It happens every spring! Local animal shelters receive many kittens too young to survive more than an hour or two without a mother. These kittens are called “neonates.” Sadly, most of the neonate kittens taken in are orphans. People find these babies in their garage, barn, flowerbeds and many other places where the mother felt safe from predators and intruders while she gave birth.
Understandably, some people feel they are helping neonate kittens when they bring them to the local shelter. Actually, they are putting these little lives at tremendous risk because euthanasia may be the only way a shelter can save these babies from suffering an agonizing death by starvation.
To avoid such a horrible fate, you should leave neonate kittens where you find them understanding they are not abandoned – and their momma cat is nearby and she is their best guarantee of survival.
A momma cat, called a queen, will sometimes leave her offspring to find food or water for herself. She will return to care for them – but when her kittens are taken away from her, they have no chance to survive without significant human intervention.
Healthy weaned kittens are quickly adopted. So anything we can do to help neonates reach full “kitten-hood” (8 weeks) improves their chance of eventually finding a loving home. The best way to help neonate kittens is to leave them with mom until they are old enough to survive on their own before bringing them to a shelter.
Despite this advice, many neonate kittens still find their way to local shelters every year. Hopefully each year local shelters prepare for this influx by recruiting volunteers willing to help these innocents survive by joining a Baby Bottle Brigade. A well organized Baby Bottle Brigade will train volunteers to foster these babies at home until they are old enough to be spayed or neutered and placed for adoption.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “foster” as providing parental care and nurture to children not related through legal or blood ties. In most communities, State Law defines “adoptable animals” as animals 8 weeks of age or older; which means these little orphans have no legal standing. Because of this, most shelters don’t count neonates in their euthanasia statistics. In any shelter I’ve managed, I always reported the outcome of every animal, because I believe every animal counts. Many shelter employees do their best to provide loving care and nurture even to these lost souls with whom they have no legal or blood ties.
The problem is that shelters can’t save them all by themselves. We need your help. Depending on their age, they may require four to eight weeks of intense foster care. Though many dedicated shelter employees help foster neonates above and beyond their daily job duties, many kittens will not survive without your help. If you are willing and able to help save these lives, your local shelter may provide the training, support and supplies you need to be a successful foster parent.
This is a big commitment and a true test of a community’s compassion. Even with our best efforts, not all foster babies survive. But they can all be loved. These babies need to be bottle fed every two hours around the clock for several weeks – making this the perfect family, club, or faith-based organizational project. Fostering helpless neonates is an ideal way to foster compassion and respect for the true value and sanctity of all life in our community.
Have you saved a life today? Join your local shelter’s Baby Bottle Brigade and experience the satisfaction that comes from being a foster parent and saving a life. If you shelter doesn’t have a Baby Bottle Brigade or similar program, have them contact me for assistance here.