Sunday, 15 January 2017


My Boy

Well, it's been a very difficult start to 2017. Without tempting fate, I hope this means brighter days ahead.

Last Monday broke my heart, it really did.

I won't recount the story, I'll just share an update I posted on Tuesday:

Absolutely heartbroken. Yesterday was a truly awful day. As most of you know, I reared four tiny kittens found abandoned in a bag in Kigali. They were so small they needed syringe feeding and bum wiping. I wasn't going to keep any of them, but couldn't keep to that policy after parting with the eldest two to someone I thought was a responsible, cat-loving person. Sophie and Howl (the smallest two) are now well and truly mine.

The eldest two seemed to be doing fine. I took Sophie & Howl to visit a couple of weeks back, and the vet who vaccinated them said they had been playful and healthy.

Then, yesterday, the new owner contacts me to tell me the sad news that the eldest boy fell down a 12 m pit latrine and died.

The part of the story that took longer to come out was that this happened a week ago last Friday. She apparently tried to get him out, couldn't, and left him there for two days until he stopped crying.

She only thought to contact me when it was far too late.

I was distraught. I knew that I had to see for myself whether there was the slightest chance he might still be alive. I contacted WAG, which is an animal shelter for abandoned pets here in Kigali. Two of their volunteers, Lauren and Olivia, agreed to come with me for support. I cannot stress how grateful I am. I could not have done this without them. They carried me through it.

When we arrived at the house, the woman wasn't there, so her staff let us in thanks to my friend Senga, who drove us over there and negotiated our entry to the compound.

We were headed straight for the latrine when we heard mewing.

The girl kitten was lying by the drive, shivering with cold and foaming at the mouth.

Olivia stayed with her whilst Lauren and I went to the latrine. We knelt on our hands and knees in waste, lowering a lamp down on a 12 m piece of washing line.

It was so hard to see anything down there, but we took turns peering in and swinging the lamp. There was no sound and no movement, but we could not clearly make out his body. There were things that looked like they might have been, but nothing definite. As they had started using the pit latrine again, Lauren made the practical observation that perhaps his body had been covered.

We were faced with a very immediate decision. I wanted to lower my phone down with the camera rolling, but it would have been extremely difficult and we were running out of daylight. Meanwhile, girl kitten was in desperate need of medical attention.

"She's not sick," the staff insisted.

Until she vomited in front of them.

Alongside WAG, I am forever indebted to Dr Arum and her husband (who is the mountain gorilla vet). They have just moved from Musanze to Kigali. I texted to tell Dr Arum what was happening and she responded immediately saying they were on standby. If there was the slightest chance of bringing boy kitten home alive, her husband was willing to smash the toilet and climb down into the latrine to get him.

We rushed girl kitten to their surgery where she was placed on an IV under observation.

After so much sadness, it was incredible to meet supportive, animal-minded people.

Thanks also to mum, who listened to me sob down the phone at midnight after several rounds of beer therapy.

Feeling much stronger this morning. The woman is asking when she can have her kitten back. The answer to that is never. I just have to be in a calm enough frame of mind to say that to her.

Dr Arum sent news this morning. Girl kitten had a very rough night, but she's stabilized and eating like crazy.

Wish it could have been a happy ending for both, but very much looking forward to bringing her home to her brother and sister.

I still find it hard to think of that pit latrine without welling up. My big boy stuck down there, calling out. It would have been so easy to lower down a bag with food in it and pull him up. Or for the owner to send down food and water until help arrived. She had the numbers of three vets I'd given her, and didn't call any of them - or me.

Just can't forgive that.

Feeling much stronger now though.

Girl kitten came home a few days ago. She had been poisoned by something, not sure what, and the vet said if we hadn't brought her in when we did, she'd likely also be dead.

Previous owner isn't contesting this, but did say it was okay because she would 'get more'. I urged her to go to WAG and get training in how to care for animals before she does that.

Girl kitten, who was called Fifi, but I renamed Sen (because she was Spirited Away to a far off place, and returned, sadly without her friend), and who is known as Harold by the vet (actually, it's now double barrelled: Sen-Harold), is recovered and eating well. The vets have offered to spay her once she's put on some weight. She was so much bigger than them when she left. Now she's a little bit smaller.

Sen as a tiny kitten, sitting in the middle of the food tray whilst Sophie & Howl eat around her.

It's not been easy. Although she's only been away a month, it's as though Sen doesn't recognise the house she grew up in, or her brother and sister. She hisses every time she sees Sophie & Howl. I'm swelling with pride at how they have handled it. Howl in particular has never lost his patience once. He simply lies as close as she'll let him, edging closer when she isn't looking, and bringing her things to play with. Sophie has been just as good, but I think she's getting tired of it. She's started hissing back when Sen hisses at her.

Yesterday was a breakthrough. Sen played with Howl for the first time.

This morning, they all ate from the same bowl without incident. Sen's closest to the camera.

It's progress. Though three kittens is a world more destruction than two. I'm forever tripping over them and picking things off the floor. It's nice to see her returning to a playful little fluffball. I just hope Titi's found Christiane, Mao, Sula and Ishuheri up there in the Heaviside Layer.

Happier Days

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