Just in time to underline the theme of Passover/springtime/rebirth, our backyard became a maternity ward for three new babies – feline, that is.
The kittens’ mother is Hubie, a stray cat our next-door neighbors adopted last year. Fourteen days before the holiday, they went to New York for three weeks and asked us to care for Hubie, who was visibly pregnant.
Had Hubie herself been born in the United States, she would undoubtedly be the indoor lap cat she’d like to be. And she’d probably be spayed. But because strays are disturbingly ubiquitous here (thanks to the British Mandatory government, which introduced cats to Palestine to cut down the rat population), cats are to Israelis as squirrels are to Americans. Although many kind souls feed street cats, the vast majority of these animals remain outdoor creatures with a limited lifespan and unchecked capacity to reproduce.
|Hubie nurses her kittens. Abigail Klein Leichman|
As a lifetime cat lover, I have had a hard time accepting this. When we made aliyah, we gave our beloved cat to a co-worker of mine, who sends regular updates and photos of our happy and spoiled former pet. The contrast between her easy life and the tenuous existence of the cats here is pretty stark.
Given the circumstances of her birth, Hubie is lucky that she gets daily food and affection. She often slips through the fence that separates her yard from ours, and meows her way into our house to get petted. Still, her home is outside.
The day her humans departed, Hubie began acting anxious. I didn’t know if she was in labor or simply missing her people. Just in case, I left a folded old towel under our picnic table. At 6:30 the next morning, I discovered three mouse-sized kittens on the towel, getting licked by their mother.
Late that afternoon, as the wind kicked up fiercely and the temperature dropped, we made a unanimous decision to bring the newborns inside. Steve got a wide, low Angel Bakeries carton from the grocery and lined it with another old towel. Hubie watched without protest as I transferred each kitten into it. Then she followed me and the box into our spare room.
For the next few days, Hubie nursed and groomed her offspring and meowed when she needed to go outside. We sadly acknowledged, however, that we could not allow her to get used to living in our house, or any house. Above all, we would need the spare room for some of our seder guests.
The following Tuesday dawned warm and sunny. I carried the box out and placed it under the table. Hubie grasped one of the kittens by the neck and ran to our patio door, trying to get in. My heart melting, I took them all back inside.
Thursday, I tried again, determined to succeed because we were going to be out all day. Hubie did the same routine, but this time I talked to her gently and picked up the kitten, put it back in the box, and sat with her for an hour. She finally settled down, and when we returned that evening all appeared fine.
Over the next few days, Hubie periodically repeated the kitten-carrying maneuver, sometimes taking her babies to our door, sometimes to her owner’s. We all felt sorry for her, but my empathy became so neurotic that Hubie and I were practically one. I dreamed about her when I managed to sleep. I imagined her yowling even when she was peacefully nursing the kittens. I was a bundle of nerves.
And then, on the last day of Passover, Hubie toted her kittens to a little patch of garden underneath our air-conditioning compressor. Clearly, she’d scoped out the best spot she could find, given her limited options. Late that night, another fierce wind kicked up that blew the empty bakery box across the yard. Steve is convinced that Hubie sensed the coming weather and was determined to find better shelter for her babies.
Three days later, Hubie’s owners returned. Rushing out to our patio, their children were delighted to watch the little brood that had just started walking.
And as I was telling them that perhaps they should leave the feline family in its makeshift nest for the time being, the kittens surprised us – and their mother – by starting a shaky parade across the tiles, through the fence, right to the neighbors’ patio. And there they have stayed as of this writing.
Interested in helping stray cats and other animals in Israel? One excellent organization is CHAI (Concern for Helping Animals in Israel). Its Website is
http://chai-online.org (click on English).