(Jean Firth)

How long have I been here alone?
This petshop window as my home,
Confined in this small cage,
I only know it seems an age,
Since I was wrenched from all I'd known,
To face the world, afraid, alone.
To be, like hardware, toys or trash,
Sold to someone strange for cash,
Meanwhile to only know the hell,
Of living in a wire cell,
Where I can only lie and pant,
As through the window, sunrays slant
To flood my cage, of wire made,
No corner cool to offer shade
Where I can lie and note the ways
Of people as they stop to gaze.
Some point a finger, other smile,
Some stand and study me a while,
Some hurry by or coldly stare,
And plainly show their lack of care.
Then closing time, the shop folks gone,
I face the night, so drear and long,
When, still within my cage, I lie,
And dream of days not long gone by,
When I had mother, sisters too,
And life was good and all was new,
With space around me and above,
And all was warmth and all was love.
Life could not always be such bliss,
Perhaps, but Lord! Not this. Not this.
Won't someone sigh as they pass by?
Won't someone cry? Won't someone buy?
Won't someone there do more than stare?
Won't someone, God of kittens, care?



I don't remember much about where I was born. It was cramped and dark and smelled of our own waste. It was never cleaned up and there were no litter boxes. We were never played with by the humans who fed us. Sometimes there was enough food for us all. Sometimes the stronger kittens got there first. Often it was stale and smelled bad and no-one cleared it away.

My mother was thin and sick and had hardly any milk for us. I could feel her ribs under her soft tabby fur, and the scabs from flea-bites. The kittens from her earlier litter were still nursing from her because there wasn't enough cat food. I remember many of them dying. Sometimes people took away their little bodies. Sometimes my mother ate them after they died.

I remember the day I was taken away from there. I sad and scared and I still needed my mother's milk. I really should have stayed with her until I was properly weaned, but mother was so sick, and the people kept saying that they wanted the money or they were sick of the "mess" that we made. So they put all of us kittens, the big ones from the earlier litter and the little ones like me and my sister, into a crate and took us to a strange place. I heard them say it was time to put the tomcat in with our mother so she could have more kittens. She was so frail that I don't think she survived having more kittens.

New people took us out of the crate and put us in cages. They put me and my sister in a cage together because we looked so cute when we played. We didn't play much because we were small for our age and didn't have the energy of properly fed kittens. Mostly we huddled together and were scared. We were in a pet shop. No-one petted us or loved us, but there were many new sights and sounds and smells. There was more food than before, because it was only two of us in the cage. There were so many different animals! Some squawked, some barked, some miaowed. We were fascinated by the tiny ones running round in wheels, the tanks of fish and the cages full of birds.

It was a small cage; even with only two of us it was crowded and we had to eat next to our litter box - ugh! People looked at us. Some of them were people-kittens who wanted to play with us. Sometimes people hit the glass and just to see what we did. That frightened us. Sometime we were taken out to be shown to people. Some were gentle and some hurt us. The people-kittens said things like "They are so sweet - can we have them?" but always chose some other kitten instead. The store owner said it was because we were "poorly socialised" and didn't like being handled. We didn't like it when people pulled our tails or ears, rubbed our fur the wrong way or stuck their fingers in our faces. We nipped them to tell them not to hurt us. We learnt not to bite or claw because the people smacked us on the nose or tossed us roughly back in the cage.

My beautiful tortoiseshell sister died one night when the store was dark. One of the people-kittens had squeezed her hard and broken something inside. She said that she hurt inside and she couldn't eat well any more. I lay my head on her soft ginger and black fur and felt the life leave her small thin body. The next morning the store owners threw her in the trash. The said she must have been sick so they should sell me quickly at a "discount price". They didn't realise that it wasn't being sick that made her die; it was because one of the other people had damaged her by being too rough with such a tiny, fragile kitten. I think my lonely whimper was the only voice that mourned for her. It was lonely in a cage by myself and the store owners didn't touch me in case I was sick.

