Mealtime loving and playtime fun

September/October, 2021

When the feline family was still in the basement, in the crates, there was never a good opportunity to cuddle and pet them. The kittens, of course, were completely unbiased towards us and even though they did not like to be picked up, they let us touch them and play with them. I often took advantage of the situation when they ran to Mitsy to nurse. As their bodies surrounded and touched Mitsy, I would touch her as well, mostly on her back. I do think she was aware, but she was too distracted by the kittens.

Once the cats started to live upstairs and were out of the crates day and night, there was much more opportunity. Especially during mealtime, Mitsy, like most cats that have lived outside on their own, showed us a lot of affection. We could touch her when the promise of food was imminent, she would weave her body between our legs to the point that we could barely move! It was enchanting! The kittens, of course, look to their mom for social cues so they too became more and more friendly and some of them even started finding their voice. Adorable little meows coming from those sweet faces made us fall in love with the whole family, if that had not already happened earlier!

We also established fixed moments of fun and played with the kittens with their favourite balls and wand tools. And then, one day, quite unexpectedly, Mitsy joined in. We had seen her play with her kittens on the cat cams, but she did not engage with us. Rather, she took kitten playtime as perfect moment for a nap. The kittens were growing fast and they were all still nursing. Two or three of them had started eating solids alongside their mom, but her milk production had not stopped at all. So she needed her time-outs to recharge.

This is the face of maternal exhaustion…

It was one of the wand toys that got her to engage in play with me. It started when I hid the end of the wand under a towel or a piece of carton. I think it reminded her of hunting rodents. The sound of moving it over carton was what started it.

At first all play happened with Mitsy lying down, probably too tired to run after the tool.

It was after the first 4 kittens had gone to their new families, that Mitsy slowly became more energetic. And actually ran after the wand toy, to the point of panting. Long moments of play followed and ultimately it led to the reduced-size family playing together with us. I could have sworn that she was teaching them about hunting. We kept using the ‘trays’, that were the ‘floorboards’ of the crates, after removing the crates. They were an excellent way to protect the carpet from food stains and also helped keep spilled litter contained. There was a small space between the two trays and when I squeezed the wand tool in there, Mitsy went nuts. The kittens sat around her and watched and then started to ‘hunt’ as well. Below is a picture of Mitsy and Sipke at the end of such a training session. Mitsy is tired but Sipke still seems to be alert and ready for action!

The effect of all this interaction was very apparent. Mitsy now associated us with fun as much as with food. We could see that she had taken yet another step towards socialisation. She lost some of her reservations towards us. We think that the kittens played a big role in that. She clearly observed them as they played with us.

The fact that she trusted us enough to do naps while we handled them was the first milestone – at that time, all of her kittens were still with her. Her letting us touch her regularly during mealtime was the next. And when we heard her starting to purr when she saw us pick up the wand tool, after only the twins were left with her, we had reached another big one.