Sunday, December 5, 2004


Cry Baby was one of five kittens rescued in Wahiawa. Ken Ige's parents left their outdoor shed open to air it out, and apparently, a mother cat sneaked the bunch in. Ige's dad locked the shed, leaving the kittens without their mother for four days. Luckily, a friend heard their cries.

The Promise

Four furry sets of paws find
their lives saved by a whisker,
all due to a conversation

We found five abandoned kittens Sept. 22 in my parents' outdoor shed in Wahiawa. They had apparently been locked in there for four days without food or water. They were tiny, filthy and hot to the touch. But they were alive. The likely mother cat was only seen once in the neighborhood in the following days and could not be captured.

Homes Wanted

The kittens are getting big (about three pounds) and they're weaned. It's now time to find them a home.

Are you interested in adopting Cry Baby, Fluffy or Chubby?

Ken Ige and his wife, Stacy Yamasaki-Ige, only ask that they be kept indoors. They figure the kittens have used up most of their nine lives.

If interested, please e-mail Ken at ken.jiro@verizon.net.

We gathered them up in a cardboard box, and I drove them to the Hawaiian Humane Society. On the 40-minute drive into town, one of the kittens kept crying. It was a loud, healthy cry, so that was good -- but still, constant crying. So, hoping to soothe him, I started talking to him. I promised the little guy that someone would take care of him and his siblings.

I promised.

I filled out the form at the humane society, and the lady at the desk took the fragile box and thanked me for bringing them in. I was about to leave when I thought to ask, "Do you think they'll make it?" After all, they didn't have anything to eat or drink for four days so soon after birth.

The lady paused. Apologizing, she said, "They are too young. They will have to be put down."

What?! I didn't understand.

She kindly explained that caring for a newborn kitten is exhausting, around-the-clock work. Foremost, they need to be hand-fed every two hours, and the humane society simply doesn't have the manpower. The kittens would have a chance if the society had a lactating mother cat that could nurse them. But there were none. The kittens' only chance was a foster parent, someone who could raise them until they were strong enough to eat on their own and be put up for adoption. And, understandably, there just aren't any folks waiting and willing to put their own lives -- and sleep -- on hold.

I stood there, halfway out the door, thinking about the crying kitten and our "talk" on the drive into town.

I promised.

Waitaminute, I thought. Reality check. Cats can't understand English! And who has the time to wake up every two hours?! I was fairly new at my job, and that needed my utmost attention. I have a house and yard to take care of. I have two dogs! I couldn't possibly have enough time to take care of these kittens. And I'M NOT A CAT PERSON! But my conscience nagged ...

I promised.

Stacy Yamasaki-Ige poses with Runt, who was so sick and weak at the time of this photograph that he couldn't raise his head. Ken Ige took this photo thinking it might be Runt's last.

I called my wife, someone with enough sense to talk me out of this fiasco. Surprisingly, she immediately shouted into the phone, "But you can't just let them die!"

At the same time, she realized what a gargantuan undertaking it would be. So I stood there in the humane society office, holding the phone, neither of us saying a word. No one wanted to be responsible for either of our two options: Walk away and leave the kittens to certain death, or take them home and possibly kill ourselves in the process.

The sensible thing was apparent: Walk away. I had already done more than most folks would have. I have a life that's already busy. Walk away. But I couldn't shake the bottom line. Weighed on the scale of humanity, certain death vs. a month or so of sleep deprivation just didn't balance out. Not even close. Fool's math, I know, but that was my thinking at the time.

After a long silence, my wife said, "I'll support whatever decision you make."

In one deft move, she had slithered to the escape pod, leaving me to steer this ill-fated ship. Smart girl. That's why I married her.

So I stepped up. I told the lady I was going to keep the kittens. The humane society did well to hire this woman (unfortunately, this lolo didn't get her name). She didn't just hand me the box and say, "See ya!" even though that would have saved her some work.

Instead, she cautioned me to think about it. She gave me the laundry list of things to do and, most important, told me that even if I followed every instruction to the letter, some or all of the kittens could still die. She asked if I wanted to reconsider. There it was: a back door. A way out.

But the kittens had a chance with me. And a chance, however small, beats certain death. I had to take them home. Besides ...

I promised.

Cry Baby, one of five kittens found in a Wahiawa shed, peers inquisitively.

It's been two months now. One of the kittens did die. Another almost died. Twice. My wife and I, thankfully, survived. Barely.

It has been a learning experience, to say the least. We learned that a simple sugar-water solution can stop seizures caused by low blood sugar.

We learned to take a kitten's rectal temperature (you use a human-size thermometer on a 6-ounce kitten. Oh, the humanity!).

When one kitten got sick and lost nearly half its body weight, I (not we) learned to give subcutaneous fluid injections. And we learned how to warm four itty-bitty bottles of expensive special kitty milk every two hours (and sterilize them each time). And how to MAKE each kitten use the bathroom after each feeding. And we learned how to keep their area at a constant temperature. And how to keep them separated from two big in-the-house dogs that would love them ... as pupus.

We learned how to juggle our work schedules. OK, my wife juggled her schedule. OK, she took them to work with her (big mahalo to her boss Dave!).

And we learned why sleep deprivation is a form of torture.

But the kittens are growing strong. And we've grown attached. They're finally starting to eat dry food. Soon they'll be ready for adoption.

The kittens relax after a feeding about 10 days after they were brought home.

My wife has informed me that she wants to keep Runt, the little fighter who almost checked out twice. We spent many long nights nursing him. He was so weak he couldn't even lift his head. And with each waking, we took that cringing first look to see if he was still with us.

A connection has definitely been formed. But Runty Boy, as we call him, is not cute in the classical sense. My best description is an alien rat. If he weren't so small, he'd be scary. My wife says this lack of cuteness will keep him from being adopted and that we must protect him from such painful rejection. Hmm ...

I see the twisted logic. But keep him? We have two dogs that likely consider Runt prey, not pal. The idea of nursing him back to health only to have him eaten by one of my own dogs ... I couldn't take that.

But my wife thinks I can train the dogs to coexist with Runt. There are lots of families with both cats and dogs, so I know it's possible. I'm sure I could find tons of information on the Internet. And I've seen that Dog Whisperer guy do amazing things. It might be possible. It might be possible. I guess I'll have to look into it.

But I'm not promising anything.

Runt has gained back most of the weight he lost.

Ken Ige is a former Star-Bulletin photographer and now a firefighter with the Honolulu Fire Department.

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