A few weeks ago a beautiful, shy little cat was brought into my veterinary clinic. You can see her story here. In my initial calculations, she would stay for around a week, have her bubs, then head to Animal Aid who would do what they do best and find them all loving forever homes. While I don’t claim to be great at maths, I didn’t think I’d be stupid enough to leave one very important variable out of the equation.
I loves her.
Basically, I got it all wrong. I assumed that Dolly, as she’s now known, would pop out those little bubs without any complications, because that’s what cats do, you know. Cats are really good at having babies. She did not. Instead she did her very best to rip my heart into ten million pieces. I’m going to spoil it now and tell you this story has a happy ending though.
The Day We Were All Waiting For
Once upon a time, on Wednesday morning a couple of weeks ago, I awoke to the sound of a newborn kitten crying. I leaped out of bed and raced out to see what was happening. There was Miss Dolly, cleaning a gorgeous grey and white kitten. My heart swelled up with love for this courageous little girl. I was so proud of her. After all, I’ve had a couple of babies myself and I know she was scared and in pain. I didn’t want to disturb her but I quietly picked up a dirty blanket she’d kicked into her litter tray, just to make things a bit nicer for them. That was when I had my first, awful shock. Lying motionless under it was a very cold, wet, black and white kitten. I’ve gotta say, the tears were already spilling down my face as I reached down and gently lifted the tiny, limp body. And cupped in my warm hands it made the teeniest tiniest little squeak. She was alive, but only just hanging on. Knowing she had little to no chance of making it, I still had to try, and she went straight down my pyjama top. I cradled her against my pounding heart, warming her and willing her to survive.
There is no photo of me with a kitten down my top. You’re welcome.
I’d like to say at this point I was the cool, calm and collected veterinarian, knowing exactly what to do, but that would be a big fat lie. Having bonded so strongly with Dolly over the previous few weeks it felt so intensely personal that I totally just could not distance myself from the situation. Like when things happen to my own furkids, I lost all objectivity. I rang my beautiful mum and blubbered something to the effect of “Kitten dying, Dolly still in labour, come over!” With no questions asked and the unconditional support she offers every time, she jumped in the car and drove over without a second thought.
In the meantime I’m pacing back and forth, warming my tiny kitten, watching Dolly, watching the clock. I know she’s got at least two more in there, and she’s showing no signs of labour at all. So I ring my boss. He’s a bloody good egg. It’s about 7 am at this stage and he picks up the phone even though I suspect I’ve gotten him out of bed, given he’s not due in at the clinic until 9. Like my previous conversation with my mum, I spew up a big pile of mostly incoherent verbal diarrhoea, but he somehow deciphers it. “Well,” he says, “give her until 9 or so and if nothing is happening you might need to bring her in for some oxytocin.”
After hanging up from him I feel a little reassured, but mostly still anxious. Fast forward to 9 am. Dolly’s done nothing, but my little black and white baby is still breathing, nice and warm, and seems to be trying to latch onto Dolly for a feed. Dolly shows her no interest, but at least she’s not actively pushing her away. I allow myself a tiny glimmer of hope. Mum is with me so I leave my two little boys with her and load Dolly and her two bubs into the car and head in to work.
Poor Dolly with two babies out and two babies in
I’m pretty sure I look like a homeless person. And I have a slightly hysterical, crazy look in my eyes. I stay out the back where I can’t frighten any clients and we give Dolly a dose of oxytocin. This is a drug used to induce labour, and it stimulates the uterus to contract. Within two minutes out pops a gorgeous grey kitten with a luscious swirl of hair on his head that earns him the name Elvis. Go Dolly, you’re smashing this!
And then there were three
A quick feel of her belly reveals to me that there’s definitely still another kitten in there though. We play the waiting game for a little longer before trying another dose of oxytocin. Nothing. More nothing. A quiet morning in the clinic means there are two nurses and three veterinarians hovering edgily around like a expectant fathers in the birthing suite. We try one last, futile dose of oxytocin, desperately wanting to save Dolly a caesarean. It doesn’t work. Time to prep for surgery.
We give Dolly a light dose of a very safe anaesthetic and clip and clean her right side in preparation for getting that last kitten out. This part needs to be fairly quick as we don’t want too much anaesthetic making its way into that fragile little neonate.
Dolly is on the table. We need to be quick.
My boss opens her up and extracts the last, limp little kitten.
Dolly is under the drapes and Boss man is about to free the last kitten from her uterus
Okay game on, it’s time to get this baby breathing
With prewarmed towels I rub the kitten’s chest. His tongue is blue and he’s not breathing. I rub harder while gorgeous nurse Mel extracts the mucus from his mouth and around his nose. An eternity passes. I do not cry. He begins to breath. Everyone in the surgical suite cheers him on – you’ve got this little guy! And so while Boss man finishes Dolly’s operation, speying her at the same time so she never has to go through this again, the tiny fellow meets his sister and two brothers.
Hey bro, what up?
Against the odds, we have four live kittens and Dolly is doing great.
It takes a couple of hours for the adrenalin to settle down and for me to realise, yes, everyone is okay.
Vets and vet nurses aren’t machines. We’re people and we do what we do because we love animals. This means every day has the potential to be a roller coaster ride of emotions, but it’s so worth it.
Dolly and her kittens are watching me now as I type, all snuggled up in their comfy bed in my lounge room. Their story will continue. And just quietly, I think Dolly has already found her forever home – right here with me.