“Spring is just around the corner and kitten season is here.” Commented Amy Beatty, Co-Founder of Advocates 4 Animals, Inc. “We often work with orphaned kittens in the spring time. Last spring we received an orphaned kitten that didn’t even have her eyes opened yet. We were lucky enough to have a nursing mom cat in the rescue at the time and the mom cat was kind enough to allow the orphan to occasionally nurse from her, along with her own kittens. In addition, we had to have a volunteer with the orphaned kitten at all times, to be sure she was kept warm and we did a lot of bottle feeding as well. It is a 24/7 job, without question.” Beatty stated. “Anyone who has ever worked with an orphaned kitten at just a few days old knows the extreme challenges that are faced and the extreme amount of constant and careful effort that is necessary to sustain life. It truly is a miracle when such a young orphaned kitten survives and thrives. The hard work and dedication pays off when you see the kitten grow up strong and healthy- and in time they become big enough and old enough for adoption…it’s a wonderful thing.”
When speaking with various volunteer foster families at Advocates 4 Animals, all described their experience as “rewarding”, despite the extreme amount of effort and work that is necessary to provide when working with orphaned kittens. Lisa Struble, a volunteer with A4A shared, “I fostered two orphaned kittens for the rescue several years ago- named Lilly and Laney. I had never fostered orphaned kittens before and it was an eye opening experience. We did not have a nursing mom cat at the time- so I did a lot of bottle feeding. I think saying a lot is actually an understatement. I felt like I was bottle feeding all of the time. Every 2 hours or so at first. Because the kittens did not have a mom cat, I also bathed the kittens with a warm cloth, often, to keep them clean and tidy. They were so tiny, I took photos and it’s amazing to think back at how small they were. They could both fit into the palm of one of my hands! Both survived and thrived- and because I bonded with them at such a young age- when they were old enough to be considered for adoption, I told the founders at A4A that I wanted to adopt these two…I just couldn’t give them up. I was too attached! It has been two years now and Lilly now weighs 10 pounds and Laney is nearly 12 pounds. Amazing! I wouldn’t have traded that experience for the world. Yes, it was a lot of work…but it was totally worth it. An amazing experience that I will never forget.”
Orphaned kittens are rescued from a variety of situations. Some are rescued by rescues like Advocates 4 Animals, Inc. when the orphaned kittens are given to high-kill shelters and placed on the “death row” list because shelter workers do not want the upkeep and constant care that is required of such a young kitten with no mother. When shelters are willing to work with no-kill rescue groups, orphaned kittens have an opportunity to live. Without the help of volunteers and rescue groups, orphaned kittens who end up in high-kill shelters do not have a chance to survive. It is imperative that orphaned kittens like Lilly and Laney, receive 24/7 care, regular bottle feeding and regular cleaning. Every calorie and every moment matter when caring for orphaned kittens.
We’ve all heard the saying, “patience is a virtue”- right? Patience truly is a virtue when working with rescued feral kittens. Feral kittens are most often born to feral mother felines. A feral cat is one who looks like a domestic cat, but does not behave the same. Feral cats do not wish to have human interaction. They do not want to be held or petted- in fact, they are terrified of humans. A feral cat is not the same as a shy or fearful cat. Feral cats do not need rehabilitation or socialization- as they are, as one rescue volunteer describes, “Feral cats are just like raccoons and other wild animals. They want to be outdoors. They do not want human interaction. They can survive on their own. Although TNR (trap/neuter/return) is important to manage population and to help feral cats gain proper health and well-being.” Adult feral cats can not be socialized to become friendly indoor cats. Adult feral cats will never want to be held, petted or to interact with humans. Feral kittens, on the other hand, can be socialized if intervention is accomplished at an early age. Working with feral kittens requires not only patience, but also persistence. The earlier you can begin handling and working with feral kittens, the better chance they will have at becoming domesticated cats who prefer to live indoors and receive regular love and attention.
