5 Years’ Worth of Cats, Part 1

Part 1: Introduction
In 2010, shortly after I graduated college, I met a cat named Smirnoff. And what seems so crazy to me now, five years later, is that on the day I adopted him I had 1) never stepped foot inside an animal shelter before and 2) knew very little about cats. I mean, I knew one thing. I knew that cats were generally considered to be pets. I had even met a very friendly one once while babysitting for a neighbor, so I knew that once in a great while, a cat might like to sit in a lap. But that was about it.

Yet here I am, in 2015, employed as the regional foster coordinator for one of the nation’s largest no-kill organizations. I spend 40+ hours each week in an animal shelter, and can tell you more about cats than you could ever really care to know. No, really. I know, for instance, that a cat with extra toes is called a polydactyl. I know the names of all the different cat coat types, and the difference between a tabby mackerel and a tabby classic. I know that cats are induced ovulators (just like rabbits), which is one reason why we have so many strays and kittens. I know that cats are lactose-intolerant despite loving milk, that they produce pheromones to mark their territory and to make things smell more familiar (which is why they love having their cheeks and chin rubbed), and I know how to calculate the stomach capacity of a neonatal kitten. In addition to Smirnoff, I have two other adopted cats (and, miraculously, also a boyfriend), and live 3,000 miles away from where I began this journey. I’ve met Jackson Galaxy twice, volunteered/worked with four different rescue organizations, started a youtube channel, a podcast, an instagram feed and… oh yeah, I have met thousands of cats. Literally. Thousands*. And it’s only been five years.

(To give you an idea of numbers, since I began working at Best Friends Animal Society in Los Angeles in 2013, our adoption center has sent home over 3500 cats. And I personally did the adoption of over 600! That doesn’t include all the cats I’ve met but didn’t do the adoptions for, all the cats I’ve worked with at other rescues, and all the neonatal kittens I’ve helped since becoming the foster coordinator at the beginning of this year. I have over 120 cats and kittens in foster care as I type this! And then, of course, there are all those cats I met between 2010-2013. Which was, you know, a few.)

So it’s with a little bit of awe that I look back on the journey that got me here. It’s too much for one blog post, so I will break everything up into different topics, because let’s face it – not everyone will want to read a million paragraphs about cats in one sitting.

So be on the lookout for many more blog posts coming soon (and hit “follow” if you don’t want to miss any of them)!

Myself with Smirnoff in 2010 (top) and 2015 (bottom).
Myself with Smirnoff in 2010 (top) and 2015 (bottom).

‘Tis the [Kitten] Season

Kitten - tabbyLos Angeles had a warm winter, which means one thing: an early start to kitten season. The little balls of fur are beginning to find their way into shelters and into our kitten nursery, foreshadowing a long, fur-filled spring and summer.

Perhaps surprisingly, the population with the highest rate of euthanasia in shelters is under-aged kittens (under 8 weeks old). By a lot. The reason for this is that 1) there are a lot of them – unlike owners who keep unneutered or unspayed dogs, owners with unneutered or unspayed cats still allow them to wander outside unsupervised, pretty much guaranteeing unwanted litters of kittens. And 2) under-aged kittens need round-the-clock care (depending on their age) and have fragile immune systems. Most shelters aren’t able to care for them, and often have no or very few foster homes able to care for them, so oftentimes euthanasia is the more humane option.

Thus, having resources to save under-aged kittens is absolutely necessary in order to even come close to being no-kill*.

[*For the purpose of this discussion, I’m considering “no-kill” to mean that at least 90% of animals that enter a shelter make it out alive. We can get into a “no-kill” definition discussion at a later time – it’s an interesting one!.]

The Best Nursery in Town

Best Friends Animal Society – Los Angeles has an on-site kitten nursery, complete with four incubators (for kittens under 1 month old), cages for the slightly older bottle babies, a gruel room for kittens mostly eating on their own, and a Mommy & Me suite for mamma cats and her babies. (By far the easiest kittens to take care of are the ones with their mom. Take care of the mom, and she does all the work with the kittens!)

