It’s kitten season! Sounds adorable, right? There’s nothing cuter than a mewing, blue-eyed, bushy-tailed, roly-poly kitten. But like everything good and pure, kitten season has a dark side — and if you’ve spent any time in the animal rescue world, you probably already know what that is. Put simply, there are too many kittens and not enough homes, forcing these beautiful, amazing, intelligent creatures to struggle and often die on the streets or languish in cages waiting for a forever home.
It doesn’t have to be this way, of course, and many advocates and shelters are working hard to change this reality. Here are a few things you can do to help.
A universal truth for animal shelters: They always have more cats than they can care for, and these cats need help: fresh bowls of food and water, a clean litter box, mental stimulation, love and affection. Kittens, especially, require lots of play and interaction to ensure they’re properly socialized for adoption — and so they don’t completely topple their cages by literally bouncing off the walls.
Positive interactions with a variety of people before adoption can help kittens grow up to be friendlier and less fearful in new situations — and that, of course, is where you come in. Just spending 10 minutes helping a kitten burn off some of her excess energy can calm her down enough to make her more appealing to a potential adopter. And hey, you get to hang out with kittens, which isn’t such a bad way to spend a few hours each week.
Another problem encountered by virtually all animal shelters: They need materials but lack the money to buy them. As nonprofit organizations, most shelters depend almost entirely on fundraisers and private donations. In my own life, “disposable income” remains an abstract concept — perhaps you can relate. But the good news is even a small donation can help. Look at it this way: If 100 people donate $10, that’s a sizable amount.
Animal shelters are also perpetually in need of supplies — and it doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Old newspapers make great litter box liners, and cardboard boxes are ideal for temporary litter boxes. Old blankets or towels can be used for beds. Got a stack of toys your cat never uses or a cozy bed you bought three years ago that she’s never slept in? Your local shelter can use all of it.
It’s true that fostering a litter of kittens requires time, space, and a certain emotional commitment. But according to Catster‘s JaneA Kelley, there are still plenty of reasons to consider fostering kittens. For starters, living in a real home with people (and often other cats) is the best way to socialize kittens and ensure they’ll grow up to be good pets. Fostering also gets the kittens out of the shelter, thereby making room for other cats who need saving — and might otherwise be facing euthanasia.
This might seem counterintuitive, but older cats suffer during kitten season as well, going largely ignored by many adopters. According to Cats Protection, a rescue organization with 31 adoption centers in the UK, more than six times as many kittens are adopted than older cats — but nearly 10 percent of the cats in their care are at least 11 years old. On average, these feline seniors take five times longer than kittens to be adopted — a figure that jumps to six-and-a-half times longer during kitten season.
Sure, kittens are cute, but senior cats are awesome as well. My 15-year-old gray tabby, Bubba Lee Kinsey, recently cuddled with me during the entirety of a three-hour binge of Daredevil on Netflix. My kitten, Salvador, is also excellent, of course — but when I’m looking for a bit of Zen and calm companionship, Bubba Lee Kinsey always delivers.
Perhaps the most obvious way to ensure the shelters and the streets aren’t overrun with homeless kittens is to make sure those kittens aren’t born in the first place. Spay and neuter your own pets — if you can’t afford a traditional vet, most cities have low-cost (or even free) options available, such as Operation Catnip in Gainesville, Florida. You can also get involved with trap-neuter-return — or TNR — campaigns targeting feral cat colonies in your area. Or you can start your own.
Even if your capacity to help is closer to a small donation than leading a larger rescue effort, every little bit helps.