One brisk morning, a man was told that there were cries coming from a dumpster on his property by a neighbor. When he opened the lid, he saw a scampering blur. It was hard to tell in the dirty, dark depths of the container exactly what it was. Then the tiny apparition let out a mew: she was a tiny, scared kitten. The homeowner quickly made a lifesaving call to the local animal shelter.
Within minutes, Gina Lepine, animal behaviorist at North Fork Animal Welfare League, was assessing the situation. Since the kitten was at-risk, she jumped right in the dumpster to rescue the frightened feline. Whether you live in a bustling city or a rural enclave, chances are you’ve encountered a similar situation. Here’s how to approach a scared kitten if you find one.
“The first thing you should do if you find any animal in distress is to call your local shelter,” Lepine says. Many municipal animal shelters, like the one in Southold, Long Island, where Lepine works, partner with nonprofit animal agencies to help animals at-large, especially community cats (aka feral cats). A stray kitten could be a community cat separated from her mother. Or she could be the offspring of a house cat abandoned by an irresponsible owner. Either way, the scared kitten needs assistance right away.
Donna Baldridge, a freelance trapper, has been doing Trap/Neuter/Return (TNR) for almost two decades. She’s helped hundreds of scared kittens and recommends using a humane trap to safely contain the skittish kit. If your local animal shelter does not lend out traps, find a nearby feral cat organization that does.
What are the signals that a kitten is scared? “You can tell quickly if the kitten is scared if she’s totally frozen or hissing and spitting,” Baldridge says. Even if the kitten doesn’t try to run away, it doesn’t mean she’s comfortable. Safety is so important for the kitten and the rescuer, so again, don’t try to pick up any unknown kitties.
Using wet food can usually lure the kitten into the trap. “Microwaving the food makes it stinkier,” recommends Baldridge, for trap-savvier kittens. If the scared kitten isn’t in immediate danger and is avoiding going into the trap — feeding the kitten in the trap for a few days can get her acclimated enough to be able to close the door.
Remember, don’t stick your fingers in the trap! “Cat bites can be severe,” Baldridge says.
Baldridge has a multi-step process to help calm a scared kitten:
“Keeping the kitten confined is not cruel,” Baldridge stresses. “It makes her feel safe.” After the first two days, she feeds the kitten with a long, iced teaspoon. Associating humans with delicious food helps socialize fearful kitties. She also uses play therapy. With a lot of patience and persistence, the kitten warms up to people. “When she starts accepting touch is when you know you’ve turned the corner,” Baldridge beams. “Now she’s ready to join her new forever home!”
As for that scared kitten trapped in a dumpster — she warmed up right away once in the caring hands of NFAWL’s shelter employees. She’s been dubbed Sunshine and has been adopted by a loving family.
Thumbnail: Photography ©photodeti | Thinkstock.
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