June 18, 2018

Nono the Nurturer: Young Felines Find Unlikely Caregiver in French Bulldog

Nono and his foster kittens
Nono and a recent litter of foster kittens: Frankie, Finley and Freddie.

A dog may be a man’s best friend, but can he also be a kitten’s? 

Nono, a two-year-old French bulldog, is proving the answer to be a resounding “yes” by nurturing his fifth litter of young felines—just in time for Father’s Day. 

“Dogs crave companionship,” explains Megan Noes, Nono’s owner and the ASPCA’s Kitten Nursery Manager. “As a young dog, Nono revels in playtime and interaction. Sometimes he even grooms the kittens, which is a very social behavior.” 

Nono Meets the Fosters

Megan and her husband Jacob have fostered more than 100 animals—mostly kittens—over the past 10 years. And since they moved to New York City in February 2016, Nono has been lending a helping paw.

The first kittens Nono met—a trio transported from Animal Care Centers (ACC) of NYC’s Manhattan shelter—were Oliver, Osborne and Obi. Megan and Jacob introduced Nono to the four-week-old kittens while he was on a leash. 

“We knew he liked to chase squirrels, but didn’t know how he would respond to cats,” Megan says. “We always let the kittens come to him. It’s important they have that choice and plenty of options for escape. We monitor them carefully.”

Nono nuzzles Freddie
Nono nuzzles six-week-old Freddie.

Megan and Jacob taught Nono the command "gentle," and reward him when he calms down. 

“He’s learned to leave the kittens alone and play with his own toys when he gets excited," says Megan. "He also goes on plenty of walks so he stays busy.”

When no one is home, the kittens stay secured in a large crate, or Nono stays in another room.

A Natural Nurturer

It’s not clear why some animals coexist peacefully or develop such strong bonds with other species. 

“Maternal instincts can sometimes surface when a dog was weaned too early, or a female dog has lost a litter,” explains Victoria Wells, the ASPCA’s Senior Manager of Behavior and Training. “The act of grooming can also be soothing, like a pacifier.”

Nono resting with one of his kittens
Frankie and Nono relax.

“If kittens meet a dog by the time they are four weeks old, they will show no fear by 12 weeks; they’ll be socialized to them,” adds Megan, referring to one of the benchmarks in the ASPCA’s Kitten Nursery manual.

The Kitten Nursery has accepted more than 400 kittens since April 15 and can accommodate up to 300 at a time. A total of 140 are currently in foster homes, including seven nursing mothers (queens) and their litters. 

The Importance of Fostering

Foster caregivers and shelters work together to help community animals in need. 

“A shelter can’t provide everything that a foster home can,” says Megan, underscoring the benefits of fostering to both animals and people.  “Our goal is to get as many kittens who are doing well into foster homes. That way they’re much better prepared to go into new homes when the time comes, and the nursery can focus on the ones who most need our attention.”

“Kitten season was once considered June to July,” says Katy Hansen, Director of Marketing and Communications for ACC, which has taken in 1,300 kittens so far this year and 150 over Memorial Day weekend alone. “Nowadays we see litters come in starting in April and well on through September. Our need for kitten fosters has never been greater and is indeed a constant need throughout the year.”

two kittens drinking water
Frankie and Finley take a water break.

While some would-be kitten fosters may be hesitant about losing sleep or getting too attached to kittens, Megan has advice. 

“Some bottle babies will sleep through the night, and if you have a roommate, older kids or a partner or spouse, you can rotate duties,” she says. She acknowledges the amount of work that bottle babies require, but adds, “They are so much fun to raise. Week by week, they’re developing and changing, and you’re helping them along.”

Megan says first-time fosters should consider taking in queens with kittens since the mother cat does most of the work. As for letting your dog assist in the nurturing process, it’s not recommended for everyone.

“If you have misgivings, skip it,” she advises. “Don’t force it.”

Megan says that “saving as many kittens as possible takes a village,” so she’s happy to let Nono in on the action. “Fostering is one of the best things you can do for the animals in your community,” she says.

And no one knows that better than Nono.

Whether or not you have a helping paw like Nono, visit our Meow for Now campaign to find out all you need to know about fostering these adorable houseguests this kitten season!