The kittens went outside today for the first time under their own steam. I don't think travelling in a cat basket from the cat rescue centre or to the vet really counts as going outside. Four months old is later than some owners would leave it, but the vet's advice was to keep them in until they had been neutered, to reduce the chance of their clearing off afterwards, and when we thought about the foxes and the neighbours' Airedale bigger seemed better.
Our Ginger was unexpectedly helpful. His attitude to the kittens has gradually softened, as long as they don't all come at him at once like black and white versions of the alien children in The Midwich Cuckoos. He has been seen allowing them to wash him, and even washing them back, and has sometimes allowed them to wrestle with him briefly. Mr Fluffy appeared quite overcome with emotion after being permitted to wrestle with his hero. Today as the kittens sat uncertainly inside the newly opened front door, staring at the immensity of the outside world, Our Ginger came and lounged magisterially among them before stepping out and lying on the doorstep, where they found the courage to follow him.
Quickest off the mark and most adventurous was Mr Fluffy. The energetic kitten, for all his bouncing, was more of a follower than a leader when it came to the crunch, and the cautious kitten sat in the hall for a long time looking out before daring to step over the threshold. They did not venture very far from the front door. They spent some time exploring among the pots of fuchsias and playing in the porch where the Systems Administrator was sitting, and hiding behind the clipped box domes. There was a great deal of scuttling back into the house and out again. They did not like it at first when the wind made my bag of weeds and rubbish flap, and dashed back indoors. Running away from strange noisy things is good, since we want them to give delivery vans a wide berth.
They never made it across the full width of the drive to the turning circle, where I spent this morning thinning out the water lilies to make the pond look more unambiguously watery, and the Systems Administrator has fixed up two small planks to help them climb out if they fall in. I topped the pond right up to the brim as well, to make it easier to get out and to make the presence of water as obvious as possible. The main danger is probably when animals are running in response to something else and not looking where they're going. One of the hens fell in once, and the big tabby. No pets have drowned to date.
We shut the gate before letting them out, as the neighbours' Airedale occasionally wanders up here, One of its predecessors chased our first three hens all the way to the meadow. It didn't catch one, but as we dragged it back to its own house and complained I saw the neighbour quickly run his hand across its muzzle to check for blood. I take an extremely dim view of dogs being allowed to roam off their own land, and an even dimmer one of dogs that chase livestock, and am not awfully fond of the Airedales.
By six we decided that was enough kitten exploring for one day, and gave them their supper and shut the front door. They are now completely exhausted. We haven't had such a quiet evening for ages.