REGION — San Diego County is being overrun, as it is each April, by a plague. But it’s not frogs or locusts that overrun the county. It’s kittens.
Fuzzy, mewling, big-eyed kittens.
This feline population leap, commonly referred to as “kitten season,” is the direct result of stray cats doing the stray cat strut (love was in the air approximately two months back), and kittens are showing up at Humane Societies all around San Diego.
Kelli Schry, communications manager for the Humane Society, explained the phenomenon. “Kitten season is the time of year when cat breeding is at its highest,” she said. “Due to San Diego’s warmer climate, kitten season lasts most of the year, compared to other parts of the country. It is not uncommon for people to set out food and water for a lost cat, but never take ownership of the cat, which results in thousands of stray, unaltered cats throughout our community.”
Because of the increased volume (the “season” can last from April through November), each year the Humane Society reaches out to the public for temporary foster homes. This allows the caregivers to handle the increase in care.
Becoming a foster home for one of these adorable, potato-sized babies is not a simple process. There are specific steps to take in order to get approved. It begins with filling out an application on the Humane Society’s website (sdhumane.org) that asks for, among other things, your previous experience with animals and any accommodations you may need.
Once completed, potential foster families are invited to attend a monthly orientation meeting. The meeting, which lasts approximately two hours, teaches families what they need in order to be successful foster homes. Jackie Nobel is the supervisor of the Humane Society’s Kitten Nursery.
“Foster volunteers receive complete training to be able to care for kittens, including bottle feeding,” she said. “San Diego Humane Society provides all supplies, equipment and support to care for foster animals, including food, bowls, bedding, toys, litter, medication and any veterinary services.”
The kittens who need care are broken up into two categories. Neo-natal kittens are those from birth up until two weeks old. These are the most labor-intensive adoptees, and thus hardest to place.
“The Kitten Nursery is staffed 24 hours a day so that these orphaned, newborn kittens receive the around-the-clock care they need,” Nobel said. “These tiny kittens are very vulnerable and their health can change hour by hour. The medical team makes several rounds to the Kitten Nursery each day, so that we can constantly monitor these young kittens and provide any care that they may need.”
The Kitten Nursery is separated into three designated areas, to ensure diseases don’t spread: One section is for queens and their kittens, another is a quarantine area for kittens 0-4 weeks. The third section is the foster home itself, where the kitten lives until ready for spaying, neutering and adoption.
Kittens between 2 and 4 weeks old are considered “transitional.” These kittens are a little easier to manage, having graduated from bottle-feeding, they are now on a diet of wet food at 3.5 weeks, and eventually they move on to solids. This is also the period during which they learn to use the litter box.
Ideally, foster kittens should get quarantined, away from other household pets. A rarely used bathroom is ideal. There, they can get the rest and the food they need, while safe and secure from the elements. But whether you decide to quarantine or not, prospective fosterers should have their pets fully vaccinated prior to accepting a foster kitten.
Schry explained that most adoptions last from four to eight weeks. At eight weeks, the kittens are old enough to get fixed — an important step in stemming the tide of future kitten seasons. Schry said that spaying or neutering pets is crucial. “There are 45,000 homeless animals entering San Diego shelters each year,” she said. “Spaying or neutering your pets is the only way to make an impact on the overpopulation of animals in our community.”
Foster homes preferably take kittens in pairs, or even more. This is to help socialize the kittens in their foster home, to provide some companionship. “Growing up with other kittens is an essential part of a kitten’s early development, and how they learn appropriate play style,” Nobel said. “If a kitten comes to the nursery as a singleton, we will always give them an age-appropriate buddy so he receives that essential behavioral development.”
Close to 3,500 kittens received care through the Kitten Nursery in 2016, the vast majority of which occurred during kitten season. Fortunately, the foster program often serves as a gateway to full adoption. “It’s fairly common for foster families to fall in love and adopting their foster pets,” Schry said. “But it’s certainly not a requirement. Many foster families know that, as hard as it may be, bringing them back to be adopted into new families means that they will be able to continue helping other animals in need of that specialized care that only a foster home can provide.”