From Kitten Rescuing to Cat Sanctuary: Part 2

I recently went to visit one of the kittens we had rescued – Phoebe courageously traveled from Amman, Jordan to Dallas, Texas by way of Doha, Qatar. And I’m so glad she was able to make the journey! She arrived at her furever home in April of this year, but this was the first time I was able to visit her.

This all started unexpectedly in August of 2020 while we were living in Amman, Jordan. When we met our first four rescues, we thought of it as a wonderful pandemic hobby. During that school year, we started vaccinating/spaying/neutering the colony of cats in our neighborhood and successfully found homes for nine of them.

My previous kitten post came after struggling to find a home for the seventh cat, Jack. When we found Jack, he had a terrible eye infection that could only heal after his right eye was removed. He lived with us in our guest room for months before he was healthy enough to move to a furever home. Unfortunately, Jack was pretty skittish, and two local adoptions in Jordan fell through.

I was headed to the United States in March 2021 for my Covid vaccine and I was worried about what would happen to Jack while I was gone. After many stressful weeks, my wonderful parents agreed to adopt him. Thus, Jack was our first rescue cat to travel to the US – he moved to Minnesota.

When Chandler and I returned to Amman in April, we picked up right where we left off. We joined a local organization called The Basboos Project. We attended a free training and learned how to TNR (Trap, Neuter, Return) the colony of cats that lived in our neighborhood. We lured them to our yard with regular morning and evening feedings and we kept water out 24/7.

Within a few months, we’d successfully TNR’d the six cats pictured below: Felix, Zelda, Mario, Odin, Maui, and Toby.

The first three became our interior garden cats and the last three moved into our front yard. Felix, Zelda, and Mario were more curious about humans, while the other three were more interested in their daily meal times. None were interested in being adopted!

Odin was our most unique TNR – in addition to being the biggest cat we’d ever trapped, we soon learned he was also the oldest. Previously, we hadn’t met a cat older than three years – but the vet told us Odin was at least ten years old. It was amazing he’d survived on the streets for so long. And it was no wonder he’d been the alpha of the colony (and probable dad to over half of the colony!).

We were feeling pretty successful until this bundle ended up on our doorstep. We hadn’t planned on taking in anymore kittens. In fact, with all the spays/neuters we had been providing, we were hoping for a kitten-free spring.

But Thor walked right up to us – no idea that he should be afraid of humans. We posted him on an adoption site that night and within 24 hours, this cutie had already found a furever home. He was our fastest success story to date (still is!) – we didn’t even have time to take him to the vet.

And he wasn’t our last kitten of the spring either. Shortly after, Lucy moved into our front yard with her four kittens (promptly named after other Peanuts’ characters: Charlie, Linus, Frieda, and Peppermint). Luckily for us, she was a wonderful mama and we didn’t need to help support her kittens (though she did get extra feeding times compared to the other neighborhood cats!).

Her kittens were old enough to go a night without her, so we were able to get her spayed, but we weren’t so lucky with another favorite female of ours: Harriet.

By the time we were able to trap Harriet, she was too far along in her pregnancy for surgery – we knew she’d give birth while we were gone over the summer, so we made sure she was well fed and healthy during the time leading up.

One amazing spot of joy came when some friends in Texas fell in love with our story of traveling with Jack from Amman to Minnesota. They were interested in adopting a cat from Jordan as well.

A fun fact about Arabian Maus – one of the most prevalent cat varieties in Jordan – while not technically hypoallergenic, they don’t shed much and have low dander production, which causes fewer reactions in people with mild allergies. One of our friends was allergic and had assumed she wouldn’t be able to adopt a cat, but when she heard about Arabian Maus, she was in!

Imogen had been around for months and had also been successfully TNR’d – but she came back every day for snuggles as well as snacks. She was fiercely independent, meaning she wouldn’t likely need a second cat to keep her company. A few photos/stories were exchanged and it was decided: Imogen was moving to Texas. She flew with us in June 2021.

We spent the next two months in Mexico and assumed our TNR/rescuing days were over. We had been feeding the cats in the neighborhood in order to trap them and take them to the vet, but after being away for the summer, we didn’t think that any of them would have stuck around.

We were wrong.

Remember Felix? This sweetheart was waiting for us in our interior garden the night we got back. He was meowing in the windowsills and luckily I still had a pouch of wet food in the house. We saw him every day after that.

Pretty soon, word got out, and the rest of our regulars started coming back.

We got right back to work. Within our first month we had TNR’d Sheba, Harriet (Finally! Though we never met any of her kittens), and Samson. We initially thought Samson might be Harriet’s kitten (they look so much alike!), but the vet confirmed he was too old.

With their beautiful, long coats, our neighbors quickly took over their care – but they’d still pop over for a meal and a hello every now and again.

