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Saved from the swarm: Detroit Lakes kittens rescued from attacking hornets

Jim Johnson of West Fargo holds two of the kittens he rescued from a window well at a cabin near Detroit Lakes, Minn. David Samson / The Forum

WEST FARGO - Jim Johnson encountered three kittens trapped inside a window well with a hornet's nest and sprung into action.

The West Fargo man who works construction was dropping off tile on Friday to a cabin near Detroit Lakes, Minn., when his friend heard what sounded like crying.

They looked inside the window well of the garage and saw three tiny kittens, abandoned by their mother and covered with hornets.

"They (the hornets) were crawling out of their ears, and they were embedded in their bodies," Johnson said.

A black-and-white kitten was still hissing and putting up a struggle, but two brown-and-white-striped kittens were lying motionless.

Johnson put on his friend's large hooded sweatshirt and began swinging at the hornets with a 1-by-4 board.

"As hard as I swung the wood, the more I'd be pissing them all off," Johnson said.

He then got on his knees and reached down into the window well and rescued the kittens one at a time.

Using the sleeve of the sweatshirt as a glove, Johnson removed the hornets from the kittens and put the felines inside the basement.

He returned to the window well with a small propane tank and a plumbing torch and killed the rest of the hornets and removed the large nest.

During the ordeal, Johnson was stung about 20 times around his mouth, neck, hands and arms. The feisty black-and-white kitten bit into his hand and drew blood with its baby teeth.

But Johnson - a cat lover - says he has a high tolerance for pain, and he couldn't stand by without trying to save the cats.

"Never have I seen a helpless moment like this," Johnson said. "Those cats wouldn't have lived much longer."

Johnson took the kittens to his West Fargo home, where he fed them special milk from tiny bottles.

A veterinarian who examined the kittens estimates they are 3 weeks old.

"From the time they opened their eyes, they were probably coated with hornets," Johnson said.

One of the kittens died on Saturday.

The other two are being treated with antibiotics and getting stronger. On Sunday, they were climbing all over the Johnsons' couch.

"It's amazing how fast they're coming back," Johnson said.

The Johnsons say they can't keep the kittens because they already have other pets - all rescue animals. They haven't named the kittens.

"I don't want to get too attached to them," said Johnson's wife, Marianne.

The couple is looking to give the kittens to a good home, preferably one that could take both of them.

The Johnsons can be reached at (701) 491-2808.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple at (701) 241-5590