CLEARANCE: ClassifiedOPERATIONAL CODE PHRASE: Fluffy Midnight OBJECTIVE: Live capture of juvenile Felis catus
When Analog Nation moved into a new apartment last summer, one of the key results (along with a shorter commute, and bathroom tile from this century that can actually be cleaned) was a drastically elevated KRS. The KRS scale measures Kitten Readiness State, the degree to which an individual is mentally, emotionally and logistically prepared to get a wee baby kitten. There are five levels:
KRS Alpha — I do not want a kitten at this time.
KRS Beta — I wouldn't mind a kitten, but cannot realistically accommodate one.
KRS Charlie — Why can't I stop browsing YouTube for kitten videos?
KRS Delta — We need to get a kitten all up in here.
KRS Echo — We need to get a kitten all up in here, stat.
My own KRS hovered around Charlie for about five years, ever since Roommate Bob moved to California and thoughtlessly took his cat with him. Now catless, I resolved to get one for myself, then immediately moved into an apartment that didn't allow them. Dogs were fine. But the landlord, an ancient Saudi woman who lived on the first floor, didn't trust cats or thought they carried a hex or something, I'm not exactly sure. Our communication consisted entirely of smiles and nods, with the occasional hand-twisty gesture that is universal sign language for "I have locked myself out of my apartment again like a dumbass."
So the instant I set foot in this new apartment, I dialed the KRS straight to Echo. Granted, animal shelters tend to (correctly) guide new owners toward older cats, and (correctly) encourage adopting in pairs. Whatever. Analog Nation wanted a kitten. As soon as one became available, we would move ground assets into place and strike. On or about the evening of May 26th, sources delivered hard intel of just such a situation. That was when I first received word of the überlitter.
The überlitter was in fact two litters, born a couple weeks apart, that had joined forces. Pete and Jodi, friends of my sister who live in Sunset Park, discovered the runt in their backyard, wandering around like he owned the joint. "A tiny, abandoned kitten!" they cooed, like a pair of Dickens urchins. "We must feed him and keep him alive!" Little did they know that a Dothraki horde of kittens was lurking in the bushes. Within a few days there were kittens everywhere. Read that phrase again: Kittens. Everywhere.
At the time, Pete and Jodi were preparing an epic Memorial Day barbeque. Invitations included the phrase "slow-roasted ribs and a bunch of kittens," so yes, it is safe to assume that I had the date circled on my calendar. They named the runt Kingsford in honor of the festivities, and Kingsford did not disappoint. He led a charge of black and coal-gray kittens to greet us. How much time passed while we watched them frolic, none can say. Hours? Days? Is it still 2011?
I crouched among them like Daddy Warbucks, trying to decide which would get a one-way ticket home, when suddenly there bounded from the underbrush a little calico ditty who practically gleamed in the afternoon sun. Boom, target identified. After a couple of days to prepare the apartment and make some Petco runs, I sent Pete an email with the subject line, "Operation Fluffy Midnight." Time to mobilize the ground assets.
Lesson #1: Catching a small animal that has lived its entire short life outdoors is wicked fucking hard, no seriously you guys, holy shit.
Ever try to catch stray kittens that have natural cover? It's like Pokemon crossed with The Hurt Locker, for four hours. They evade all physical contact. They see through all ruses. They have a bottomless well of patience, because they know damn well that you have to be at work in the morning and they don't. Food, toys, catnip, begging, threats, promises of wealth and power — all useless.
Kingsford was so brazen around people that we figured the capture would be simple. However, wee baby calico was from the older component of the überlitter, and had already grown wary of this world. Any of Kingsford siblings could have scooped up in about twelve seconds, but no, oh no no. I had to have the cool looking one who wanted nothing to do with me. Apparently life has taught me squat. Pete and I crept through the yard like ninjas, punctuated by crashing through the bushes and cursing foul oaths to long-dead gods of the unseen. When it got dark, Pete fetched a flashlight for one last attempt. To our surprise, the kitty finally made a tactical error: she climbed a branch. Checkmate, little kitten. Check. Mate.
Lesson #2: Kittens can manage astonishing feats of acoustic output.
With the utmost of care and caution, I transferred the target back to base. Many soothing words were murmured into the cat carrier, probably to the consternation of the cab driver, who may not have realized that the bag contained a live animal. Once home, she stayed put in that bag, long after I opened it, as if it contained the last pocket of her reality. This wasn't a surprise. I fully expected her to hide, and was prepared to earn her confidence using delicious food, even if it took weeks. What I was not prepared for was ... the sound.
Sweet Virgin Mary on a bed of lettuce, the sound. In retrospect, this shouldn't have been a surprise either. Species demarcation or no, "Hey come get in this bag and live with me forever" is a tough sell. So really, when kitty began calling for the überlitter to come and save her, I had no one to blame but myself. The sound started out as a soft mew, a drop of concentrated pathos. Cute, honestly. Then it grew, and grew, transforming her whole body into some sort of sound cannon, until it reached a full-throated yowl.
The kitten was officially freaking out. And, oh whoops, so was I.
Lesson #3: You don't want me babysitting your kids.
That first night, I got about an hour of sleep. This isn't the first time I've delved into the topic of sleep deprivation in this space before — suffice to say it results in some fascinating decisions. The sun rose to find me barricaded in the bedroom, frantically trying to figure out how to undo what I had wrought. Have I ruined this poor animal's existence? Do the neighbors think I'm torturing a cat in here? Can I start a new life elsewhere? Am I a terrible person? What happens to my lease if I pack an overnight bag and simply let the kitten have the apartment? Would that be an illegal sublet? Would the kitten be cool with splitting my security deposit?
The kitty's preferred hiding spot was behind some books on the bottom shelf of my bookcase, so the next day I fenced in an area where she could feel safe, using the bookcase, the coffee table, two storage bins, a blanket, and part of the couch. A friend passed along the suggestion to turn over a laundry hamper and drape a towel over it, which became the main attraction of what I called Fort Hamper.
While Fort Hamper was an improvement, the sound did not abate. That second night, I lasted about an hour before laying out some sofa cushions next to Fort Hamper. There I crashed, trying for hours to answer her cries in some reassuring way, which consisted largely of apologizing for ruining her life. The third night was much the same. In my half-alive stupor, I noticed her playing with her tail, so I laid on the sofa cushions with my eyes closed flicking over the felt-ribbon-on-a-stick thing. Turns out she loves the shit out of felt-ribbon-on-a-stick thing. By the fourth day, once she figured out that I am the Bringer of Food, the sound stopped. Operation Fluffy Midnight was a success.
Her name is Daggers. Here's a picture of her eating "The Omnivore's Dilemma." Which, I mean, come on.