Think you’re up for the challenge of caring for a kitten? Spring has sprung which means “kitten season” has begun at New York City’s animal shelters, which can quickly fill up and, needless to say, make for a less than ideal place to get a start on life.
Fostering is an important step to get the youngest cats ready to be adopted, and this year for the first time the ASPCA’s Kitten Nursery is sending its very tiniest residents called “bottle babies” out to foster homes.
“We opened here April 15, and they were slow coming in at first but now that it’s warmer we’re taking in a lot more — we got 25 in just one day last week,” says Gemma Smith, administrative manager of the nursery located on the Upper East Side. Already this year, they’ve taken in over 200 kittens. “With fostering, they get to be in a home environment that’s better for them with someone who’s able to provide them care, and then we can take in more kittens.”
While this is definitely the cutest responsibility you’ll ever take on, young kittens need plenty of care and attention. At less than four weeks old they need hand-feeding as frequently as every three hours depending on age, as well as bathing, grooming and other specialized care. The ASPCA provides all the necessary supplies, from litter and litter boxes to food and even toys. Volunteers must go through training to become qualified fosters; register for one of their bimonthly orientation sessions.
Don’t let having a small apartment hold you back. Kittens can’t really climb or roam much, and being in a home helps get them accustomed to human smells and touches, with more one-on-one time than the staff can provide.
The ASPCA’s Kitten Nursery opened on 91st Street just behind its adoption center in 2014. It’s the largest and first-ever such nursery in the city, where a team of staff and volunteers provide 24-hour care as surrogate moms to kittens — to date, more than 4,500 have been saved.
Kitten season lasts from mid-April through October, so the need for foster moms and dads is ongoing. In all, the ASPCA took in 1,582 kittens last year primarily from the city’s shelter system, Animal Care Centers of NYC. The ACC also has a fostering program for both bottle babies and older kittens, with volunteers encouraged to sign up online to learn more.
Good Samaritans also intervene, though Smith advises caution if you come across kittens in your neighborhood. The little ones may not necessarily be abandoned — the mom could just be out hunting.
“In the cases where you see a little of kittens and you’re not sure, I believe it’s best to wait and see if the mom returns,” says Smith. If she does, the shelter also takes in nursing queens, as mom cats are called, along with their litters — they have their own quiet corner of the facility.
If fostering is not possible for you, you can also volunteer to work at the shelter for two-hour shifts that include anything from feeding and bathing kittens to playing with them. Check out our gallery above from a recent visit for a first-hand look at the dedicated work you can be a part of.