Nearly all of our family pets growing up were found in a ditch. In the rain.
There were so many pets found in ditches in the rain, you would think our neighborhood was a Serbian battlefield in World War I.
Now, it’s important to know that “ditch in the rain” was really secret code for “not actually a ditch in the rain”.
“Ditch in the rain” could mean many, many things. It could mean that a guy outside the grocery store had a box of kittens with the word “Free” written on the side of it.
It could mean that your friend’s mom told her she had to get rid of her pet rabbit because the new baby was allergic.
Most often it meant that your friend from a few blocks over had a cat that had kittens and her father told her if she didn’t find homes for all of them by the time they were eight weeks old that he’d take them to the pound.
I’ve gotta tell you, as sad a story as the truth may have been, it wasn’t usually going to get the job done with my mother. If you had the audacity to show up at home one evening with YET ANOTHER kitten, that kitten better have one hell of a backstory. You damn well better had found that kitten in a ditch in the rain.
This kitten? This kitten was no ordinary unwanted kitten. Hell no! This was a lone, abandoned kitten with no support system, no one to care for it.
This was a wet, orphaned, shivering cold kitten wandering the night alone, frightened and helpless.
This kitten had been through hell, and all it wanted was to be warm and dry and held. Isn’t that what we all want? Just to be held and safe? Isn’t this kitten really all of us?
This kitten was part of the huddled masses, yearning to be free as its Trans-Atlantic ship approached Ellis Island in the 1800s.
The Saddest Kitten in The World.
As Mom said, “Nope. No more. I am not taking in one more damn kitten! End of discussion!” you’d hold it up to her face until it let out a teeny, tiny kitten meow.
Then the promise went as follows. Let’s all say it together:
“Please let me just take care of her tonight, and I promise I’ll find a home for her tomorrow morning!”
This is why it’s important to bring the ditch rain kitten home in the evening. If you brought it home at 10am, you’d have plenty of daylight hours left to pretend you were trying to find it a home.
But it’s late! It’s dark out! This kitten needs to spend the night!
So without fail, within a few hours and when you were getting ready for bed, you’d peek around the corner from the hallway in your Rainbow Brite nightgown to see your mother holding the kitten on her chest, petting its tiny head with her thumb and whispering, “It’s okay, little one. It’s okay.”
Then you knew that kitten was IN.
There was no way that kitten was leaving for at least the rest of its natural life, and it would be lovingly buried in the backyard eighteen years later after a long and happy life.
The only other way you acquired pets was when your own existing ditch rain pets gave birth. This was because most people in our neighborhood were really, really, tragically terrible about spaying and neutering.
(As an adult, I used to trap the strays in my old neighborhood and take them to the nonprofit vet clinic in our area and have them spayed or neutered, dewormed, vaccinated, and microchipped for fifty dollars a pop, but fifty bucks to anyone back then in the neighborhood may as well have been a thousand. It’s terrible, I know, but it’s the way it was. I’m such a big supporter of low cost spay and neuter clinics, it absolutely guts me when I think of the animal situation in our neighborhood when we were kids.)
So when you were a kid and your own cat had kittens, you had to sort of work the ol’ “ditch in the rain” in reverse.
Your mom would say, “You said you would find homes for all of these kittens!”
Then you would just answer, “I went door to door ALL DAY asking if anyone wanted one! I even put up a sign down at the pond!”
You did none of these things, of course.
“I don’t know what else to do! I think we may have to just keep them!”
Then she would say, “No. Absolutely not. End of discussion.”
Then you would scoop up all of the kittens, hold them towards her face in a chorus in teeny, tiny kitten meows and say, “What should I do? Put them all in the ditch?? And I heard the weather man on the news say it was going to rain tonight!”