A short while later, we met Amelie. This little one captured my heart and once again we had a kitten in our care. We have no idea where she came from, but she settled into our interior garden quite nicely and was always up for a cuddle and playtime.

It was no surprise that she was scooped up quickly as well. She was only with us for two weeks. It was amazing how different our interactions were now that we were rescuing healthy kittens (as opposed to Harvey, Jude, and Jack – who’d required so much medical treatment). These kittens felt like no work at all and we were happy to quickly pass them along to their furever homes.

Then the time finally arrived, Lucy’s kittens were six months old and could be TNR’d themselves! In the US, kittens can be spayed/neutered at a much earlier age, but in Jordan they tend to wait. This can be stressful, because female cats can get pregnant as early as six months, but it also makes vaccinating them easier, as they can get all their shots at once.

While we’d been gone over the summer, a fifth kitten had joined this gang – he was black and we quickly took to calling him Ghost. He was inseparable from Linus and Peppermint and it was the sweetest thing to witness.

These five were stressful, because as far as we knew, they were the final cats in our neighborhood to be TNR’d. It took a few weeks, but we finally got them all – first Linus, then Frieda, Peppermint, Charlie, and Ghost!

Of course, we were wrong. It didn’t take long for Hank and Caesar to arrive. I have to say, every time we’d pat ourselves on the back for getting all our cats to the vet, a new one (or two!) would arrive. Caesar was definitely an alpha looking to fill the void in our colony after Odin was neutered. We never gave him the chance! By this point we had become pros with trapping colony cats and these two made it easy.

Fall 2021 was turning into winter and we knew from the previous years that Amman can get wet and chilly. We had already built three cat shelters for the front yard, but with so many cats taking up residence in our interior garden, we added two more there. I definitely knew that I’d want to bring the whole colony into our guest bedroom for the winter, but Chandler’s allergies never would have allowed that. I figured the cat shelters and daily meals would have to do.

Nice try – before the first snow fall, Phoebe had come into our lives. Yet another kitten (we honestly couldn’t figure out where they were coming from). But unlike the ease of our more recent kittens, Phoebe was sick – and we just couldn’t figure out how to make her better.

This is going to sound like an exaggeration, but I took Phoebe to the vet once a week for at least two months, if not closer to three. For the months of December and January Phoebe was on a variety of medication to clear up a mystery infection and help ease her breathing. Her medication went in her food, so this lucky girl got to eat wet food inside the house 2-3 times a day. Sometimes I’d place her in a pet carrier while we ate our own meals. On particularly cold days, I’d give her more time to warm up in the guest bedroom.

Suffice it to say, we fell in love with her. But it was so hard to post her in Amman because she was so sick. Short-haired cats aren’t particularly admired in Jordan, so no one was interested in one that required a lot of maintenance. But we knew she’d make an amazing pet. And she wasn’t just a sweetheart with us – she made it her mission to be best friends with every cat in the colony. She was especially successful with Linus and Ghost.

I can’t tell you how thrilled we were when another friend from Texas reached out with interest in her. We had never imagined moving so many cats from Jordan to the United States, but it seemed to be where we were having the most success with our trickiest cases!

During the spring, three more cats joined our colony: Gabriella, Butch Cassidy, and Lynx. This story may sound heartless, but Gabriella was at the vet so long, I completely forgot about her! She literally collapsed on our doorstep, covered in her own diarrhea, and I rushed her to the vet…and didn’t hear another word about her until three weeks later.

By that point, she was definitely on the mend and had been successfully spayed and vaccinated. Butch Cassidy and Lynx were both much simpler.

If that story sounds crazy to you (who forgets they have a cat at the vet?), it’s about to get crazier. Remember Zelda? One of the six cats we’d brought to the vet in the spring of 2021. Well, her left ear was tipped (classic TNR sign), so the vet assumed she’d already been spayed. We had her vaccinated and released her.

She was pretty shy at first, but our kindness wore her down and now she’d come close enough for a head scratch when she was in the yard. It was honestly about time – we’d known her a year and a half by this point. One day, I was petting her and noticed that her nipples were enlarged – it was baffling. True, we hadn’t spayed her, but in all the time we’d known her, she hadn’t had any kittens.

I was able to trap her and get her to the vet. They agreed she was pregnant, though likely only one month along. We decided to do a spay abortion. Only one in four kittens survives a year on the streets and it was clear Zelda had never been a mother before (despite being three years old!).

Well, I guess the vet got busy that afternoon and they decided to wait on the operation until the following day. However, upon arrival that morning, they realized that Zelda was prematurely giving birth to her kittens. The poor thing was practically rabid and wouldn’t let the vets help her throughout the process. I was able to rush over after work and calm her down. The first kitten had died, but the second one was successfully suckling.