A day later, a nice family bought me. I wished they had come earlier and taken me and my sister together. They bought a dish and food, a brush, litter box and soft bed for me. The little girl held me gently in her arms because she was worried about hurting me. Her parents said what a sweet kitten I was with my black and white coat and long white whiskers. The little girl called me Mittens. She knows all about looking after cats but I was the first cat of her own. I loved to purr when she said my name and stroked me. They took good care of me and didn't get cross when I missed my litter box once or twice. They said "Well he's only a baby so you expect an accident or two until he settles in."

One day they took me to the vet for shots to protect me against illnesses. I was scared, but the little girl held me softly and talked to me. Then the vet said some sad words to my family. They looked so sad. I heard something about a bad heart and he pressed my belly and said my kidneys felt wrong. He asked if I drank lots of water and I remembered how I got thirsty so much. Then he said something about kitten mills having bad conditions to live in and breeding from sick cats. I didn't like to see the little girl so sad so I purred until my heart nearly burst and she cuddled me gently, but I could feel her crying into my glossy fur.

The vet said that kittens of my age should be robust and playful and twice my size. The family said they had to buy me because I was so small. The vet shrugged and told them they had bought a problem. The said they didn't mind because they wanted to give me a new start. He said he couldn't neuter me yet because of my heart and being so small for my age. That night I heard them talking to the little girl saying we might not be together for very long after all. I wanted to be with her forever, she was my special friend and I loved her! She cried a lot, but afterwards she cuddled me and said I was so special.

When I was nine months old I started getting out of breath and wanted to sleep all the time. When I woke up I was thirsty. This was all I did - I slept, I drank and I went to my litter box. I wasn't interested in eating much, even the titbits of chicken the little girl gave me. I ate them to be polite but I only really wanted to drink and sleep. I heard them tell the little girl "I think it's time to let Mittens go". I wondered where I was going to go. Several times I have gone to the vet's clinic and he injected me with things to make me feel better, but the injections didn't work for long. Now they hardly work at all.

Now they are putting me in my comfortable carrying box with the see-through front for what they say is the last time. Everyone is so sad, and I don't know why. Have I been a bad cat? I tried so hard to be good and loving, what have I done wrong? I always purred and rolled on the floor for a tummy-rub and I held my tail high and never clawed anything except the special scratching post they made for me. The little girl puts her fingers through the wire mesh to comfort me and I purr.

The vet's table is so cold. I feel small and frightened when they place me on it. They all hug me. They cry into my soft fur and tell me how much they love me. I can feel their love and sadness. I purr so hard and try to be brave. Even the vet doesn't seem so scary. He is gentle when he feels my belly and listens to my chest, but he says that my kidneys have stopped working and my heart is very bad. He says that I might go on for a few weeks, but it isn't fair to make me do that. I want to have more time, but I always feel tired and thirsty. The little girl holds me softly and I purr to thank her for giving me all her love.

The vet clips a little of my glossy black and shiny white fur from a foreleg and he pinches the bare skin gently. It's only another injection. Maybe this one will make me feel better again. The thirst is going away and I feel tired in a relaxed way, not in a sickness way. I am still purring and I feel so peaceful. The vet's room is fading away and I can see my mother and many of my brothers and sisters in a far off green place full of sunshine and flowers. They tell me there is no pain or sickness there, only peace and happiness.

I tell the family, good-bye in the only way I know how with a last purr. I had hoped to spend many years with the little girl so we could grow up together, but that was not my destiny. "You see," said the vet, "Kitten mill kittens don't come from ethical breeders. They come from worn out cats who have litter after litter, and not enough strength to care for the kittens. They often inherit things like heart conditions."

I am standing in a place called Rainbow Bridge and I know I will see the little girl again one day, but it will be such a long time. But I have someone to wait for; someone who gave me so much love in my short life. My mother who died in the kitten mill and all my brothers and sisters who died there or in pet stores, without ever seeing the sunshine, don't have anyone to look for them on Rainbow Bridge. Nobody loved them when they were alive, but now their souls are with the great cat-goddess Bast to be healed.

I looked down on my little girl the other day. She now has another cat though I know she still thinks about me. Her new cat came from a rescue shelter after its other owners didn't want it any more. It is healthy and they will have a good life together. I am not jealous, only sad because I wanted to make her happy and she had to let so soon. Please, when you want a cat or kitten to love and care for, take one from an reputable breeder or adopt one from a rescue shelter. Don't encourage the kitten mill business.

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