Spring means kittens, kittens, kittens

A kitten hangs on tight to Kaitlin Hibbs at the KHS shelter. The shelter is looking for people to foster kittens. - Leslie Kelly
A kitten hangs on tight to Kaitlin Hibbs at the KHS shelter. The shelter is looking for people to foster kittens.
— image credit: Leslie Kelly

When spring rolls around, employees at the Kitsap Humane Shelter know what’s coming. Kittens, kittens, and more kittens.

If this year is anything like previous years, there’ll be crates and cages just about everywhere — in the reception area, in the hallways and in just about every office.

The shelter will do its best to adopt this season’s kittens, offering special pricing when possible and taking kittens on the road to be shown at places where they hold adoption days.

But with kitten season comes something else, besides the need for adopters. KHS will need foster homes to care for kittens that are taken in when they are too young to be adopted.

In fact, KHS officials say they could use up to 40 more people willing to be foster moms and dads and families for kittens younger than eight weeks old.

“Right now we have about 25 active fosters,” said Kaitlin Hibbs, foster care coordinator at KHS. “Some of them are from last year and even last year we were short of the number we needed.”

In order to foster kittens, volunteers sign up with the shelter and go through training. Hibbs said what’s needed in a foster volunteer is people with patience and time.

“In some cases, these kittens have to be bottle fed every few hours,” Hibbs said. “That can mean getting up in the night to care for them.

“And sometimes the kittens have to be brought back and forth to the shelter for checkups and vaccinations.”

According to Natalie Smith, director of animal welfare at KHS, the shelter gets litters of newborns whose mothers have abandoned them for any number of reasons.

Additionally, the shelter gets kittens from feral cats who don’t or aren’t able to care for them.

“Sometimes the mother cat has been killed, hit by a car, or just left and the kittens need care,” she said.

But she cautions people from bringing newborn kittens to the shelter until it’s known whether the kittens have been abandoned.

“Sometimes the mother cat will go out in search of food and leave the kittens,” she said. “She can be gone a couple of hours.”

So, she said, if you happen on to newborn kittens, keep a watch over them and if the mother doesn’t return in half a day, consider bringing them to the shelter. But keep a record of where they were found so that someone can go back and check for a mother cat.

The shelter’s spay and neuter program and its feral cat program where cats are trapped, fixed and returned to the wild, have reduced the number of kittens, Smith said. In the last year, KHS has altered 868 cats in the Bremerton area  with the help of a grant.

Merrilee Johnson has fostered kittens for KHS for more than 10 years. In a season, she can have up to 100 in and out of her home.

“Generally, I have them for six or eight weeks, until they are old enough to go back to the shelter,” Johnson said. “At times I can have three or four sets of kittens, at various stages and ages.”

When she has kittens that need to be bottle fed, she carries them in a crate with her to her “day job,” at an elementary school.

“I take my breaks and lunch based on their schedule,” she said.

She once had kittens that were only three hours old after their mother was hit by a car.And, at her house, she has a dedicated cat room, complete with display cages much like the shelter.

“When my kids moved out, it became the cat room,” she said.

She pays for the kittens’ needs out of pocket, but that’s because she wants to. The shelter does provide powdered milk for the kittens.

Johnson has four cats of her own, but loves kittens.

“This is how I get my baby fix,” she said. “Until I have grandchildren.”

Some of the kittens she takes are those from feral cats that can’t be trapped, she said.

“The way I look at it is I’m their temporary mom until they get their forever homes,” she said.

Working as a foster kitten family helps teach responsibility, Johnson said.

“It’s a great family experience,” she said.

And Smith said that by having volunteers who will care for kittens in their homes, it helps the shelter to keep space open for those animals that are ready to be adopted.

“Foster care is so crucial to our shelter,” she said. “Without it, we don’t have the space to maintain our adoptions, or space for our staff to do their jobs.”

KHS is hoping to find more fosters homes so that the fosters they have now don’t have to take on so many kittens. To find out about foster volunteering, email or call 360-692-6977.


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