blanket and treats to remind them of home and help them settle more easily, and we delivered three of the four little sweethearts into the care of their new mother, who would care for them briefly before handing them over to her friends. Munro would become Oreo, Leyte would become Velvet (for her beautiful coat), Lulu kept her name, and my crazy, silly, handsome little Kabo stayed with me as Chico.

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The Wheel

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**Sorry – the videos aren’t playing, so I’ve replaced them with stills**.

As the fosters continued to grow, playing in their bathroom and then their bedroom, I ordered a couple of special toys for the big kitties to keep them out of mischief. The first was the Maclaw Wheel.

I was prompted to investigate a cat wheel because of Pip. A kind and gentle kitty, Pip had an abundance of energy, and burning it off sometimes involved a little rough play. He wasn’t mean or bullying, just very energetic. There was lots of galloping around the apartment but I worried 2014-11-06 1415315246about what went on in the kitties’ room at night.

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After investigating wheels extensively, I came to the conclusion that the well made ones were too expensive to buy, and way too expensive to ship to me in the Philippines. I found an excellent forum based in Hong Kong by a lady designing a wheel, and she had researched the optimum diameter, tread width and tread materials. From there I found a couple of You Tube videos that showed how to make a wheel, so with a few minor tweaks, I came up with a design that could be made locally.

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With some recommendations, I found two carpenters who were prepared to make a wheel for me. The first quote came in at more expensive than to buy one, which I wasn’t expecting, and the other was perfectly reasonable, and – to my delight – it would be ready in a week! Well a week passed, then two weeks, then four weeks and still no wheel. Each time I followed up, there were excuses and delays and problems. Eventually I requested the half-finished wheel to be delivered as is, and I would figure out how to get it finished. The wheel arrived and I was horrified. Not only were all the materials poor quality, second-hand, rusted or damaged, but the wheel had been left out in the rain so the shape was considerably warped. It was useless, good only for scrap.

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After such a disappointing experience, I was determined to have a wheel, so I decided to just accept it was going to be expensive, and I purchased the Maclaw Wheel. A custom wheel could take weeks or months to make, as there were many in the queue, so I opted for a pre-made one. When it arrived at my apartment just a week or two later from the UK, Lyn and I couldn’t wait to assemble it, and we were amazed at how easy it was. From the time we got it out of the enormous box to complete assembly was probably about 10 minutes.

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I often get asked if I had to train the kitties to use it – I wish I had a camera handy while we were assembling it. Pip and Asha were most curious. Maxi was watching nearby, coming for an occasional sniff. Kai was of course watching from a safe distant place. Before it was even in place, Pip was on it. He figured it out with remarkable speed, and of course Asha, always game for anything another kitty is doing, especially if it means attention, hopped on it as well.  I never force a kitty to use any of their toys, and Maxi and Kai never showed an interest, but the wheel was an immediate hit with Pip and Asha.

 

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Shock sets in.

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My first night at home with The Fosters. It was a Sunday. I managed the first feed at around 4pm and de-pooped them okay, though it was really stressful with three babies squeaking for their food while I was feeding the first. And the whole process took an hour and a half! After the feed they went into a different nest while I cleaned up the first one, moved them back and did the clean-up, then prepped everything for the next feed, which was 7pm. This one was tricker. Little Leyte started gurgling during the feed, which I had read could happen when the formula gets into their lungs, and could be dangerous. The babies had been dumped on the street and while they seemed healthy, we had no idea what their mama’s health had been like, what they had been exposed to and how long they had been floundering on the street. Their little lives were fragile.

imageAfter the 7pm feed I put Leyte in a box with a container of boiling water nearby and covered the lot with a towel, to help her breathing. It didn’t seem very effective and I felt like I was making it up as I was going along. At 10pm I fed them again, and became very concerned about Leyte, whose every breath was just made up of crackles and gurgles. I texted my driver, who had assured me I could call if there were any problems with the babies, but I felt terrible getting him out of his home so late in the evening. He came to the rescue and we dashed to the vet at 11:30pm with the babies in a cardboard box.

 

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Leyte

At the vet, I was amazed – it was packed! Because the Philippines is the call centre for Planet Earth, it really is a 24/7 society, and shift workers need to do all the regular things at unusual hours. The vet waiting room at midnight on a Sunday was full of people with their pets (mostly dogs) for check-ups, vaccinations, image  concerns etc., and there was no priority system for a distraught foreigner with a cardboard box full of squeaky things. By 12:30am I was very tetchy – the babies were due for their next feed in 30 mins! I had yet another chat to the receptionist and finally got to see the vet, who gave all the kitties a quick check-up and put little Leyte on a nebuliser for a few minutes to clear her lungs. My home-made steam setup was okay according to the vet, so we headed back home at 1am in time for the next feed.

Arrrrggghhh!!! I couldn’t believe what I had gotten myself into! Not only was I exhausted, but it was one of the hottest months of the year and I couldn’t run the air conditioning in the guest bedroom while I was imagefeeding the kittens so I was uncomfortably hot! Now you might expect that I am accustomed to being hot, living in a tropical country, but I live a privileged life between my air conditioned home, my air conditioned car, and air conditioned malls/restaurants so this was a fresh horror. I had a temperature display in the guest room and it ranged from 32 to 36 degrees (that’s 90-97 F) and was just awful. Such a princess.

The 1am feed finished at 2:30am, then after 15 mins prepping for the next feed, I hopped in to bed only to set the alarm for 4:00am – that’s only an hour-and-a-bit for sleep! Oh no. Ohhh nooooo…..

