CALIFORNIA – Without this program, the babies would most likely perish.
As the only homeless neonatal rescue program of its kind in the entire county, North County Humane Society’s Bottle Babies Program never turns a needy kitten away, no matter how young, wild, or injured it may be. The program age ranges anywhere from one hour to eight weeks old, with different levels of volunteer commitments. The newborn kittens are lovingly bottle fed until they are ready for solid food.
Since the Bottle Babies program began back in February of this year, the program has taken in 120 kittens. Three-quarters of all of those kittens have been bottle babies. From a one-legged kitty, whose name is Hopscotch, to a two-day-old kitten named Regan found on a King City schoolyard, all are welcome.
Shelter Manager Sherry Chapman personally trains and provides all of the educational material for each of her volunteer kitten foster parents. She has also recently been fostering 22 kittens. She explained they were all doing well. Chapman is a lot like most mothers of newborns, wherever she goes, her kitten babies go. They follow her to work and also to friends and families’ homes.
Chapman attributes the high number of rescues to the communities’ animal-loving nature. The abandoned kittens are mostly from feral mothers which around the county and beyond. Some were found underneath barns and inside old sheds. Others were found by Atascadero Creek or underneath Lake Nacimiento boat covers. Others were found while unloading hay trucks.
Recently a senior couple heard a very interesting sound in the morning and discovered a feral cat had just given birth under their bed after crawling through an open window. Another time a concerned local dog managed to pull out five newborn kittens from underneath a porch. They were injured with bites from the rescue attempt, however, the North County shelter nursed them back to health.
According to Tom Lott, who is a NCHS photography volunteer, the North County Humane Society had 287 adoptions just last year. Each adoption costs about $100, but the value is double that amount, according to the staff members. North County’s kittens are given check-ups, treated for their ear mites and fleas, micro chipped, dewormed, spayed and neutered before they are ready for adoption at about eight weeks old.
“Most shelters won’t take in kittens that young or distressed, with physical problems, or preemies,” Tom explained, but not only is NCHS willing to take on this challenge, they are dedicated to their work. Chapman stated that without this program the babies would most likely perish in the elements or due to natural predators like hawks, owls, and coyotes.
After the rescued babies are taken in, warmed-up and cleaned up, they must then be bottle fed and ‘pottied’ every two to three hours. Chapman’s 14-year-old Pomeranian Petey helps socialize the tiny visitors who have temporarily inhabited Chapman and her husband’s quite large master bedroom, but her grown cat ‘Snowflake’ tends to remain aloof.
“It’s a labor of love,” Chapman stated, “It is a commitment to compassion.” The purring gives her all the affirmation she needs. “A baby likes to be held. We become the moms.” Chapman teaches her volunteers to use their hands for “praise, affection, and food,” so kittens learn to associate the human hand with something good. “They make great family cats,” Chapman explained, and the shelter supports the volunteer effort by bringing in seniors and youth to help play with the kittens further as they grow. Toys are used for play instead of hands so that the kittens learn to play nice. “You see how fast they grow. It’s really amazing. I think kittens are more independent than puppies. And they’re super-smart. And they all have different little personalities.”
The retired veterinarian assistant from Lakewood, aptly nicknamed “The Cat Whisperer” says the program is always looking for volunteers, though she raves about her compassionate, committed volunteer staff of 14. She also says she has complete trust in them. Volunteers never leave the shelter without very thorough support, as Chapman makes herself on call for her fosters at any time of day or night. She knows firsthand all too well what it’s like to be a baby kitten foster and is willing help them through the process.
For Chapman, the toughest day for her is after the seventh week, when she must, once again, let one of her babies go, but it’s okay when she knows someone has found their perfect kitten.
“That’s where the payoff is,” Chapman concluded, “Getting all these kittens into permanent homes.”