To my surprise, I found a litter of three feral kittens that had been born in our neighborhood.
After the initial “awww” moment, the decision was made to help these 4-week-old kittens. I scooped up one and another neighbor agreed to foster the other two until a home could be found.
In caring for this young kitten, I felt like a new mother with scheduled bottle feedings every three hours. My new kitten did not like to be left alone at night, or in the dark. I often left the television on — her favorite show seemed to be “Quincy” — and I placed her carrier next to me at night.
Today, that adorable ball of cream fluff has the run of the house and even sasses our new dog that we recently adopted from the animal shelter. Her two sisters stayed together and were adopted by a local couple that also have other pets in the home.
Although this is a joyous ending to the story, the fate of many feral kittens is less kind.
Since the beginning of kitten season this past April, our local animal shelter has taken in 56 kittens and had to put down 27. Some kittens euthanized were only hours old, with the cord still attached.
The knowledge of this breaks my heart, and I must admit there are tears as I write this column. Gone are the good ol’ days when there was enough staffing to assist with bottle feeding of a young litter.
“If you plan to bring us a litter of kittens, then please bring us the mom,” explained Ben Miller, head of Tracy Animal Services. “We are now in the height of kitten season and we are getting many litters a day. These young kittens won’t make it without Mom. It’s best to leave the kittens in their environment, unless there is immediate danger.”
Many times, when you find a litter of kittens by themselves, the mother has left to find food or water and will return to care for them. It is not common for feral mother cats to abandon their litters, although it can happen from time to time.
Here are a few dos and don’ts to keep in mind this kitten season:
• Do: If you find a litter of kittens, allow at least a few hours for the mother cat to return. You can also leave her kibble so she does not need to leave her babies as often, according to No Place Like Home Animal Rescue.
• Don’t: Please don’t take feral kittens to the animal shelter. Due to a lack of staffing, and sometimes due to illness, kittens taken to animal shelters are often euthanized.
• Do: Young kittens will have to be bottle fed every three hours, around the clock, and you must stimulate them to do their business. Take a warm washcloth and gently rub their private area. Do this before and after bottle feeding, according to Mountain House Feral Cat Rescue.
• Don’t: Never give kittens adult or senior cat food or cow’s milk.
• Do: When kittens are anywhere from 4 to 5 weeks old, you can start them on canned kitten food. Make sure you look for kitten-stage food. By 5 or 6 weeks old, kittens might be ready to try dry kibble, according to Animal Rescue of Tracy.
Animal rescue groups are greatly in need of volunteers to help foster kittens. Your help could make all the difference and bring another happy ending to this story.
• Anne Marie Fuller is the television host of “Helpful Hints with Anne Marie,” which can be seen on Cable Channel 26 at 7p.m. Fridays. She is also the chairwoman for the Tracy Arts Commission and was named Mrs. California 2013 in May. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.