Over the years we’ve had a few little rescue families where mum is all black and all her kittens are also all black.
I have to say, black kittens are just THE cutest little teddy bears ever. However it is a real challenge to know one from t’other. I remember an adopter spending ages choosing one of Coco’s kittens, only to not be able to pick him out from the crowd later. Oddly enough, Wilma’s kits, despite being ‘identical’ were quickly easily distinguishable by their behaviour and expressions on their faces 😉
Now we have Hecate and her 4 kits:
You can probably see some of the problem right from the start. Hard to even know which blob of black is mum’s paw and which is a kitten’s head. It doesn’t necessarily get any easier as they get bigger either.
I’ve talked before on the blog about the curious difference it makes not knowing the gender of your kittens, despite all efforts to not be sexist. A lot of it for me is about being able to name them. Whilst its true that there are non gender specific names available … it’s our rescue tradition to name kittens starting the the initial letter of mum’s name. That narrows the choices a little.
The problem is compounded if you can’t distinguish one kit from the next. It’s not simply that we don’t know the gender of “little X” … we can’t even pick out which is “little X” in the crowd. On a simple practical level of care this is tricky …. who is weaned? who is confident? who can use the litter tray?
There’s another level though where is feels hard to bond with a generic interchangeable black kitten … and that seems to impact on the kittens being able to relate to people.
It might sound a bit trivial …. but names and naming ceremonies are important for humans across time and cultures. It’s part of identity and being known, and mostly we transfer this onto our loved other species. I think of various temporary carers of animals who try to avoid giving a name to them for fear of attachment. Conversely, I think of our determination to give our cats a name, because “they can’t die with no name”. We hastily named Henderson whilst stuck in traffic by the old Henderson’s factory, on a desperate dash from picking him up to taking him to his first vet appointment.
He may have just been A N Other dumped cat at the point we picked him up … but by the time he arrived at our vet 30 minutes later he was a purrson with a name and his life mattered.
But anyway … I digress. We have four jet black kittens and a black mummy. Mum isn’t feral but she’s understandably wary. As far as we can tell this is her third litter of kittens and she’s had them all outdoors. The older litters haven’t survived because of the environment they were born in. She’s had a rough deal from humans and has clearly spoken to her kits about this. They are following mum in their wariness. It’s been hard to gauge whether there is one or two kits who are particularly anxious and others more confident, or whether they’re all ok sometimes and not others. Useless trying to sex them if you’re just randomly picking up one and then another, as you don’t know which is which five minutes later. And so impossible to name them and know them as individuals.
It’s been quite a dilemma. I don’t like collars generally, and I particularly don’t like them on kittens, and even more so not on tiny kittens. I’ve heard too many horror stories. However, we’ve bought a selection of “whelp collars” and anxiously put them on a couple of days ago.
The kittens are now Green, Pink, Purple & Yellow. Despite anxious checking of tightness of collars each day (not too tight as they grow, not so loose as to get paws stuck through them or get caught on anything) the difference is incredible. They’ll shortly get their H names to match mummy Hecate.
It’s only fair to acknowledge that this is our perspective on the situation. Hecate is no doubt completely aware of who is who and has her own names for and thoughts about her kittens.