We made a plan for Zelda to stay at the vet few more days so they could spay her and keep an eye on her kitten. Two days later, we got a rather shocking phone call. Zelda had eaten the surviving kitten. I know a thing or two about not wanting to be a mother – but that seemed a bit extreme to me! Then we learned it’s not as uncommon as we’d have thought. It often happens when mother cats don’t think their babies will survive – and this little one was certainly born premature.

Zelda came home with us a few days later and spent the night inside. From then on she was a cuddle machine – I don’t know if it’s because she knew I tried to help her or if it was a maternal instinct that had kicked in, but she stayed in our yard nearly 24/7 after that.

Things calmed down again – which was a good thing because by this point, we only had six weeks left in Amman. It was our third year in Jordan and we had decided it would also be our final. Our kitten adoptions had taken anywhere from 24 hours to 6 months, and we hadn’t had any new cats join our colony in ages.

Which is why, of course, I got a phone call. A colleague of mine knew about the work we had been doing with our colony and she called when her sister found an abandoned kitten. Its two siblings had already died and everyone in their family was allergic – but they couldn’t just leave the kitten on the street. I don’t know why we did it, but we took Olivia in.

This little girl had a huge personality and all of our other cats were hilariously afraid of her – all of them except Zelda.

Our interior garden always had 3-5 cats in it, but when we moved Olivia in, everyone abandoned it. Except Zelda. You’re going to say I’m personifying them, but it really felt like Olivia helped Zelda heal. We had Olivia for a month before she was adopted and during that time, Zelda taught her how to play, hunt, and even stick up for herself.

It was the sweetest thing and I was heartbroken to have to separate them. But while both cats craved human attention, Zelda loathed being indoors. With the exception of the one night after we took her home from the vet, she would panic anytime the door was even open to the house – no thank you, she wanted her humans to stay with her outside. Olivia, however, made it clear from day one that she was ready to be an indoor cat and her adoptive mom was thrilled to have found her.

We were kitten free and only two weeks away leaving Jordan permanently. Our time with our colony had given us good insight into which cats would be ready and willing to trade in their freedom for the security of a furever home. After quite a bit of stressing, we had found Felix and Mario homes in Minnesota.

Both cats were three years old, making them our oldest adoptions. My parents were adding Felix to their family and a co-worker of my father’s was taking in Mario. We knew it was going to be complicated to get both cats to Minnesota, but that didn’t stop us from trying to secure even more homes.

One day, I got a text – out of the blue – from Phoebe’s owner. Chandler had been able to get Phoebe to Texas in April on a whirlwind trip. Over the next two months, her owner had worried about what was going to happen to Linus. He had been Phoebe’s best friend and no one had come forward to adopt him. She was offering to foster him in Texas and help us find a furever home for him (or keep him herself if one couldn’t’ be found!).

I was over the moon and I called the vet right away. Two weeks wasn’t a long time and Linus would need to be microchipped and have his paperwork prepared for traveling.

And then the hardest thing happened. Linus just disappeared. He’d been a constant in our yard for the entirety of the school year and we couldn’t find him anywhere. I went out looking for him every day – in gardens and gutters and everything in-between. He was simply gone. I’ll always hope that someone saw how amazing he was and scooped him up to give him a furever home. But the not knowing is particularly gutting. Especially since he’d gotten so close to being adopted.

Those final two weeks in Amman were difficult. But we got one more surprise: Vincent. Our bawab (required groundskeeper) had never really understood our obsession with cats. And it took a long time for us to convince him he wasn’t allowed to chase them away. Which is why, with only two weeks left in Jordan, we were completely shocked when he turned up at our door with a final kitten.

We didn’t have enough common language to find out where he’d found the kitten, but it was clear Vincent needed medical attention. The vet confirmed he had an infection (successfully treated) and ringworm (treated up until the day we left). We knew it would be impossible to bring him unvaccinated on our flight and he’d be a lot of work for anyone locally. Which is why we were amazed when he was adopted – by our own colony.

Peppermint took to him right away – looking over him while he ate, playing with him, napping with him, and teaching him how to hunt. She even roped Ghost into helping out. And my jaw literally dropped when Grandpa Odin joined the gang. It was the most incredible chosen family I’ve ever seen. And I’m so proud of the relationships our colony has forged.

Now, four months later, I still wonder about our amazing colony. I wonder how they’re doing – if anyone has stepped in to support them. I can almost guarantee our bawab will continue to put out water for them. And I’ve seen other neighbors slowing start putting out food – so I’m hopeful.

In another life, I stayed in Jordan forever and opened up a permanent cat sanctuary. But that just wasn’t in the cards for us. Instead, I think about these two years fondly – caring for a colony of cats, vaccinating 32, spaying/neutering 24, and helping 14 get adopted. It was a lot of work, but it was worth every second.

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