June 8, 2018

Help Turn Kitten Season into Foster Season

a person holding a black kitten

By ASPCA President & CEO Matt Bershadker 

As many of us know, kitten season—the annual high-breeding period that runs through spring and summer—is a time of tremendous challenges for young cats, whether they're inside or outside a shelter. And the younger they are, the more difficult it is for them to simply stay alive. The ASPCA is launching a new campaign to help these vulnerable animals, but first let’s take a closer look at the challenges young, at-risk kittens like Misha face.

Born at the end of March, Misha was four weeks old when she was brought to Animal Care Centers of NYC’s Manhattan shelter. Suffering from a fractured right hind leg, the tiny black kitten—weighing only seven ounces—was transported to the ASPCA Kitten Nursery and assigned a foster home until she is old and big enough to be spayed and undergo treatment for her leg. From there, she’ll go back into foster until she heals and is ready for adoption. 

Kittens under eight weeks old, like Misha, are the most threatened because they are too young to survive without constant care due to their vulnerable immune systems. And shelter kittens under five months are at risk of euthanasia because of their sheer numbers. In Los Angeles, 90% of the nearly 34,000 kittens entering L.A. County and L.A. City shelters each year come in during kitten season. In New York City, 84% of the felines who enter Animal Care Centers of NYC during this period are kittens. All of these at-risk kittens make up a large part of the roughly 3.2 million cats entering shelters each year, of whom, approximately 860,000 are euthanized.

Shelters all across the country have made incredible strides in recent years to help decrease feline euthanasia rates. The Million Cat Challenge—a collaborative effort launched in 2014 to save a million shelter cats in five years—is just one example of an innovative approach to tackle this problem. Together, more than 1,000 shelters in North America, including the ASPCA, helped decrease feline euthanasia by 63%, surpassing the goal of saving 1 million cats a year ahead of schedule. This is an important milestone for shelters, but more work needs to be done to ensure better outcomes for cats.

It's vitally important to help shelters and their animals every way we can during this time. Responses traditionally focus on increasing adoption, but given the age and needs of these kittens and their exploding population, another community approach is just as important: Fostering.

Fostering kittens—working with shelters to take these animals in and care for them on a temporary basis—eases the tremendous burden on these facilities and directly addresses many of the kittens’ most critical needs, including:

  • Protecting them from diseases and excess stress in shelters, which can have severe consequences for vulnerable kittens
  • Providing necessary care, support and socialization until they are old enough to be adopted or relocated to places where their adoption chances are higher
  • Preventing them from becoming feral if born from stray cats and living outdoors
  • Helping them develop and thrive in a home environment as they approach adoptability
  • Introducing them to other members of the community, including family and friends, who may be interested in adoption
  • Conserving space and resources in local shelters for other animals in need
  • Saving their lives

Fostering is so important that we even encourage foster families NOT to adopt their kittens so their homes remain available to animals in need. During kitten season, the need for fosters can be even greater than the need for adopters.

To inspire more people to foster, we are launching Meow for Now, a national campaign providing vital fostering information and tools including a list of participating shelters in nearly every state. (Los Angeles residents should check out our LA-specific ASPCA Foster Program at ASPCA.org/FosterLA.) 

If you have room in your home for a kitten in need—for just two weeks or more—please consider taking this step. Young kittens can live safely in a small enclosed area, even a bathroom, if you have other pets, and your shelter or rescue group will provide you with all the information you need to care for your temporary pet.  

And if you know a local animal shelter that wants to expand its fostering program, we’re offering free toolkits, educational webinars, and other resources to help them run successful fostering programs and recruit new foster families. More than 675 animal shelters across the country are already partnering with us in this effort.

To learn more, visit our new “Meow for Now” kitten fostering campaign at aspca.org/MeowForNow, where you can search through a network of participating shelters to find one close to you. If you live in Los Angeles, check out our LA-specific ASPCA Foster Program at aspca.org/FosterLA.

Warm temperatures can put kittens in serious peril, but if people, shelters and communities step up to tackle the problem together, we can hopefully turn kitten season into foster season.

Originally posted on FelineWellness.com