It is getting to be (or already is, depending upon where you live) kitten season – with the intake of kittens rapidly rising to form what my friend and hero Dr. Sandra Newbury, DVM, UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program, calls a "Data Kitten Mountain." In many cases of open admission shelters, the number of kittens who enter the shelter far exceeds the capacity of the shelter. Neonate kittens coming in from pet homes pose an ever bigger challenge than just capacity – they require a significantly increased level of care and level of disease control. So much so that in many shelters they are simply deemed untreatable and do not receive a live outcome.
Brick-and-mortar shelters built without the proper housing and air systems are not healthy places for neonate kittens – and over the years, many of us have experienced images that are now burned in our memories of neonate kittens struggling to survive and the staff struggling to keep them alive in housing that just is not conducive to keeping neonates healthy. Harnessing the power of our volunteers and their networks can be huge for saving the lives of neonate kittens in our shelters.
While our ultimate goal is to stop the intake of these kittens through outreach of targeted spay/neuter and safety nets, until the day when kitten mountain becomes flat, how about an emergency brigade of neonate foster homes – those that can take a mom and babies, and others able to take neonates without moms? By analyzing previous years' and recent months' data, you can anticipate high-intake days. By building a life-saving team of fosters that are able to pick up on the day those kittens come in – and can then help not only raise those kitties, but also adopt them out for you (see our information on fosters as adoptions agents) – we take a certain death and turn it into another life saved. Back in 2007, one of our ASPCA Partnership communities was working with us on their data, and we noted the high risk of shelter death for neonate kittens.
Note that kitten euthanasia decreased by almost half in 1 year alone! Where can you find those foster homes? I suggest not only trying to raise them yourself, but also team up with the limited admission facilities and amazing rescue organizations in your area – as well as those very engaged and vocal animal advocates in your community.
What better resource for life-saving than those who already have a knack at connecting within your community and a passion to save lives?
Emily Weiss, PhD, CAAB
ASPCA Vice President, Research & Development
Dr. Emily Weiss’ work at the ASPCA involves developing programs and processes that focus on impact on animal welfare. In her previous work as a behaviorist, she developed training programs to improve husbandry and decrease stress for many zoo animals. She has also developed assessment tools for shelter animals, including the SAFER assessment and Meet Your Match Canine-ality, Puppy-ality and Feline-ality. Dr. Weiss is co-editor of the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, and has published and lectured extensively in the field of applied animal behavior.
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