By Darlene Duggan
For an animal shelter that accepts cats, most of the organization’s year is spent either gearing up for, managing, or recovering from Kitten Season.
Kitten Season usually occurs in the warmer months (May–September), when the usual intake totals for kittens can be over double the numbers seen at other times of the year. While intakes for dogs, puppies, and cats remain consistent and predictable throughout the year, kitten intake soars during the summer months. Take a look at some data from a shelter on the east coast:
The peak in the graph from May–August is affectionately referred to as “Mount Kitten.”
Having to care for so many young, often neonatal, kittens at one time is an enormous strain on the resources of a shelter. Kittens, especially those brought in to the shelter without a mother, are at an elevated risk of contracting shelter born diseases such as Upper Respiratory Infection, and most often require nearly 24-hour care, including bottle feeding. Additionally, in most states animals must be at least 8 weeks old at adoption, so for the very newborn kittens that find their way to a shelter, they have a very long length of stay, and tie up precious cage space.
So how does a shelter manage their way through Kitten Season? The most efficient tool they have is foster parents! Getting these kitten litters out of the shelter and into foster homes significantly improves their chances at survival, and significantly stretches the shelter’s resources. Not only is a foster parent saving the life of their foster kitten, but they are also freeing up a kennel space back at the shelter for another animal, and thus increasing a shelter’s capacity for care.
Fostering animals of any age is a fabulous way to help shelter animals, but fostering these young kittens is especially critical. While having the kittens off the street and in a shelter is good, housing them for weeks at a shelter until they are adopted is not ideal. Fostering provides the proper socialization these kittens need at this critical stage in their development. Suitable socialization is hard to accomplish in a shelter setting, especially when there are hundreds of kittens coming in the door, as is the case for the shelter from which the data for the graph comes.
So, have you considered opening your heart and home to foster kittens this year? Although Mount Kitten has not yet started to climb, with the mild temperatures around most of the nation, kitten season is expected to start early this year. And, if it starts early, the kittens born first in the season (March or April) could have their first heat cycle in August or September which then means those kittens could have their own litters in early fall when temperatures are still mild, potentially creating a similar rise in kitten intake later in the year.
Utilize the next couple of weeks researching foster programs for your local shelter, educating yourself about kitten care, and readying your home for your first batch of kittens. (Find a shelter near you). Foster parents are one of the most valuable resources for a shelter, and while the job requires a little more work than your average volunteering gig, the rewards of knowing you most definitely saved a life are priceless!
And who knows, you might just find your new best friend.
Darlene Duggan worked for many years behind the scenes at The Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago––overseeing volunteer programs, problem solving shelter issues, and laboring tirelessly for the welfare of animals. Her bi-weekly column, The Shelter Voice, will explore the complex concepts surrounding animal rescue and welfare usually reserved for discussions amongst those at the very front lines of the industry. She hopes to broaden the understanding and education of shelter supporters so they can act as well-informed advocates for the cause and help spread the adoption and rescue message throughout their community.