I can’t help it, I’m sorry.
Episode 2 of The Haunting of Hill House will be spoiled.
Episode 2 of The Haunting of Hill House features a box of kittens, and as far as animal-related horror moments go, it’s not actually that bad. You don’t have to know much about kittens to have an inkling early on that not all is right with this box o’ the kits, and when the horror starts happening with them, the images are brief. There’s no lingering on their suffering, and their deaths are used to examine how child-Shirley’s experiences with death shaped her as an adult. It’s narratively relevant, in other words, and that is usually not the case when the pet dies in a horror film.
But still, I’m a professional, and as much as I was happy to see that animal death wasn’t being used as cheap shocks by lazy writing and direction, I still was watching some people make bad and uninformed decisions regarding a box of kittens (which they later argued about in a refreshing little dialogue scene that also includes the bizarre implication that one of the kittens had to be… uh… shot). So I have some pointers for the next time anyone happens to find a box of kittens, because everything that could have gone wrong in this situation went wrong, and we can all stand to learn a new thing. Just in case.
Step One: Don’t Listen to Mr Dudley
No, you should not leave them there. But not because of the ghost dogs. If you’ve found some listless, thin kittens, they’re probably abandoned or orphaned. Take them. Set a trap in case mom comes back. (You’re going to want to check that trap at least daily while it’s set.)
Step Two: Make a Few Phone Calls
If the box o’ kittens are listless and thin, they need emergency veterinary treatment (which is probably going to be euthanasia, but hey, not always). Vet treatment is expensive, even euthanasia, so, if you’re not made of money, call your local animal shelter. If they don’t have space, call your local animal control. If you don’t have one of those, look. I don’t know. Don’t shoot them, though, unless you REALLY don’t have any other options.
Step Three: Don’t Feed them Cow’s Milk
So you’ve decided to let your child try to raise them. Congratulations. Head to the store for some Kitten Milk Replacement. If you can’t get KMR reliably, there are other, less convenient options.
Step Four: OK But You Have to Make them Pee First
Kittens are pretty helpless, moreso even than human babies. They can’t urinate or defecate on their own, so you have to stimulate their urogenital region to make them do it each time you feed them so they don’t die.
Step Five: OK So Now One’s Dead, Maybe It’s Time to Go to the Vet
There are hotels around, so surely there’s some sort of animal hospital nearby. They may have a serious viral disease or congenital problems. Go get some diagnostic work done (and probably some euthanasias).
Step Six: OK So Now Just One is Left Alive and It… Might Be… Demonic?
It’s probably not demonic; you just live in a haunted house full of black mold. But now you’re pretty sure they should have been euthanized, right? OK, good. Maybe consider other alternatives than walking into the woods and shooting the last one. It’s tiny. Come on. I suppose if there really aren’t any other options, you can technically euthanize a kitten by shooting it, but on a clear day with a perfectly good station wagon in the driveway, just… just take it to a vet.
Step Seven: Try not to be a stubborn pedant when you watch TV
I’m sorry, it’s just that this summer some guy came to the shelter I work at and dropped off two juvenile squirrels that were clearly most of the way through the process of starving to death. He’d been “feeding” them puppy milk replacer, which is actually the correct food, but whether he found them already half-starved or he was just kind of putting the powder in their general vicinity and hoping they would absorb it like some sort of weirdly powerful vacuum, it didn’t work, and I had to euthanize them. And if he’d brought them earlier they could probably have been saved. Also I didn’t shoot them because a) guns are stupid and I am not allowed to have one at work, and b) they’re too small for that.
I couldn’t suspend my disbelief throughout that subplot. All I could do was watch, hearing my Animal Shelter Professional Judgey McJudgerson voice echoing gravely in my brain: “Ooooh, that’s really irresponsible of them to let her do this,” and “Ooooh, she’s feeding them cow’s milk, and way too little of it,” and “Ooooh, she’s not emptying them first, that’s not good,” and “Well they’re either starving or they have FeLeuk, so, this isn’t going to end well,” and “Oh come on, that is an inappropriate method of euthanasia for anything smaller than a coyote.”
But, as I said before, this episode wraps up the doomed kitten subplot with Hugh and Liv having one of their few arguments, each disappointed in one another and themselves about how they (mis)managed Shirley’s naive expectations and her subsequent horror and grief. It’s still refreshing to see the doomed animal element of a horror have actual significance, and while this story certainly won’t teach anyone how to successfully raise orphaned kittens, it does offer a lesson about making mistakes and recognizing them as such.