Newborn felines are some of the cuddliest members of the animal kingdom. But their diminutive stature—and the level of TLC they need to survive—makes them extra vulnerable, too. That’s why the San Diego Humane Society (SDHS) Kitten Nursery, the first of its kind in the U.S., cares exclusively for fragile fuzz balls.
Very young kittens, even healthy ones, require almost round-the-clock attention: They have to be fed roughly every three hours and need help regulating their body temperature. “Not all shelters have the resources, so kittens are euthanized in droves,” says Gary Weitzman, SDHS president and CEO. “They’re one of the most at-risk animal populations nationwide.” The kitten nursery opened in 2009 to help remedy that. In 2016 alone, it cared for—and eventually adopted out—nearly 3,500 very young cats.
During “kitten season”—from March to mid-November, when cats give birth—the nursery, run by 20 staffers and about 200 volunteers, is open 24 hours a day. Though the group’s life-saving efforts are Herculean, its tools are anything but. “We brush their backs with toothbrushes,” says Weitzman, “because it simulates the roughness of their mother’s tongue.” Nap time means dozing inside Easter baskets or child-size travel neck pillows. The young felines may be more demanding than other SDHS residents, but staffers don’t mind. Says Weitzman, “Nobody complains about working in the nursery.”