After four and a half months of litter trays we have reclaimed the study. It is no longer kitty city: the trays have been cleared away and the kittens are now being fed in the hall where the cats have always been fed since we've lived here. When we got back from holiday we looked at Mr Fluffy and Mr Fidget and realised that they had grown, and were in some intangible way young cats rather than baby kitties. Their serious brother Mr Cool had started staying out at night anyway, because he would not come in for the house sitters, and it was time to steel our nerves and give them all access to the cat flap twenty-four seven. This, I suppose, is one reason why Colchester Cat Rescue would not let me have any of their kittens. They guessed that I was lying when I ticked the boxes on their form to say that my cats would always have access to an indoor litter tray and would always be kept in at night.
It is nerve racking, with the foxes, but I have to tell myself that we have never had a kitten or young cat disappear overnight in all our years of cat ownership, and the fox problem is probably no greater than it was before, it's just that in my attempts to work out what the rabbits were doing I obtained more photographic evidence of the foxes. The trouble is, cats like to go out. By their nature they are crepuscular animals, and trying to stop them slipping out each time we want to open the door after dark, to shut the chickens or fetch in wood, is going to get on everybody's nerves. And Our Ginger is used to coming and going as he pleases so the kittens can't just be kept in the house overnight, they have to be shut in the study. And while modern cat litter is pretty good, still we don't want to live with trays of it full time for the next fifteen years, and most cats (apart from possibly Mr Fidget) would far rather go outside anyway (the late and still sadly missed grey tabby, who had problems with her pads, insisted on plodding outside on her post operative bandaged feet to go to the loo rather than use the tray provided for her in the house).
So after our holiday we stopped shutting the kittens in the study, and reduced the three litter trays down to one. That was scarcely being used, and yesterday the Systems Administrator cleared away the final tray, removed the layers of newspaper and vacuumed the room. There have been no accidents or dirty protests yet. With any luck the withdrawal of the indoor lavatory facilities was so gradual that the transition will be seamless.
The kittens took to being fed in the hall like ducks to the proverbial water. Actually, they are such greedy animals they would be happy being fed pretty much anywhere. I put down some paper in the hall, and when they saw the familiar dishes descending they were there. So was Our Ginger, who sat determinedly in the middle of the paper and did not seem to want to go and have his supper alone in the kitchen as he's been doing since the arrival of the kittens. A fourth dish was set down, and Our Ginger ate his supper down with the kids, the only difficulty being that they eat much faster than he does. They are used to rushing into the kitchen once we open the door to see what, if anything, is left on his plate, and I wasn't sure how they would behave being fed alongside him. With quite good manners turned out to be the answer, as they all eyed up his remaining food but didn't push him bodily off it. Instead Mr Cool advanced cautiously, and for a minute they both ate from opposite sides of the same dish. That is not something I'd have expected to see back in May, when we first tried to show the kittens to Our Ginger and he howled and tried to escape from the room.
So there we have it. It will be some weeks before I don't feel a certain sense of relief each morning when I come downstairs and find all three black and white cats still alive and well, but as far as introducing kittens to an existing adult cat goes I should say we have cracked it.