Sometimes it takes a village to rescue a few kittens, or at least a group of rescuers spread out over about 50 square miles. The distance people will go, literally and figuratively, to capture kittens they’ve never met at a house where the people are strangers but who asked for help never ceases to amaze me. This is only one story of many, but these two little ones really touched my heart, and for a brief moment I was peripherally involved in their rescue.
Requests for help and photos of kittens with goopy eyes and runny noses come in from everywhere on Facebook especially at this time of the year, and tracking the requests down to the originator and finding the place and circumstances could almost be comical if time weren’t critical in finding the kittens, trapping them and transporting them to safety before the infection they are fighting does permanent damage or even kills them. The amount of planning that goes into a rescue is staggering, immediate, and an amazing example of teamwork among people who often don’t know each other at all and may never meet.
But even before rescuers gear up to organize a rescue party, a foster home must be found for the kittens and a plan for care and eventual adoption into a permanent home. The foster is key, someone who has the space to isolate kittens safely and comfortably, and the skill to be able to safely handle sick kittens who will need medication and likely a lot of cleanup, kittens who may be hostile to human handling. And if they are hostile the foster has the job of socializing them so they’ll steal someone’s heart and find their forever home.
The person requesting help for these kittens posted the following three photos of kittens with obviously nasty upper respiratory infections who needed medical attention right away. She is a personal care aide in a private home, and noticed the kittens as well as other cats on the property.
She tried to catch them all to handle them, socialize them and feed them, and sent out requests for help from anyone else who could help her trap them and take them in.
In the meantime five or six days went by as she continued sharing her post and trying to socialize the kittens. Of the three the little tortie turned out to be the friendliest and she would bring the kitten into the house and feed her and clean up her eyes every time she was there. The black kitten stuck with his mom and became difficult to capture. The orange kitten quit showing up for food.
Her post ended up on the Homeless Cat Management Team Facebook page. HCMT is not a rescue organization, but we can all network and help when rescue is needed, especially among the rescuers in the Pittsburgh Feral Cat Movement. A rescuer from Butler, about 50 miles north of Pittsburgh, found the house and got some background on the situation. It turned out an elderly woman who was frail and needed daily care from caregivers lived at the house; her husband had once fed the cats but he had died. The caregivers did feed the cats, and the cats also had shelter near the house.
Then the woman’s daughter who lives on a farm another 25 miles or so to the south and is aware of the situation posted thanks for the help and explained a little more. She had actually trapped a number of the cats on the property and had them spayed and neutered, but irresponsible neighbors did not spay and neuter and so many cats ended up where someone fed them and provided shelter. A nurse, she had been helping to take care of her mother while still working and managing her farm. She was sincerely grateful for the help offered and would have her five traps available to the caregivers, and give them training on how to use them.
On May 20 the plan was made for a rescue on the afternoon of May 21. A foster was found, and the kittens would be surrendered to the Foster Finder program at the Animal Rescue League of Western Pennsylvania, through which kittens are cared for in a foster home, given any medications or veterinary care necessary through the ARL, until they are well and weigh at least two pounds so they can be spayed or neutered. At that point they are taken back to ARL, get their surgery and are put up for adoption. The program is successful and has saved the lives of so many kittens, and is dependent on volunteer foster families.
The rescuer from Butler would visit and trap as many kittens as she could. Because the area where the kittens were is about 15 minutes from me I offered to transport them from the home to the ARL, on the other side of Pittsburgh from me, and hand them over to the foster.
I was ready to head over there in the afternoon but the Butler rescuer messaged me to call her. She had the tortie cat and and was going to meet the foster at ARL with that kitten. The mom cat was spotted and the second kitten stuck close to her, so the caregivers would set up to trap mom and kitten and call when they got them. The tortie and black kittens were tiny and very congested. The orange kitten was not seen, and had not been seen for days. There were lots of other cats there, a project for the next clinic.
The foster reported the tortie was very thin and small. The veterinarian at the shelter thought she was about 4 weeks and weighed 15 oz., was given medications for worms and diarrhea and would be given eye drops twice each day for ten days, followed by a check up after two weeks. She cried when she attempted to use the litter box, but she had a good meal of wet food and some water.
The black kitten actually was trapped that day—but not his mom—and the Butler rescuer stopped to pick him up on her way back from ARL, but she had a horse emergency at her home in Butler so decided to take the kitten home and meet with the rescuer the next day.
