Vulnerable newborns get crucial aid at San Diego Humane Society’s Kitten Nursery
BY JENNIFER McENTEE
The newest of newborn kittens haven’t even opened their eyes. They need help to eat and to eliminate waste, and a warm, safe place to sleep.
If they become orphaned in the first few weeks of life, their prognosis is dire. Unless, that is, they’re brought to San Diego Humane Society’s Kitten Nursery to receive round-the-clock neonatal care.
“The reason we’re here is underaged kittens are one of the most vulnerable pet populations,” says Jackie Noble, SDHS Kitten Nursery supervisor. “In San Diego County, they’ve historically been the most highly euthanized due to their fragile state.”
The Kitten Nursery is projected to see its 10,000th kitten cared for by SDHS since the nursery opened in 2009. The nursery is the first of its kind, Noble says, and has served as a model for other shelters nationwide. The Oceanside and Escondido Campuses have satellite nurseries, and shelters throughout the county call upon SDHS to care for kittens too young to be adopted.
The Kitten Nursery takes in orphaned kittens from newborn to 4 weeks old. “Anything older than 4 weeks can go to a foster home,” she says. “That way we can focus on the truly fragile.”
The reasons that kittens become orphaned vary: some are born weak or are rejected by their mothers, and others are displaced by human interference or relinquished by pet owners.
A team of 20 part- and full-time nursery staff are helped by about 200 specially trained volunteers. While the professionals handle the kittens’ vital health care needs, volunteer duties can range from cleaning tiny bottles to sweeping floors and washing laundry.
Though it might be tempting to nuzzle armfuls of kittens, the nursery is a controlled environment designed to prevent disease transmission. Vaccines aren’t typically administered until the kittens are about 5 weeks old. Accordingly, they’re kept in small, quarantined populations for better monitoring, and gloved caretakers hold them at arms’ length.
The kittens still get some creature comforts. They’re given baby toys to snuggle up with and are groomed with toothbrushes, a sensation that mimics a mother’s tongue. Once they’re ready to roam, the kittens can climb around children’s toys, like Barbie cars and American Girl–size doll furniture.
As nature goes, the nursery sees the greatest influx of kittens in April and May, with a second boom in August and September. Litters are kept together as best as possible, while singletons are often paired with a friend of the same approximate age and size.
During peak times, the nursery houses around 160 kittens. There’s room for about 10 mother cats—called “queens”—in the facility too.
Noble says SDHS works to educate the community about the value of spaying or neutering their pets so fewer animals need shelter care. Foster homes are always in demand; adoptive homes are the ultimate goal.
And for those who just want a peek at the cuteness? The nursery’s “kitten cam” broadcasts live during baby season.
For more information, visit sdhumane.org
Newborns in San Diego Humane Society’s Kitten Nursery need 24-hour care and an endless amount of supplies, just like their human counterparts. Each April, the nursery hosts a “kitten shower” to collect donations. Donors are also invited to an hourly behind-the-scenes tour of the nursery.
Items on the “baby registry” include:
- Toys, from table tennis balls to stuffed animals
- Flat sheets and baby blankets
- Kitten-size beds
- Canned and dry kitten food
- Feline powdered milk
- Nursing bottles and nipples
- Food and water dishes
- Heating pads
- White Kleenex
- Fragrance-free baby wipes
- Dawn dish soap
- Hair dryers
- 18-gallon storage bins
The SDHS Kitten Nursery has a wish list available on Amazon, and accepts donations at any of its three campuses.
For more information, call 619-299-7012.