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Lulu at dawn.

imageThe 4am and 7am feeds passed in a blur, and when I got up at 9:45 Monday for the 10am feed, Lyn had arrived and asked if she could see the babies. It was my foolish intention when I embarked on this project that I would go it alone, not bother Lyn or interfere with her work, but she asked if she could help me feed them and I said YES! Things got easier after that. The wonderful Lyn asked me to show her how to sterilise the bottles and make the formula, and after I did, she did it every week day. This meant I could sleep in between as many feeds as I needed, and the 90 minute feeding process dropped with the two of us and some extra efficiencies to 30 minutes during the daytime. The night time feeds were still mine alone, but at least I could get some rest during the day.

 

It was a nice time for Lyn and I. She had started working for me in between Asha and Kai which was a few months prior, but we hadn’t spent a lot of time just sitting and chatting. Now we sat, many times each day,  in the uncomfortably hot guest room, feeding two babies each, de-pooping them and arranging their beds. We learned together how to deal with the little mishaps along the way, and we chatted about the common touch points in our widely disparate backgrounds; our childhoods, our children, our families.

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Munro

Lyn adored Lulu, and always wanted to feed and cuddle her. Lulu was the runt of the litter – very very small with her eyes still closed until toward the end of our first week, when she was two weeks old. I was quite taken with Munro – I had never encountered a tuxie before! Munro was the biggest kitten – robust and with a confident little developing personality. Leyte was a very quiet, placid little girl. And then there was Kabo, the black kitten. Firstly, Kabo looked like ET. He had enormous eyes bulging out of his little head, and skinny little limbs, but the most notable thing about Kabo was his voice! He wailed for food! He and Munro wailed so loudly that Lyn and I would often feed them first which we realised might not be the right thing to do for Lulu and Leyte, the smallest babies, so we would try to alternate but Kabo drove us crazy with his crying.

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Kabo the little alien

I had been nervous about bathing the babies. In all my years of cat ownership, never had I bathed one. I knew it would be necessary for these little sweethearts, but I was worried about them getting a chill (even in the sauna that they lived in). We finally worked up the courage to bathe them and then continued to do so twice each week but we really didn’t do a good job of it. I look back at the photos now and the kitties were grubby all the time! We just didn’t have the confidence for a full immersion bath and the very wet sponge baths we gave them just didn’t clean them up properly. I don’t think they had a decent wash until they learned to do it themselves.

Once the babies were toddling around a little bit, they were upgraded from the box as their nest, to a crate on the floor and Lyn would spend some time each morning (while I was napping) playing with them and cuddling them. We made it through the three-hour feeding schedule then it slipped to four hours, five hours, and before I knew it, they were sleeping through the night and were upgraded from the bathroom to the guest bedroom. Oh and I finally bought a camera.

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Leyte

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Lulu

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Kabo

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Munro

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In Between Days

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We had a few months of stability after Kai joined us and before the next batch of fur-faces arrived. The apartment was filled with happy galloping and playing and the kitties fell into two pairs – Pip and Maxi, Asha and Kai. They were thriving and getting along well and I made a happy discovery. After years of being a non-photographer (I didn’t even take my camera on vacation) I found that with a favourite subject, I loved snapping pics! My photo’s weren’t great, I used my iPad for all of them, so I jazzed them up a bit with filters and frames and other tools to disguise the out-of-focus shots, the poor lighting etc., but it was a thoroughly pleasant hobby to fill my days. I took so many photos and wanted to share my wonderful kitties, I was pleased that I had discovered Instagram so that I had a place to keep all these memories for posterity.

During this time I also left the kitties alone for the first time, while I travelled to Bali for a week to celebrate a “significant” birthday, leaving the kitties in the capable and loving care of my helper, Lyn.

Lyn is the secret to my sanity with the kitties. I am fortunate to live in a country where I can provide image employment to domestic staff. It’s not exploitation – as a Westerner, it is expected that I will employ staff to provide a living for locals. I have a helper and a driver and they are fantastic companions to me as well as getting stuff done that foreigners in this country can find unfathomable. Lyn was originally hired to clean my home (including litter boxes) and care for the kitties while I travelled, but she quickly fell in love with them and often feeds them too. When I moved to Cebu, she moved with me at her own suggestion as a live-in, and I have subsequently relocated her family her to join her. Since working for me, Lyn has rescued and cared for about 8 kitties of her own!

After returning from travel, my container finally arrived from India with all my much-missed belongings, so there was excitement amongst the crew as they got to sniff all the new stuff, discover new places to sleep and for Asha to discover the hole underneath the sofa…..  At first I thought there were rats in my sofa! It had been in storage in India for 6 months after all, but that naughty monkey Asha was running around in there and then invited all her buddies in. When I eventually had someone over to repair the hole, we found SD cards, iPad cables, an earring, toys, a scarf of mine and various other things that I had lost – all which Asha considered her personal treasures.

Below are some pics and vids from these early years of the four big kitties, before “The Fosters” arrived.
 
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And a few extra bits…..

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The backstory to my acquisition of kitties is that after a year in India and 6 months leading up to it, I was completely burnt out. In that 18 months I hadn’t spent more than 3 weeks straight in the same location, frequently travelling between India, Philippines and Australia with a few trips to Hong Kong, UK and Europe. So when all of my kitties were welcomed into my home, I was there full time, being completely reclusive and asocial while I mulled over what I would do next. If I hadn’t gone on a crazy cat lady rampage, I might have taken another corporate job instead of going it alone, so I’m forever grateful that I had this year-long career break and the ever-increasing crew to keep me company.

And now that I’m getting the hang of this blog thingy, here is one of my favourite videos of Pip, who always loves to sleep in the funniest positions:


And the first ever video of Asha, when she was still confined to the bathroom:

Here she was, stuck like a beetle on its back because of that tummy of hers…. She hadn’t met Pip and Maxi at this stage, this was one of her excursions to the big kitties playground.

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