Simba entered our life at Christmas time a few years ago – An unexpected guest, who came to stay indefinitely, as a direct repercussion of another of Benjamin Dachshund Donald's wildlife escapades on our farm property. Early one afternoon, my husband Alex was out doing the lawns on his ride-on mower with Benjamin at his side as usual, barking and keeping a safe distance. Doggie boredom soon set in and off he went exploring when to his great delight he came across a little nest of wild kittens. We were alerted to his find by the hysterical bark that accompanied one of his special discoveries and followed the piercing sound to find him in a nearby paddock, prancing about in great excitement, poking at one of six little furry balls nestled in a hollow lined with pine needles. We removed Benjamin forthwith and we all stayed well away for the rest of the afternoon, checking again in the early evening to see if the mother cat had returned. Luckily she had, removing five of her babies to a new location but leaving the ginger one behind – the one that had been touched and imbued with a strange smell she did not recognize. We felt the unmoving little body and found it barely warm and knew time was running out.
We wrapped the tiny scrap of life in a facecloth and our younger daughter Claudia held it next to her chest to keep it as warm as possible and carried it inside. We had been at the survival frontier with baby lambs and knew a warm bath to bring up the body heat was our best hope. It was barely the length of a stick of chalk from the tip of its minute nose to the end of its tail. His eyes were firmly shut and surrounded by a sticky discharge. His ears were flat and sticking out straight from his head. We filled a glass bowl with fairly warm water and very gently washed and dried the kitten with a piece of soft muslin that brought some encouraging movement from the little limp form. We could see little black specs on its body that indicated a flea problem, but this was not the time to deal with them. What we needed now was nourishment and a warm bed and sleeping location. We lined a cardboard shoe-box with paper, popped a warm hot-water bottle in the bottom wrapped in a soft towel, all ready to go into the airing cupboard with its charge.
What’s on the menu
Big consideration number two was getting warm sustenance inside the wee tummy. We found the eyedropper we had used to save the lives of damaged baby birds, ducklings and bunnies. We also had a box of special veterinary milk powder on hand also left over from previous animal rescues. The kitten was so small we had to hold it in a towel to feed it. We kept it on its feet and held its head in-between a thumb and first finger tilted back slightly, because that seemed the logical way of getting a couple of drops in the mouth. It was not easy, but we hoped two or three drops of the mixture heated to body temperature, had been successfully swallowed during our administrations. It was nearly midnight by now and we put him in the prepared box next to the hot water cylinder, knowing we could do no more at this stage.
Visit to the Vet
The first milestone was reached when he survived the first night and we agreed he certainly deserved a name and every chance of life. As a little battler, Simba (from the ‘Lion King’) suited him perfectly and we phoned the vet and made an appointment to have him checked out. We gave him another two feeds, before our early morning appointment. The experts said we had done all the right things and gave us some valuable suggestions on what was required from us as surrogate Mum. We were not entirely surprised to find out Simba was only about four or five days old. We were a little less enthusiastic to find that he would need to be fed very 3 to 4 hours for the first few days. We would just have to share the night shifts. The vet also dealt to his flea problem and gave us a special cream to rub very carefully in the corner of each eye as he had an infection that would leave him blind if it was not treated. I found putting this cream in the most difficult of the lot. Simba did not like it and I was afraid of not doing a good job and suffering the consequences. Perseverance paid off and his eyes were completely clear from the time he first opened them at their baby blue stage. As he developed, they changed to his beautiful adult colour – a rich tawny gold.
Taking care of his needs – Being Mother cat
Like a baby, this tiny-tot need to be burped, cleaned and assisted with toilet training.
We took the vet’s advice and cleaned around his little bottom with a dampened cotton wool bud. We gently patted his tummy with a dampened cotton wool ball to burp him. We also used a pad of cotton wool moistened with tepid water to stroke him all over in the same direction with little movements, the way his Mother would have used her tongue to teach him to clean himself and stimulate his bowel and bladder.
