Saving kittens

This morning I have a cat story to tell. About a month ago, I heard the unmistakable, heart-chilling sound of desperate kittens crying. The noise was coming from my next door neighbour’s terrace. I peeked over the wall and saw my neighbour, a very sweet elderly lady, wringing her hands in distress. With tears in her eyes, she told me that a young mother cat had brought her six kittens there a few days earlier but had not been near them since the day before. The kittens were about ten days old. My neighbour didn’t know what to do. Well, at that late hour, neither did I.


I spent a nightmare-ridden night, tossing and turning, worrying about those kittens.


Early the next morning, after visiting the kittens and making sure that they had indeed been abandoned by the mother (there are signs you have to look for: for instance, if they are dirty and smelly it means that the mother hasn’t been cleaning them, etc.). No doubt about it. They had definitely been abandoned. No time to be wasted.


I confess that I have never nursed any kittens. Before being abandoned, even my tiny Priscilla was already more or less weaned. How could I possibly manage to nurse SIX kittens with no previous nursing experience?


So I got on the phone. I called every single Florentine animal protection agency I could find in the phonebook and online. I called all the cat and dog kennels. Almost everyone was sympathetic but couldn’t help me. The only advice I got was that if I wanted to save those kittens I would have to nurse them myself (that would have been my last resort, by the way; I would simply have taken time off work).


Well, I was determined to save those kittens. I called my vet who told me to get in touch with the National Association for the Protection of Animals (ENPA)…the man who answered the ENPA phone told me very sternly that according to Italian law those kittens could N-O-T be moved. Under any circumstances. They had to stay right where the mother had left them.


“So wait, I have to let them die of starvation, is that it?” I retorted angrily. “There is nothing else you can do. The kittens cannot be moved, period. It’s the law, signora,” he told me. What kind of cruel law is that??? And this is supposed to be an animal protection agency??? But I didn’t have the time to argue with this guy.


Time was running out.


I hung up and finally got in touch with the “gattare,” who are mainly female volunteers that take care and feed the stray cat “colonies” in Florence. The very kind gattara I spoke with told me that she had a volunteer who just might agree to take on so many kittens. This was someone, she reassured me, who had already successfully nursed kittens that young. The gattara called me back within a few minutes, telling me that this woman, whom I will name Gianna, had said yes. Joy!


My very distraught neighbour was thrilled to hear this bit of news. Like me, she has never had to deal with kittens abandoned this early by their mother (my neighbour has eight adult cats of her own, by the way).


A word or two in the mother cat’s defence: I don’t think she had enough milk for all those babies. I read online that sometimes mother cats, especially inexperienced ones like this one, are overwhelmed by large litters and can abandon them. Nature is cruel, but there you go.


Anyway, Gianna, who lives with five cats, all saved from a cruel fate, arrived here soon after we spoke by phone and took the kittens home. During the first few critical days, she kept them wrapped up in a shawl and slept with them to keep them warm. She fed them every 3-4 hours and also treated them for intestinal parasites.


I am thrilled to report that they all survived.


Gianna has fallen in love with all the kittens, but mainly with the smallest and weakest one, a little white and orange tabby that she barely managed to save. She is going to adopt him and has found excellent homes for the others among her family and friends. Smiley face


Gianna and I have been in touch by phone almost daily, and I am going to visit her and the kittens on Monday (I hope I remember to take my camera!). Oh, I have asked her to teach me how to nurse and wean kittens. She has enthusiastically agreed, so that if something like this happens again I will be equipped and prepared to take care of the kittens myself.


This is a case of abandonment by an inexperienced mother cat. I started to add a few paragraphs about the cruel but unfortunately common practice of abandoning pets before the summer holiday season, but I decided that this should be a celebratory post…so I want to end on a positive note, which is that the six kittens are alive and already doing what kittens do, playing and being mischievous and whatnot.


My heartfelt thanks to all the magnificent Giannas in the world!


  1. Hey Margaret, what an adventure ! Thank´s God everything´s going fine :)))

    Good luck to the kittens 🙂


  2. As a fellow cat-lover, cancer-sufferer and curcumin-eater, thanks for this wonderful story. It made a great start to my day. Alex

  3. Ciao Margaret,
    una storia incredibile – ma vero!
    Abbiamo anche 3 catti, 3 cani e 2 cavalli.
    Abitiamo al Lago di Garda.
    Ho Myeloma multiplo da 9 anni.
    Stage 1 /2 abastabza stabile senza chemo therapia.


  4. I`m so glad they are all fine and thriving. I feel like jumping into my car, driving to Florence and adopting one of these survivors!
    Can`t wait to see the photos.
    Take care,

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