Volunteers get emergency training on how to bottle feed kittens, as feral population soars at Orange County animal shelter
TUSTIN — Summer Kenyon cradled a six-day-old dark gray kitten in the palm of her hand while she held a tiny bottle filled with milk to his mouth.
“If the belly is kind of like a little avocado, it’s full,” she explained to a group of people circled around her on Sunday, April 28, at the OC Animal Care shelter. “They don’t know when to stop, just like babies.”
Kenyon, 23, a real estate agent, was among a handful of shelter volunteers helping to teach new fosters how to bottle-feed neonatal kittens. The shelter held two emergency sessions on Sunday to enlist new fosters and volunteers as newborn kittens continue to flood into the Tustin shelter.
Shelters across Southern California are overwhelmed as they receive hundreds of kittens in a season that looks to be among the busiest in years.
The Orange County shelter is taking in between 20 and 50 unweaned kittens daily and is up to more than 900 for 2019. Last year at this time, the shelter had taken in 675 kittens. The shelter relies almost entirely on help from local residents to foster the young kittens in their home until they are old enough to be returned to the shelter, where they are spayed and neutered and then adopted out. Kittens must weigh at least two pounds before they can be spayed or neutered.
Long Beach Animal Care Services, likewise, has taken in 296 kittens this year, compared to 227 for the first four months of 2018; and in Riverside County, 2,139 kittens have been taken into shelters, up from 1,009 for the same period a year ago.
The two bottle-feeding classes, attended by more than 40 people per session, were aimed at getting more help for newborn and weeks-old kittens, all of which need special care.
“It was so heartwarming to see so many families attend the training together to learn how to care for kittens as a team,” Jessica Novillo, spokeswoman for OC Animal Care, said. “We had 27 families sign up to our foster program, 14 of which left with their first litter of foster kittens. In total, we were able to send out 52 kittens to foster yesterday, a huge success.”
Days-old kittens require bottle feeding about every two hours and need help learning how to relieve themselves — something their mothers normally teach them. Kittens older than three weeks can begin using litter boxes but still require bottle feeding. At about five weeks old, most kittens can begin to eat on their own.
Fosters are given towels, KMR (kitten supplement milk), cans of wet food, blankets, syringes, kitty toys and other supplies.
Alma Lopez, 42, of Garden Grove and her daughter, Kalysta, 18, were among the new fosters at the 10 a.m. session on Sunday. Both women volunteer with the Little Lion Foundation where they help with older animals. They decided fostering newborn kittens would not only benefit the animals, but also themselves.
“We thought it could be a good mother-daughter bonding experience,” Alma Lopez said. “We get to interact and we have the same passion for animals. What better way to spend time together?”
Both were excited to receive more education and to practice some of the bottle-feeding techniques.
“I hate seeing kittens abandoned and they don’t have anyone to help them,” Kalysta Lopez said.
Nancy and Bill Bower, of Anaheim Hills, also were on board to help. Both teachers, they thought the experience of fostering the kittens could translate into educational opportunities for their respective classrooms.
Nancy Bower teaches third grade in Orange and Bill Bower teaches middle-school students in Moreno Valley.
“I’d like to talk to the principal about bringing someone from the shelter into my classroom and talking about the foster program,” said Nancy Bower, who said she planned to start helping out at the shelter this week.
“I teach middle-school students and it’s very hard to get them to care about anything outside of themselves,” said her husband. “If they can see ways about caring for something, maybe it will affect their personalities and their compassion.”
As the number of kittens brought to the shelter continues to grow, officials cautioned people to make sure a kitten has been abandoned before bringing it in.
“It’s very possible that the mom is out hunting for food or is nearby watching them,” Novillo said. “The kittens are safest with their mom at least until they are eating on their own.”
When: 11 a.m., Sunday, May 5
Where: OC Animal Care. 1630 Victory Rd. Tustin