Best Friends Blog

Kittens, kittens, kittens!

Person holding a tiny black and white kitten in blue gloved hands
Last week, I wrote about the NKLA (No-Kill Los Angeles) Coalition’s drive to achieve a 90 percent save rate for the year for all six Los Angeles Animal Services shelters by year’s end.

Today I want to drill down into the most critical component of this drive — saving kittens, neonatal kittens in particular. In almost any other city, the first and most effective way to address the issue of kittens being killed in shelters is to go to the source of recently born kittens entering the shelter and deal with the problem through prevention by instituting a shelter-based return-to-field (RTF) program, such as Best Friends’ highly successful community cat programs (CCPs).

Our CCPs, as detailed in Holly Sizemore’s terrific “Community Cat Playbook” blog post, get to the source of the problem by spaying or neutering community cats, and then returning them to their neighborhoods. These are cats who would otherwise be brought to the shelter, with little hope of them getting out alive. Systematically trapping and fixing cats in the source colonies greatly reduces the number of newborn kitten litters brought to the shelter by often well-meaning residents, who don’t realize that an orphan kitten’s chances of survival in a shelter are minimal.

NKLA launched in 2012, and the year before, 7,000 of the 23,000 animals who died in L.A. city shelters were kittens. The city had been constrained from implementing any type of RTF program, or even informing the public of rescue organizations that help with trap-neuter-return support, by a California state court injunction that has tied the city’s hands and allowed community cat populations to grow since 2009.

The injunction is the result of a self-defeating lawsuit filed by Urban Wildlands Group against the city of Los Angeles’ modest feral cat program and an inept defense by city attorneys. Urban Wildlands Group’s myopic anti-cat stance advocates for the killing of all stray and free-roaming community cats even though that catch-and-kill approach had proved unsuccessful in reducing community cat numbers for decades.

A measure of the extent of the failure of the Urban Wildlands Group approach is that more than 8,700 kittens entered L.A. city shelters from January through September of this year! That huge number demonstrates that community cat numbers are increasing dramatically, as they always do under a catch-and-kill regime.

There is hope that the city will succeed in having the injunction lifted and births can be prevented in the field, but until that happens, the only way to save neonatal kittens is to get them out of the shelter the moment they arrive. In “bottle baby” programs, the kittens are nursed through their first few critical weeks of life, until they can be vaccinated and then spayed or neutered. They are ready for adoption at around eight weeks of age.

These programs are time- and volunteer-intensive. Kittens without a mom need to be hand-fed every few hours around the clock, stimulated with a towel or gauze pad to pee and poop (simulating a mother cat’s thorough licking), checked for general health and weighed regularly to monitor growth.

In this run-up to the end of 2018, Best Friends in Los Angeles has expanded its already large kitten nursery and we are committed to saving every kitten from L.A. city shelters between now and the end of the year. So far this year, our nursery has taken in 2,400 babies and that number will have to grow to 3,000 by December 31 for L.A. to reach no-kill status by the end of the year.

To achieve such a significant increase in services, José Ocaño, our Pacific regional director, has put out an urgent call for more volunteers to devote time to the kitten nursery. If you are in the Los Angeles area and are able to help with this important work, please visit the Best Friends in Los Angeles volunteer page to find out how to get on the frontline of lifesaving and get acquainted with some of the most adorable creatures you will ever meet!

Together we will Save Them All.

Julie Castle with a cat

Julie Castle, CEO
Best Friends Animal Society

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