Fostering Kittens and Healing from Trauma Breeding feral kittens requires a little patience and Gerber baby food chicken. I started the foster process with a local non-profit organization. The big payoff is watching wild babies slowly make up their minds to be tamed, learning to trust humans for the first time. I find its progression fascinating, especially since the cats individually decide to become tame. Dogs want to be tamed, but according to feral kitten experts, cats determine their fates for themselves. I am less a foster parent than a sales representative of the human race.
Some kittens are easier to sell than others. The younger the better, of course, but helping them recover from their unexpected capture, a life of deprivation, and their instincts as prey and predator requires a serious time commitment. I find that animals can feel all kinds of emotions, even those that I myself am not aware of. Anyone who has participated in equine therapy knows that if you want to know how well you are feeling, step in the ring with some therapy horses and look. Their reactions reflect your emotions in a way that I find touching and creepy at the same time. learn more here Equine Therapy for Human Trauma
But while I am taking care of these little ones, I am reminded of my healing development. Those of us who are traumatized need to study ourselves as carefully as I control these kittens. I had to learn my triggers and rhythms to help me steer clear of wild behaviors. Animals are not the only ones with highly developed survival instincts. And just like foster kittens, my innate survival responses can severely inhibit my healing.
Foster Kitten Trauma Lesson 1: Basic needs come first.
When raising kittens, food comes first. From the first moment they enter my house, I make sure their tummies are full of food. I can’t feed them too much at one time, but I feed them up to five times a day. Often their bellies are full of dirt and leaves, the favorite foods of hungry babies. For some, a good meal is all it takes to convince them that I am on the side of the angels. For most, however, it’s just a prerequisite for socialization. They can’t even start a relationship until they feel a little better. Radagast, my little 10 week old kitten, trembled while he ate. And he was so used to deprivation. He would only eat if he fed him with a spoon. He didn’t think the food in the bowl was for him. He hid behind the litter box and looked at me. If he handed him a spoon of food, he would devour it, afraid he would take it away.
As a university instructor and as a minister, I realize that if one of my students or clients does not have their basic needs met, we cannot accomplish anything. This list includes food, sleep, shelter, and pain relief. I’m no different. I need to sleep regularly, or I’m useless. I am currently the owner of seven bulging discs. When my back hurts or my head hurts, they put me aside. Emotional pain has the same effect as physical pain. Children from food insecure households cannot learn. Children whose parents abuse them in some way are often stunted academically, mentally, or physically. If you’re trying to heal yourself, be sure to start with the basics.
Fostering Lesson 2: The mind and body work together.
Honestly, for a long time I thought I could reason my way out of the trauma. If I only took a good look at what happened, that would be enough to heal But just like my kitties, healing from trauma requires the involvement of both the body and the mind. Most feral kittens have little to no experience with touch, especially human touch. The moms care for their babies, but the hunt means the little ones are left alone. That only increases as they get older and are weaned. Human hands can terrify young cats, and at first I never go near them without thick gloves.
Even as I write this, Reepicheep is watching me. He’s a little older, maybe twelve to fourteen weeks. The touch terrified him at first. Day three, and now she’s eating right out of my fingers. To pet him, I use a Swiffer sprayed with cat calming pheromone. Today is the first day that he relaxed enough to yawn in front of me. As I gently stroke him, the tension drains from his body and the suave Swiffer teaches his busy little cat mind that playing is pretty cool. Maybe I can stroke it with my hands in another day or so. We humans are no different. Healing from trauma requires that we intentionally relax our bodies. Taking care of our body with tenderness translates into relearning to feel good mentally. Receiving genuine affection resets those neural pathways.
A quick observation of this is that pets often do the same for us. I see people learn to receive love from animals before they can receive it from other humans.
Encourage Lesson #3: The absence of good things is often harder to cure than the presence of bad things..
Wild kittens don’t know how to play. The metaphor, playful as a kitten, does not describe a young cat on the loose. They spend every moment of the day searching for food or hiding from predators. I admit that I was surprised when I first realized this. I had a basket full of kitty toys ready for my little feral pups. They had no interest in them. Instead, my little feral cats huddled behind their beds in their cages and watched me. They didn’t even glance at the feather wand or the mouse full of catnip. Enough food in their tummies, some serious bonding time, and socialization gives them the freedom to start playing. And the kittens pick it up quickly.
I wish humans did too. Some return to abusive relationships or addictive coping mechanisms over and over again. Cycles are hard to break. If we don’t know what love feels like, then we don’t know it when we see it. We don’t have the neural pathways that tell us what is good and what is not. The goal of a happy childhood is to pass on the ability to give the next generation the tools for happiness. If all we have are tools of guilt or anger, addiction or denial, then the sheer lack of good stuff leaves no neural map to follow.
We all have some level of trauma to deal with. But just as kitties can get through it with just a few quirks, we can get through it without too many triggers. Of course, we take longer to heal and our minds are more complicated. But just like kittens, we can learn to feel safe. We can reorient ourselves towards healthy interactions and begin to draw a map that leads us to joy. But just like feral kittens, we can’t do it without a little help.