Last November, a small stray adopted our front porch. Though she wouldn't let me get too close to her for some time, in an attempt to be a responsible critter landlord, I did my best to try to gauge her health and guess her age. The first thing I noticed about her were unusual and striking BROWN eyes, which I had never seen a cat have before. Some internet research led me to believe that meant her age was somewhere between 10 weeks and 4 months -- not old enough to reproduce. Because we were having a difficult time financially after the deaths of both my mother's parents within just over a month of each other, what with funeral costs and travel, we put off trying to catch the cat to take her to be fixed. Since she was at the time also one of only two stray cats we had EVER seen near our house, we also assumed there would be little danger of her becoming pregnant.
We realized she WAS pregnant this March. We realized it... all of five days before she gave birth. Whether I was right in my guess of her age when she arrived here, she "grew up" to be such a small cat, we never saw her in heat and only caught a couple of fleeting glimpses of what must have been the responsible tom, who is so feral he only comes around when there are no people outside and runs like the wind at the first sight or sound of anyone.
Anyway, our porch-cat, Ernie, gave birth to a litter of 4 healthy kittens. She behaved like a perfect mother even after they were weaned. The same week we took three of the kittens to the shelter (I adopted the fourth), she carried two of them off lord-knows-where to keep them protected from a storm, since apparently she thought the shelter boxes we had constructed for her and the other porch-cat and kittens were not adequate.
UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUNFORTUNATELY... since none of the 8 permanent and semi-permanent residents of this house had ever dealt with taking ownership of a cat with kitten-bearing abilities, we apparently took a little too long trying to figure out how soon we could get her spayed and where to take her and how it would be paid for, because sometime between teaching her babies to catch shrews in the garden and keeping them away from the street, she found time to go trysting with that tom again.
She's very clearly due to give birth any day now. The problem is... we think she's decided to nest somewhere on an unknown neighbor's property. She still shows up at LEAST twice each day to be fed, and the last few days she's let us bring her inside out of the heat and just napped in a yarn drawer all day. Come night, though, sooner or later she goes absolutely mad to get out of the house. I've been reluctant to let her leave since she's so close to giving birth. We've put together a number of boxes and hidden spots in places we can shut out the other cats, but she seems absolutely DETERMINED not to be forced to stay inside and will not accept any of the nests we've offered her... so I guess that means she's already picked a specific one somewhere else? The other thing is that in the last 4 days or so, she won't let Nemo (her daughter from the first litter) come near her -- she growls and hisses and will even give a warning swat. After the last time Ernie stayed and rested in the yarn drawer until she decided it was time to disappear (the day before yesterday), despite having received that treatment, Nemo still sat next to the drawer for several hours mewing occasionally as if she was wondering where her mama went. I know that's just nature doing its thing, but it still made me a little sad to see.
ANYWAY, right, so, I was thinking of handing out a photo of Ernie and just asking our neighbors on the block to keep an eye out for her and call us if they see her or know where she's nesting. My questions, then, are these:
If she IS nesting on a neighbor's property and doesn't return to any of the boxes we've left out for her, can we and SHOULD we move her and the kittens back under our direct care? Would it upset her too much to have her nest disturbed like that, and would she even keep the kittens in the vicinity of where we put them, or would she simply scoop them up and disappear again as soon as she can? Has she gone away to nest because she doesn't want to be too close to her first site?
And how soon after giving birth can we get Ernie spayed? Part of the reason it took us so long to figure out what to do with her and the kittens is that several of us called different organizations/animal hospitals and we all got conflicting answers. :P