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(eight of them to be exact!)

I received a call in early May from a kind-hearted rescue person who had gotten a beautiful calico mommy out of a shelter in the Los Angeles area.. The litter was scheduled for euthanasia at the shelter due to lack of space. She thought that “Betsy McCall’s” babies were around 5-6 weeks old. She indicated that the three little kittens were able to eat on their own and could be weaned soon. Therefore, she had given Betsy five additional newborn kittens from another shelter to nurse because their own mother had been hit and killed by a car. I said, “WOW! That is a lot of kittens for one mom!” But it sounded like Betsy’s own litter could be weaned within a short period of time and it would be okay for her to continue nursing the other five.

Normally, RESQCATS would not take out-of-the-area kitties, but something told me I needed to make an exception for these kitties.

A few days later the group arrived and I was shocked. We couldn’t tell which kittens were the original three that belonged to Betsy and which were the other five that were not hers. They were all very close in size. I estimated that Betsy’s three were about 2-1/2 weeks old and the five newborns were about 10 days old…and that meant all of them were trying to nurse and none of them could eat on their own! Betsy weighed less than 6 pounds herself. The kittens and Betsy were dirty, smelly, had some kind of crud stuck under their nails, and all the boys (7 of the 8 kittens were boys) had enlarged scrotums.

I was grateful they came when they did. I knew we could help the mom and babies by supplemental bottle feeding.

I was told that Betsy was sneezing and received some nose drops to give her. My stomach began to gnaw at me. Had the newborn litter of five been exposed to an upper respiratory virus for which they would have no antibodies to fight the infection? I knew that the person that took them in had good intentions …let the five babies nurse and grow up suckling from a mommy cat, (after all, bottle feeding five kittens around the clock for the next five weeks is a real job). I just wasn’t sure that enough time had been taken to objectively evaluate the situation or make a judgment call on what would have been the healthiest thing to do rather than the easiest.

My gut feeling was right. Three of the five newborns became seriously ill with upper respiratory virus. Betsy’s own kittens were able to avoid getting sick because they had received the antibodies from her to fight it off.

Within just a few days, one of the kittens became very sick. He was the tiniest of the litter and I don’t think he ever had a chance. He drew his very last breath on the vet’s table despite everything that was done to save him. I could only tell myself that his own mom, who had been killed by a car, needed him to be with her in Heaven. It broke my heart, but my worries were not over.

Two others were sick. “Honey” gradually fought off the virus with the support of antibiotics twice a day. But little “Sugar Bear” looked as if he was headed down the same path as his brother that had died. He was the sickest little 5-1/2 ounce kitten I had ever seen. His little head was so stuffed up that he couldn’t breathe which caused him to be uninterested in eating. His eye was so infected that I could barely open it to medicate it for fear of hurting him. The vet wasn’t sure we could save his eye or him! His temperature kept dropping to 96-97 degrees. A normal temperature for a kitten can be as low as 99, but 101-102 is more like it!

Sugar Bear spent five days at La Cumbre Animal Hospital under the care of Beverly Holmes, DVM and her wonderful staff of technicians. He stayed in intensive care at the hospital for five days and came home with me every night. I was up every two hours to feed him, change his hot water bottles trying to keep his temperature up, medicate him, give him fluids, stimulate him to go to the bathroom…I ran my own little intensive care unit in our downstairs bathroom! His 5-1/2 ounce body fought its way all the way up to 9-1/2 ounces in about 10 days. The vet, the staff, and all the volunteers, not to mention me, were beyond happiness. By that time I was also beyond exhaustion.

Denny and Bonnie Epperson, Susan Leroy and Heather Thakarhucks took turns taking care of Sugar Bear on alternating nights so that I could catch up on some much needed sleep. I couldn’t believe they would sign up for sleepless nights…but that is just how special they are. After about two weeks, when Sugar Bear was reunited with his family it was a beautiful sight. Though he was much smaller than any of the other kittens, they all made concessions for him. He played a little slower, but we were all just glad to see him playing. Mommy and all her babies were starting to look better and appeared out of danger.

I mentioned to the vet that I was still concerned about the large scrotums on the male kittens. Upon examining one of them, the vet discovered a lot of fluid in his abdomen and feared a virus called FIP…it is 100% deadly. We had x-rays taken, an ultrasound was done, and fluid was extracted from one kitten’s belly and sent into the lab for a pathologist and oncologist to review. The results: NOT FIP, but still inconclusive. The best guess was that it was an undiagnosed virus that hit the abdomens of all of them. It may still deadly since viruses cannot be treated. The only thing we could do was to support them with antibiotics. I left the vet’s office that day with a warning that I could lose every single one of them to this unknown virus…all seven kittens and Betsy!

I do believe in miracles and I ask for them all the time…Sugar Bear had been one of them. Do I dare pray for eight! All at one time! Yes! And I asked everyone else to pray as well. I have a necklace that has two rings on it: one says “Believe” and the other says “Miracles.” I hung it on the door of the isolation room where it hung along with my grandson, Hayden’s, good luck charm. He helped me medicate the kitties for the next week. The good news was that none of them acted sick. They ate, played and slept as if nothing was wrong.

It took a couple of weeks of intense care and love before we knew they were out of danger. All their bellies went down and they started to look like normal kittens.


Candace Burton gave Betsy a home along with her own kitten, “Winnie” and one of her foster kittens, “Teddy.” Talk about an instant family! “Quimby” and his foster brother, “Buck” got to stay together and went home with Will McClintock and his wife, Amy. “Daisy” went home with Rodney and Isabel Medinilla and their family that includes two sons and “Pichy” who they adopted from RESQCATS about three years ago.

Sugar Bear…well…Sugar Bear stayed with me. He will probably have to undergo eye surgery when he is a little older. We were able to save his eye from the infection but some of the tissue around it did not grow properly and blocks his vision. I love him in a way I cannot explain.

His brother, Honey stayed, too. I knew Sugar Bear would need a buddy to play with since so many of my house kitties are grown and beyond playing or are shy and hide all the time. He was chosen because he suffers from a disease called mega-colon. It is unrelated to anything else that went on with him and is probably inherited genetically although no vet has ever seen it in a kitten so young. It means that the muscles and/or nerve endings in his colon do not work and that he cannot push through his bowels because of it. He is on medication at least twice a day and will be for his lifetime. We want to avoid colon surgery if at all possible…it is dangerous and risky. I am still working on the right dosage of medication for Honey! He is doing great so far…maybe he is my ninth miracle!


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