Phil and Anne Raine spotted an unfamiliar cat shoot out from underneath a pile of wood and went to investigate, finding four well-hidden kittens.
Sensibly, they left them in situ to allow the mother cat to return but called in the East Northumberland Branch of Cats Protection for help and advice.
As it was evident the kittens were so young, probably no more than a week old as their eyes were still closed, and that a feral mum would not tolerate being brought into care, the branch asked the couple to leave cat food out and monitor them.
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Sarah Muir, the branch’s trap-neuter-return lead volunteer, said: “Although they do not consider themselves to be ‘cat people’, Phil and Anne were lovely enough to agree to have the cat and her kittens for a few weeks.
"Once we felt the kittens were big enough to cope without mum, two of our volunteers drove the 30 miles to the site and were able to collect the kittens.
“We left a humane trap and later that night got a phone call that mum had been trapped, and has since been neutered and returned to the site.
“While the kittens are young enough to be rehomed, where their safety will be ensured, ferals over the age of eight weeks, like their mum, are past the point of being able to live in a domestic setting, and the kindest thing we can do for them is return them to a place they know, and where people will be looking out for their welfare.”
The quartet were admitted into the care of branch co-ordinator Sascha Dean, who has many years’ experience hand-rearing kittens.
Sascha said: “Sadly two of the kittens didn’t make it because birth defects led to their health declining in a very short space of time.
“Their suffering could have been prevented if their mother had been neutered.”
Anyone who spots feral cats is asked to contact the branch, as the sooner neutering can begin the less like it is a colony will grow out of control.
Sarah added: “The best thing every cat owner can do is get their cats neutered, even indoor cats who never go out; and get them neutered as young as possible. Cats Protection can offer help with these costs.
“Having been involved in trap-neuter-return work for many years, ferals are not trying to be a nuisance they are just trying to live their lives.
"If people can't be kind to them then please don't be cruel - just leave them alone; most feral cats are the result of someone not getting a domestic cat neutered.”
Finder Phil is a keen amateur radio enthusiast, and suggested the kittens be given names related to his hobby – with the two surviving boys called Sierra and Aerial.
For more information on what financial help is available for neutering visit www.cats.org.uk/east-northumberland/neutering