Friday, May 25, 2012

The Kitten Nursery

I am frequently asked exactly what working in the kitten nursery entails. So here’s the short answer. It entails a lot of hard work but also a lot of fun.

The first kitten nursery opened in 2008 and was the first of its kind in the US, which surprises the hell out of me. It was designed to provide an environment where abandoned kittens could get a chance to go on and have a long and happy life.

Our litters come from the large colonies of feral cats that roam all over the bay area. Mom cats know to run from the people that they fear but, sadly, that means leaving their kittens behind. Without a mother kittens stand no chance of surviving. Kittens require a lot of care. They need so much care that the shoestring staff, which makes up most shelters just cannot handle them. So we have an all-volunteer crew whose sole job is to take care of these little guys, freeing up employees and the vet staff for other tasks.

There are three shifts per day, every day, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Each three hour shift is responsible for syringe feeding each kitten, cleaning their kennels, tracking any medical problems, and (best of all) giving them love and play time so they are well socialized and, therefore, more likely to be adopted.

This year marks our first full year at our new shelter. The kitten nursery is a large and sunny room with windows out into the corridor so visitors can watch the kittens and see what it takes to keep them going. It also marks the first year where we actually have two separate nurseries. The main nursery is where most of the kitties are housed. Behind the scenes, however, we have a quarantine nursery.

The QN is set up like the main nursery but there are two separate rooms for sick kittens which, for a variety of reasons, can’t be put in with the healthy kits. Sometimes it’s something minor, like getting rid of fleas or lice. Other times it’s something serious, such as ringworm or panleukopenia (feline distemper). The latter is a serious and contagious disease, which, sadly, means the litter, will probably not make it. Our amazing vet staff does everything possible to keep our kittens alive but the sad fact is that we do have to euthanize a few litters each season. That’s the hard part.
The work in the nursery itself can be tiring. We are scrupulous about procedures designed to keep each litter healthy and happy. So in between litters we bleach down the tables, scales, even the floor. Litters are never allowed contact with other litters to minimize the chance of infection. We spend a lot of time scrubbing kennels, taking old laundry out and bringing in fresh towels, and making cozy nests for our charges to nap in.

This year the nursery opened last month and will probably run until October. And our record is pretty damned amazing. Last year we helped approximately 125 kittens find homes – kittens that would probably have been put down if we didn’t have a dedicated nursery to care for them. This year’s goal is 150 kittens. And I think we’re going to make it.