In 2010, Advocates 4 Animals worked with a litter of eight feral kittens. The kittens were approximately eight weeks old when they entered A4A Rescue. All eight lived together in an A4A volunteer foster home where they were given their own private bedroom- or “palace” as their foster mom lovingly called it. “When the kittens first arrived, A4A founders came to my house to teach me how to work with feral kittens. I was so excited and I didn’t really understand what a feral kitten was. When I first saw them- they were so cute and their big eyes were all staring up at me from the pet carrier. When the founders opened the door, I reached out and I just wanted to hold and love on each little kitten, but I quickly learned that is not what the kittens wanted!” Angela learned from A4A founders and through the experience, that feral kittens were not instantly wanting to snuggle and cuddle. Angela started out first by wearing thick gloves on her hands to handle the kittens each day. She would hold each one several times a day and pet him/her, talk to them in a soft voice and she would feed them their favorite wet/canned food- Fancy Feast- right after holding them. While feeding the kittens, she would pet each one and talk to them so that they would begin associating her voice and her touch with a positive feeling. “After about a week, I felt discouraged. I thought that the cats just didn’t like me and that I would never make any progress. But A4A founders assured me that if I continued my one on one work on a daily basis, that in time, I would see a huge change….and they couldn’t have been more right!” At the founders suggestion, after three weeks of working with the kittens, Angela allowed her own cat, an adult feline named Max, to enter the room and visit with the kittens. After some initial hissing and growling (Max was unsure of why there were eight little kittens in his home!), Max began to bath each one of the kittens. “Introducing Max to the kittens after my initial work, was the best move. It was amazing.” Angela shared. “After meeting Max, the kittens started crying for him and they would snuggle up against his belly and all sleep in a big happy pile. Oh boy, I have an entire photo album of the group…they were so cute!” Furthermore, Angela commented, “After introducing Max, I continued to hold each kitten one on one multiple times a day, to feed them and pet them and talk to them all at the same time- and I began to let friends come and meet them- children, adults—a wide variety of ages and personalities- and eventually the kittens warmed up to each person. They seemed to want to be just like Max- and our daily sessions improved more and more every day. It was amazing.” By the time the kittens were just four months old, they had become properly socialized and were almost ready for adoption. By seven months of age, all eight kittens had been adopted into loving, indoor, happy homes to each call their very own. A few were adopted in pairs, some were adopted alone- but joined a home that had another cat or two. It was a success for the kittens, for Angela- the foster mom who had an experience she will never forget and that taught her so much- and for each of the adopters. The journey from rescue to adoption was shared with each adopter, along with photos and videos showing the progress the kittens had made. “When the kittens first arrived, they were hissing at me, growling, trying to bite at my fingers and they would just shake so terribly when I held them. On each of their adoption days, the kittens walked around confidently in their new homes- they seemed like they had never been scared a day in their life. It was truly amazing. The whole process is something I will never forget and I am so happy to have been a part of.” Angela shared.
When working with rescued feral kittens, it is important to consult your local rescue professionals and/or your veterinarian, to make sure you are providing the proper care and nutrition to the kittens.
The Pennsylvania Humane Society shares on their website, feral “kittens will make themselves visible when they are about four to five weeks old, once they begin eating solid food. The best time to capture the kittens is between the ages of five to eight weeks when they are developed enough to leave their mother but still young enough to be tamed. They will be hard to catch. The use of a baited humane trap is recommended for safe handling of feral kittens…” Additional information and tips on feral cats and kittens can be found by visiting www.alleycat.org
If you are considering adopting a kitten- why not consider adopting two? For socialization purposes, it is always best if kittens can be adopted in pairs. Franny Syufy, a freelance writer and member of the Cat Writers Association, published 10 Reasons Why Two Kittens Are Better Than One (http://cats.about.com/od/wheretoadoptacat/ss/twokittens.htm ), which outlines the specific positives to adopting kittens in pairs. However, if you are unable to adopt two kittens together, if you have another cat in the house, this is also recommended, as it will help with the socialization and development of the kitten. In having an adult cat in the home, prior to adopting a kitten, the adult cat will quickly become the role model for the kitten. It is important to remember, if you are introducing two cats to each other, there will be growling and hissing- this is normal! Cats are very routine animals and it does take them some time to adjust to one another. The typical adjustment period is approximately two to six weeks- but this does vary for each set of cats. The important thing to remember is that they will get along with patience! Sometimes the adjustment period can be more stressful on the humans in the household than it is on the cats. Focusing on your energy- staying calm and relaxed- is crucial during the introduction and transition periods.
It is highly recommended by experts around the globe, that kittens be at least twelve weeks old prior to adoption. When looking to adopt a kitten (or two!) check with your local animal shelters, county pounds and no-kill rescue organizations. Visiting websites such as www.PetFinder.com and www.AdoptaPet.com can allow you to begin your search from the comfort of your own home. There are so many cats and kittens in need of adoption and by adopting from a rescue or shelter, you are truly saving a life in need. Be sure to ask the adoption organization what vaccinations and health measures have been performed for the kittens. In addition, be sure to visit your local veterinarian to begin establishing a great relationship between your new cat/kitten and your veterinarian. When your kitten(s) reaches 5-6 months of age, speak with your veterinarian about scheduling a spay/neuter appointment. (http://jennifercopley.suite101.com/ideal-age-to-adopt-a-kitten-a73545 )
Whether you are rescuing an orphaned kitten, fostering a litter of feral kittens or just looking to adopt a kitten from a rescue or a shelter- you are truly helping to save lives in need. As many animal rescue websites share, "Saving the life of one animal may not change the world, but the world will surely change for that one animal.”