A litter of kittens were found nestling behind stacks of drywall. One of them was much smaller than the rest.
Kitten with a cleft lipCatsnip Etc
Animal rescuers from Catsnip Etc (in Elkhart County, Indiana) was contacted about a very elusive cat in a feral community, who just had her kittens. They couldn't find the whereabouts of the family, so volunteers continued to provide food and water while caring for the ferals.
"We marked our calendars for four weeks after they were born and went on a search for them. Momma had over three acres, three houses and several outbuildings to hide them," Missy McNeal of Catsnip Etc told Love Meow.
"The caretaker of this cat colony had been trying to catch her for over three years, but she was smart. We saw momma run out of a side garage and went to investigate."
After looking everywhere, they were stunned to find seven tabby babies hidden behind stacks of drywall.
The kittens were found with an older cat that wasn't their mom and had already been fixed. Rescuers placed a humane trap in the garage and hoped that the mother would come back to her babies.
"We noticed right away that one of the kittens was 1/3 the size of his siblings. A quick exam showed he had a cleft lip and explained his size difference," Missy shared with Love Meow.
Sam the kitten is the smallest of his litterCatsnip Etc
It was challenging for the little guy to nurse on his mom with a cleft lip. The pint-sized wonder somehow managed to pull through his first four weeks without any supportive care.
"He definitely would not have been able to get a good latch on his momma to get milk. It's a miracle that he survived."
The mother cat never returned that day, so they carefully moved things out of the way to retrieve the litter of seven.
At four weeks old, the kittens had already learned self-defense as ferals, and would hiss, spit, and attempt to bite.
"We knew we couldn't leave them there any longer. We didn't want them to grow up feral and living outside if they didn't have to," Missy added. "The cleft lip kitten (Samwise) also needed help, as he couldn't survive long on his own."
They took the kittens into foster care, so the little ones could be looked after and socialized in the comfort of a loving home.
"We started bottle feeding and figuring out what Sam needed. He weighed just six ounces when we got him. Luckily, he just had a cleft lip and his palate wasn't affected," Missy told Love Meow.
"He was very hungry and took to bottle feeding easily. We just had to learn to go slow so he didn't give himself a milk mustache and accidentally aspirate. Almost immediately Sam bonded with us."
Sam quickly proved to be a warrior with his incredible will to live. He was fed every two hours around the clock and would get so excited whenever he saw volunteers coming to care for him.
"He would hop up and down knowing we were coming with food. He is amazing and has such a fighting spirit," Missy shared with Love Meow.
"At feeding time, Sam will be eating and one of his siblings will come over to see if it's their turn for the bottle. Without missing a beat, he puts his paw out to push back their heads and just keeps eating. I don't think he would have made it if he wasn't so determined and stubborn."
When his siblings started to climb cat trees, Sam was still working on getting bigger and stronger. But the little guy refused to let anything slow him down. He would watch his litter mates intensely from the ground as if he was taking mental notes.
"The next day when I checked on him he had gotten himself up on the cat tree and was laying with his brothers and sisters. His size doesn't stop him from doing anything," Missy told Love Meow.
"He never gives up and tries to do everything his brothers and sisters are doing. He loves to play and cuddle and just constantly purring."
Little Sam has reached the one-pound milestone and is getting more playful and mischievous each day. He is eating like a champ and running around with his siblings as if they own the place.
Rescuers never stopped looking for the cat mom. Eventually, they found her and had her vetted and spayed. "No more babies for her, she is living the easy life now."
The momma cat along with other ferals from the area are being cared for by diligent volunteers who make sure that they live the best life possible.
When Sam is old enough, he will have his cleft corrected and dental issues fixed to ensure his quality of life. "For now, he just gets to have all the love, snuggles and milk (kitten formula) he wants."
The tabby boy never ceases to amaze everyone with what he can do. He may be the smallest of the bunch, but he is so brave and mighty.