Thousands of newborn kittens graduating from Kitten College
These newborn kittens are like human babies: they need their mothers to breastfeed, care for and protect them until they are mature enough to fend for themselves. Newborn kittens are at serious risk if they are orphaned.
Abandoned infant kittens are in fact the most euthanized animals across the country.
According to Marnie Russ, administrator of the Animal Welfare League program at Kitten College Arlington, euthanasia is a common approach because these underdeveloped kittens often require too much time, effort and resources for the majority of shelters. who are already in overcapacity and pushed to their limits.
“While healthy kittens are among the most adopted animals in shelters across the country, newborn kittens in shelters who are not ready to be adopted require a lot of resources that many shelters do not have. “Russ said. “Unfortunately, in these cases, euthanasia is the only option – and usually the most humane – of a refuge.”
Especially during the summer feline breeding season, shelters are inundated with abandoned newborn kittens who simply cannot survive without constant and intense support until they are ready for adoption.
In 2016, the AWLA team pursued a vital opportunity for these kittens: They partnered with the National Kitten Coalition, a national non-profit organization that aims to increase the survival rates of these tiny kittens.
Drawing on the expertise of the National Kitten Coalition, the AWLA team devised a plan for establishing a kitten nursery in Arlington. They also formed an education and awareness program for other local shelters so that they too could create such nurseries.
According to the Best Friends Animal Society, kitten nurseries are areas inside or associated with shelters where “very young kittens are given the time and care they need to grow up enough to be spayed or neutered and adopted. This process requires eight to nine weeks of intensive care … [as well as] staff and volunteers ready to take care of the kittens 24 hours a day.
AWLA’s partnership with the National Kitten Coalition took Russ across the country to meet the few large-scale kitten nurseries that exist across the country.
“As I attended these meetings with these large-scale established kitten nurseries, we saw the amazing things these nurseries were doing,” Russ said. “But, at the same time, I was wondering how it would all work in a medium sized municipal shelter. [like the AWLA], where most animals end up.
She thought, shouldn’t there be hope and options for kittens everywhere, and not just in areas where the main kitten day care centers are located?
The knowledge Russ brought back was crucial because, until the AWLA established its own kitten nursery, most of the mid-sized shelters in the area didn’t even have plans to train these life-saving operations.
In 2017, AWLA officially launched its own kitten nursery, called Kitten College. It is made up of volunteer sitters who, after extensive training by AWLA professionals, welcome these kittens into their home and look after them around the clock until they are ready to be adopted.
“We call our nursery Kitten College,” Russ said. “It’s a ‘college’ based on the age at which foster parents are comfortable looking after kittens. For example, small bottle-fed babies are looked after by our most experienced foster families, and our first year foster families will welcome two-pound kittens awaiting their sterilization surgery.
Kitten College has given so many otherwise doomed newborn kittens a chance to have normal, happy lives. And, AWLA recognizes that these life-changing outcomes would not be possible without their foster families.
“We have trained a whole army of foster families to take care of these kittens until they are ready to be adopted,” said Russ. “Before the creation of our crèche, we had around 30 host families, and today we have more than 250 host families. These amazing people are the reason we have been so successful. Their love and commitment to caring for these kittens motivates us every day as the program continues to grow. “
The year before AWLA’s Kitten College was founded, the organization welcomed 92 newborn kittens. Then the following year – the first year of Kitten College – AWLA rescued 367 newborn kittens. Kitten College has exploded so much that in 2020 the same program saved 1,518 newborn kittens.
The explosive growth has also made it essential for AWLA to hire a full-time employee, Vanessa Parks, as the Kitten College Admission Coordinator to lead the operation.
“When I was asked to come on board in 2018 and work with Marnie, I was like, ‘Okay, that’ll be good to have a good part-time job at the animal shelter,'” Parks said. . “I had no idea it had become a full time career that I absolutely adore. Now, I can’t imagine working less than 50 hours a week to keep all the foster parents and kittens in line.
Now that Kitten College is up and running and growing, the next step for the AWLA team was to spread their knowledge and inspire other mid-sized municipal shelters to start kitten daycares.
To raise awareness and support for kitten nurseries, Kitten College now has eight satellite campuses which Russ says are “regional shelters that have struggled to care for underage kittens.”
And now, thanks to Parks and Russ, these satellite campuses – all located in Maryland and Virginia – are building their own kitten nurseries and related programs.
“We provide them with all the resources they may need and support them through the process,” Parks said. “Our strategy is to target areas where we have removed a lot of kittens over the past three years in the hope that shelters in those areas will soon be able to do this life-saving work themselves.”
As Parks finds her job beyond her satisfaction, she hopes that one day there will be an easier way to give newborn kittens the happy, healthy life they deserve.
“I am so excited to see what will happen in the next few years,” she said. “Of course, the goal is always that I don’t have a job, but unfortunately that may never happen. However, I am confident that other shelters and rescues will learn that they can help the kittens. the same way we do. And, for the record, I always try to develop the reception network and teach new foster families how to bottle-feed and take care of babies. The more foster families we have, the more kittens we can save.
To volunteer or learn more about AWLA’s Kitten College, see https://www.awla.org/programs/kitten-college.