Denise Nieves (right) and her daughter, Betsy, hold a few of their foster kittens
Posted March 7, 2017 | 1:35 PM

Neonatal Kitten Program Saves Lives

Volunteers provide foster homes for infant cats

The County has a program to help save lives of newborn kittens, and you can help.

Through the “Wait Until 8” program, volunteer cat-lovers agree to care for stray and orphaned kittens less than eight weeks old or weighing less than two pounds. Once they reach these age/weight benchmarks, the felines are deemed old enough to be placed for adoption at the County animal shelter.

Here’s how the program works:

  • Residents who otherwise might turn in underage kittens to shelters instead agree to raise them until the animals are eligible for adoption. Volunteers — individuals and rescue groups —also offer to take care of the newborn kittens.
  • Caregivers receive free Kitten Survival Kit supplies provided by Alley Cat Allies, a national cat advocacy group, and instructions about how to care for neonatal kittens, including tips on keeping them warm, feeding, bathing, and socialization.
  • People who take care of the young kittens may adopt an animal free of charge, and receive a complimentary County pet license, vaccination, and identifying microchip.

Volunteers must be at least 18 years old. Students participating in the program may qualify to receive hours toward Bright Futures scholarships.

The influx of kittens to the County’s animal shelter during the summertime can be overwhelming — 500, 600 or even 800 of the tiny cuties a month. Shelter staffers are not equipped to care for so many kittens less than two months old. And if one of the animals gets sick, the illness can spread. Life in a shelter is not conducive to good health for newborn kittens.

Euthanasia of young kittens — once more than 1,000 of them a year — dropped dramatically after the Wait Until 8 program launched in spring 2015.

Alley Cat Allies says every cat is valued and should be protected. Each donated survival kit includes bottles, formula, and other items. The kits are available at the County’s Pet Resource Center, 440 N. Falkenburg Road in Tampa. Call (813) 744-5660 for more information.

The partnership with Alley Cat Allies has helped save hundreds of kittens’ lives and thousands of dollars in shelter expenses. The best scenario is when people decide to keep or find homes for kittens after agreeing temporarily to care for the neonatal animals.

Denise Short Nieves and her teenage daughter, Betsy, are caring for their fourth litter of kittens. They raise and find homes for the animals, Denise says, and have kept two of the young cats — Speed Racer and Cheeto — “who really touched our hearts.” She praises Wait Until 8. “It really is pretty amazing,” she says. “This program allows me to use my knowledge base, and of course time and energy, without a financial burden.”

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