Kitten - whiteLast year, Best Friends LA rescued over 1500 kittens, and this year, we plan to save 1800. And they’re already pouring in – the last week has seen over 20 kittens, all less than 1 month old. Bottle feeding “incu-babies” (the ones in the incubators) is done every 2 hours, while the slightly older kittens can be fed every 3 hours. The survival rate for kittens less than 2 weeks old (without their mom) is extremely low, even with the best care. But we give them the best chance possible.

The white kitten (pictured – right) was brought in with its three tabby siblings just a couple weeks ago. Unfortunately, only one tabby kitten remains, but she is doing well.

What to Do if You Find Kittens

If at all possible, keep the kittens with their mom. If you find kittens outside unattended, their mom might just be out hunting. (Especially if the kittens do not have their eyes open yet, they have a much better chance of survival with their mom, even outside!). Wait to see if the mom comes back, unless it is obvious that the kittens were abandoned by people (say, if you find them in a dumpster), or if the mom is deceased (if you see a female cat nearby that was hit by a car). If it is clear that there is no mom cat, you can try to bottle feed them yourself, or bring them to a no-kill shelter or rescue*. If there is a mom around, you can try to lure the mom cat inside with food and keep her confined to one room with her babies until they are at least 8 weeks old. Or, bring the mom and babies to your local shelter or rescue, if they are able to care for them.

[*This is not to say you should never bring them to a shelter that euthanizes – but be sure to understand whether or not the shelter will euthanize the kittens right away, or whether they have a foster home available or partner with a rescue that can take under-aged kittens. Once you know this information, use your best judgement.]

Kittens, Kittens Everywhere

All cats have it rough in shelters. Their survival rate (making it out of the doors and into a home) is still pretty low (often less than 50%). The best thing you can do, is make sure your cat is spayed or neutered. And of course, adopt your next cat instead of buying from a breeder. In the spring and summer months, there is no shortage of kittens in shelters! Some of the most loving, well-socialized kittens I know come out of the Best Friends LA kitten nursery, because they’ve been handled by many people every day since they were young.

A Tough, but Adorable Job

Sneaking into the kitten nursery to bottle-feed during downtime at the shelter is one of my favorite things to do. It can be difficult at times, since any given kitten may not make it, but it’s worth it to see the ones who do thrive finally make it into a new home!

Did I mention that they need round-the-clock care? You can volunteer at the Best Friends LA kitten nursery any time of day or night. We rely on hundreds of volunteers to keep the babies warm and full! Sign up here >>http://bfla.bestfriends.org/neonatal-kitten-program.html

kitten - black

Sometimes It Goes to the Dogs

Outside of volunteering, my expertise is mostly in writing, marketing & communications. A shelter like the Animal Rescue League of Boston relies on a lot of donations and volunteers, but it still has a paid staff, including a marketing & communications team. So when I decided to volunteer some “off-hands” work (i.e. not directly with the animals) I turned to an organization that really needed my help.

gdrne_web_logoThat’s when I found the Great Dog Rescue of New England. Its founder, Betsy Herald, is an alum of my college and it was through the student job board that I originally found her request for someone with my skill set. So I set about composing their monthly newsletter and helping out at the occasional Boston-based event.

Today I just finished my tenth monthly newsletter with Great Dog. You can check it out here (I recommend reading the volunteer spotlight for the story of an amazing man named Stephen McGovern): http://myemail.constantcontact.com/Happy-Holidays-from-Great-Dog-Rescue-NE-.html?soid=1101607948609&aid=kgfqT3_UeXM

Great Dog is a wonderful organization that is 100% volunteer-run, many of whom have full-time jobs. They rescue dogs from high-kill shelters in Tennessee and bring them into foster homes (they don’t have a shelter) until they get adopted. The work they do is entirely out of the kindness of their hearts and at a personal sacrifice of time, money, and energy. Yet they manage to adopt out an average of 35 dogs per week!

Great DogWhat I especially like is that they are often able to take whole litters of puppies, including pregnant mothers who would otherwise be spayed or euthanized.

They also have a Prison Dog program, where dogs in need of basic training are paired up with prison inmates, which helps rehabilitate both human and canine. Again—it’s all volunteers.

Working with the Great Dog Rescue of New England is a constant reminder that in addition to local animal shelters, there are dozens more small rescues all trying to save animals. So there is no excuse.

This season, don’t shop. Adopt. ❤