A flood of tiny orphans is expected at the Salt Lake County shelter.
By Judy Fahys | The Salt Lake Tribune
It’s not every day that you get the chance to save the world — especially that corner of it where the lives of tiny, orphaned kittens are on the line.
"You are literally saving lives," says Talia Butler, special programs manager at animal services.
And that is a big draw, program organizers hope, for people willing to lend a caring hand. The kittens that need help are as young as 2 days old, still blind and deaf — and motherless, rescued by animal control officers.
Volunteer Jennifer Jaramillo has already warmed a bottle and preps a soft, clean spot to work with a week-old white and gray-striped kitten. Soon she gently wrangles the little one as it twists its face away from the dropperful of supplements she tries to administer.
Next, she’ll weigh, feed, weigh, potty and weigh the tiny wriggler — it’s the routine that takes place every two hours for each of the 50 motherless kittens now at the shelter.
Then, the payoff for her patience. The squirming baby tugs greedily at the formula-filled bottle she holds, and her face lights up.
In a room at the other end of a trailer where the program is housed, nine curtained-off kennels contain feral and homeless mother cats and their litters. Volunteers tend them, too, even though the moms do much of the work.
With around 100 cats and kittens already in residence, the Bottle Baby team knows more help will be needed soon. The yearly feline baby boom is just getting under way.
"There’s always an onslaught of kittens in the spring and summer," said Sandy Nelson, the shelter’s marketing and outreach director.
Through the summer, animal services and its partner, Best Friends Animal Society, expect to need around 400 volunteers to keep the kitten-rescue center running round the clock. The chores go beyond cuddling and include cleaning litter pans and other cleanup. And volunteers follow a strict regimen of sanitizing and using gloves and smocks to protect the babies from disease.
"We have our hard days," Nelson said. "But it’s worth it."
The Bottle Baby program is modeled on one in Austin, Texas. But, unlike that orphaned-kitten program and many others, this one is hosted by a government agency, county animal services. The others are hosted by private organizations.
The Salt Lake County program is part of an effort aimed at making the shelter — which sees about 11,000 cats and dogs a year — a no-kill facility. And, so far for 2013, the county shelter is on track, said Butler.
In the end, the shelter hopes to get these kittens ready to adopt as house pets. Mother cats, newly spayed and inoculated, also can be diverted to new careers as good barn cops and outdoor pest managers.
Across the interstate at the Humane Society of Utah, another kitten-saving effort has been under way for about a decade, said spokesman Carl Arky.
"Our approach is quite a bit different," he said. "We send our kittens into homes to be cared for instead of keeping them at the shelter."
One foster family, for instance, handles bottle feeding in shifts, with parents and kids working together day and night. They also pay for formula and veterinary care. And keeping the kittens in foster care eliminates the risk of spreading disease among all of the vulnerable kittens.
"We have built this up over the years and now have a dedicated, loyal group of volunteers," he said, "but we can always use more because the demand grows greater every year"
Nelson does have a warning for potential volunteers. They might be so enthralled by the kittens that they want to adopt whole litters.
"Just be prepared," she said, "for cuteness."