Ellie and Ralph: two kittens who were orphaned

It’s well known that Ireland produces a surplus of puppies, with nearly 300 unwanted dogs being killed at Irish dog pounds every week for the simple reason that they are unwanted. Irish local authorities are obligated to keep records of the statistics concerning dogs, which is why the shocking information can be monitored so easily.

The situation with cats is much less clear. There are no “cat pounds”. No records are kept about how many unwanted cats are euthanased. Everyone knows that “cat only” animal charities are under continual pressure, but no-one knows the precise severity of the problem. Everyone knows that there are thousands of feral cat colonies around the country, but nobody has counted how many unwanted cats roam our streets. A report in the Irish Independent in 2004 claimed that there were a million feral cats in Dublin, and a million more feral cats across Ireland, but these figures are only guesses.

Strangely, it is not always easy to find a kitten when you want one. Cats are seasonal breeders, and kittens are only born at certain times of the year. It’s similar to the situation with fruit and vegetables in the supermarket. If you go looking for strawberries in January, you will have to look hard, and any that you find will be imported from warmer climates. But in the summer months, Ireland is inundated with strawberries for sale, with roadside stalls stocked high and supermarkets selling them cheap to move them on. Similarly, there are some times in the year where it is almost impossible to find a kitten. If you go to a kitten rescue group out-of season, you may be told “there are no kittens available”.

People are often surprised when this happens, and it’s always important to stress that this apparent “kitten shortage” is an illusion. Again, it’s like the strawberries. Just because it’s difficult to find strawberries in the winter doesn’t mean that there is a “shortage of strawberries”. If you go back to the same kitten rescue group during most of the kitten season, you will find that it is overflowing with unwanted kittens. Even in the kitten season, there can be gluts and shortages, with dozens of kittens one week, then none a few weeks later.

When Jenny moved into her new home during the summer, she had already decided that she wanted a kitten. She went out and bought all the equipment she needed – a pet carrier, basket, litter tray, food and toys – and she was ready. The late summer is usually a good time to look for a kitten: it’s close to the peak of the kitten production cycle. Female cats tend to start to breed in the spring and early summer. The pregnancy of a cat lasts for 9 weeks, which means that many kittens are ready for homes in the late summer and autumn.

Jenny had been avidly logging on to the DSPCA website for months, falling in love with all the animals that were looking for homes. She started phoning around vet practices, asking about any notices with kittens looking for homes. One clinic told her that they had a call that morning from a guy named Derek who had two kittens.

Jenny contacted Derek, and was soon reduced to tears when she heard the kittens’ story. They were only four weeks old. Their mother had been killed by a car, and Derek had found the two of them sitting beside her dead body. He had rescued them, but he was unable to keep them. Jenny told Derek that she’d love to take one of them, but after putting down the phone, she realised that she couldn’t leave the other kitten behind. She quickly called Derek back and said she’d take them both.

Jenny called the kittens Ellie and Ralph. They settled into her home very quickly. At first, they were cautious, anxiously exploring the room, ready to rush back to their basket if anything strange happened. Within a day, they knew the house as if they had always lived there, charging from room to room, and jumping up onto any available surface as if the place was a playground designed especially for their pleasure.

It was definitely the right choice to take the two kittens together. They entertain each other, tearing around the place as a twosome. Often it almost seems as if they are connected by an invisible piece of elastic, with one rushing ahead, then the other catching it up and biffing it with a paw. And when the play is finished, they retreat to their bed together, curling up with each using the other as a comfortable pillow. Jenny has had her kittens vaccinated and treated for parasites, and in a few months, they’ll be neutered. She’s going to make sure that her own cats don’t contribute to the next generation of unwanted cats. The life of a feral cat is short and stressed, and it would be far better if such creatures were never born at all.

Pet cats can live for up to twenty years, and Jenny is hoping that her two new friends will be a part of her life – and each other’s lives – for a long time into the future.

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