And so the sisters were reunited. “Got her sister today! Still small but a couple ounces more in weight. They are so happy to be together. The little black female has a white spot on her chest and some on her belly,” the rescuer said. “As thin as the little tortie might be she still wants to play. Love them already! Now they need names…anyone?”
Of course, my response to that was—Cookie and Jelly Bean!
Over the next few days the little tortie wasn’t gaining weight as a kitten should, and her breathing was a little labored over the weekend so back she went to the clinic at ARL. But it was just a stuffy nose and her lungs and heart sounded good, though she had to go back to the vet for her eyes, the right one being the worst.
“The poor little thing may still lose her right eye,” said her foster. “Her sister is doing great! I think we should call them Cookie and Jelly Bean.”
But Cookie has turned around in the days since and is also very sweet and friendly. “[At the vet] the little girl loved everyone and is very friendly. And of course I’m calling the tortie Cookie!” Cookie had gained 2-1/2 oz. and weighed a grand total of 1 lb. 1-1/2 oz. and Jelly Bean was doing great. “The vet is still concerned about Cookie’s right eye but until she kicks the sniffles there is nothing else he can do for the eye,” she said. And because the rescuer has a cat guy in the house, she added, “They are upstairs playing with [her husband] as we speak.” A good thing because she has a total of eight kittens and one mom in foster plus about five cats of her own.
Of course, I will update regularly as these kittens grow and are ready to head out to find their own forever homes. No, I don’t intend to adopt either one! I have a big interest in them as they bear the names of two of my cats. Really, it was the friendliness of the little tortie that made me think of my Cookie as she was unfailingly friendly and sweet though she’d been abandoned as well. If this kitty loses her right eye, well, that will just make her more special. And her sister with the white spots—it’s hard to think of a Jelly Bean as a girl, but she’s got the cute all over her!
Kittens, just tiny weightless little fuzzballs, are so resilient. It’s truly heartening to see what can happen with just a round or two of antibiotics and the hands of a skilled foster as they turn from either a limp and lethargic handful of skin and bones or a hissing and spitting ball of fur with razor blades into a cute and playful, friendly, healthy kitten.
. . . . . . .
As I said above, this is but one story of many kitten rescues this spring so far, and it’s still only May. Just today we counted 92 kittens of various ages younger than nine weeks in over a dozen foster homes, all rescued over the last three weeks, many of them being treated for serious infections. The season has only just begun. Part of the mission with TNR is to not return the kittens—once we’ve rescued them we socialize them and put them up for adoption through the ARL Foster Finder program or through FosterCat or Frankie’s Friends.
Many rescuers pay out of pocket for veterinary care and food but the costs of raising even the average litter of four healthy kittens is more than many people have, and many rescues have greater needs, like the kittens in this story. If you can help with just one purchase from the kitten wish list on Amazon.com you’d make some kittens and a rescuer very happy.
And if you’d just rather buy a gift card or make a donation, I have a reward for you, below—follow the instructions to make a donation to HCMT or Frankie’s Friends and I’ll send you a gift certificate to my shop.
Can’t adopt? Foster! Can’t foster? Donate or volunteer.
There are so many ways you can help cats who need homes and care. You may not have room to adopt another cat, but can foster a cat or kitten for a few weeks. If not that, you can volunteer at a shelter or with a rescue, or donate. You do this because you love your cat, and by doing so you help all cats. No matter which of these actions you take, you help to save a life, and make life better for all cats.
- Adopt one of the cats I’ve posted here, or from any shelter or rescue near you, or from Petfinder, to open up a space for another cat to be rescued and fostered.
- Offer to foster cats or kittens for a shelter or rescue near you.
- Volunteer at a shelter or rescue.
- Find a group of volunteers who work with homeless cats and help them with their efforts.
- Donate to a shelter or rescue near you.
If you can foster kittens or adults cats to help prepare them for a forever home, please run to your nearest shelter and find a cat who needs you! Anyone can help with this effort at any level, even if all you do is donate to a shelter or rescue so they can help to pay for the food or medications needed for their foster, or the spay/neuter/veterinary care during a clinic.
Read more stories in my weekly Rescue Stories series.
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Weekly schedule of features:
Sunday: Essays, Pet Loss, Poetry, The Artist’s Life
Monday: Adoptable Cats, TNR & Shelters
Tuesday: Rescue Stories
Wednesday: Commissioned Portrait or Featured Artwork
Thursday: New Merchandise
Friday: Book Review, Health and Welfare, Advocacy
Saturday: Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat, Living Green With Pets, Creating With Cats
And sometimes, I just throw my hands in the air and have fun!