More on his early diet
We purchased a mothering kit for easier feeding. It was fantastic. It consisted of a very slim syringe in pliable plastic with a removable soft long teat attached, plus a couple of replacement teats. As Simba became stronger over the first few days, he was able to drink the entire contents of a full syringe – a big forward step from one or two drops. He also graduated from needing to be feed while being held in our hands, to standing alone with his four little legs stretched out in warrior position while sucking lustily on the teat.
We continued to feed him according to the formula directions on the veterinary replacement milk package till it was time to start weaning at about four weeks old. We started by moistening a few pieces of dry kitten food with water for him to make it easier for him to try, as young kittens have to learn the art of chewing. This is thought to be better than going straight to quality tinned kitten food. It took several meal times before he would even look at the food and we were very excited when he finally attempted a morsel. As he gradually ate more, we continued with his formula, reducing the quantity according to his requirements.
Sleeping arrangements and a litter box
He carried on sleeping in his own little box with a warm hot water bottle under a soft towel, for those first weeks. We put in a layer of shredded newspaper for added warmth and for toilet use. We used the start of solid food, to introduce a litter box. We popped him into the prepared tray after each feed and like magic, he knew what to do straight away.
Growing Up – the teenage years
Simba enjoyed five years of country life and then moved with us to the city, to a townhouse with a small safe garden and a patch of lawn. We found a property that was on a side street not a dangerous main road, a prerequisite for the several four-legged members of our family. He grew to love a little cheese each day, he also grew and grew, into a very large round pussycat. We changed to low fat cheese as a special treat only and changed his main food to the best quality special dry light-weight cat food.
As well as his love for cheese, for which he would knock on the fridge door after he learnt that was where the cheese lived, Simba brought all his other special habits to the city. His great affinity with water was one of these. He would sit just outside the shower and lick the water on the shower tray as soon as you had finished. He would also paw the glass door while you were showering, to try to get in with you. He also ran outside repeatedly every time it rained and came back inside for a dry.
Several times a day he would also knock persistently on the French doors to be let in, even though he used the cat door when it suited him. Every morning he came in from his nighttime sortie and came straight upstairs to greet us with a sound that had a distinct human “good morning” twist to it. He then sat on top of either my husband’s or my feet while we were doing our hair.
He always communicated with long throaty mewling, not a proper purr. He either sat upright in our lap when we were sitting down or lay stretched straight out on the floor on his back with his four legs fully stretched. From the time we moved to town, he began to partake in the nightly walk with the dog. This terrified us out of our wits and then amazed us utterly, when we saw he always looked each way before crossing the main road.
Losing a tail
Being hand reared, Simba had a very gentle nature. Being a male cat, albeit neutered, he was adventurous. This led to a very nasty accident. He returned home one afternoon looking very miserable, with his tail bent and bleeding and marked by 3 or 4 puncture wounds. We immediately, took him to the vet. He was injected with antibiotics and given suitable medication to be taken for the next few days for pain and infection. The vet deduced he had run away from a dog, got caught in a fence and the dog had grabbed at his tail and done irreparable damage. The sad outcome was that despite our best efforts his tail had to be removed, 4 or 5 cms from where it started on his back. An absolutely devastating outcome, as he had the most magnificent thick ginger and white striped tail. We had no choice, as the bone in the tail was broken.
This is the part where Simba decided to move on, not us. He had a few little disappearances for a day or two for the first 3 or 4 years after our move to the city. Suddenly these times away grew and he hardly came home. He had always had a special collar with a nametag, complete with our phone number. We learnt from a neighbour two doors down that he was visiting her more and more. Despite discouraging him, especially as his behavior was proving very disturbing to her own cat, neither household could convince Simba to return to where he belonged. Eventually, he did not come back to us at all. It was hard to accept, until very recently, when the neighbour was at her gate as we took the dog for his walk. Simba was near-by and we stopped to say hello to them both. We learnt that sadly, her beloved cat had died just a few days before. Simba had been her lifesaver as she held and cuddled him following her loss. We love you Simba and now so does somebody else.