There was a chorus of hungry meows coming from a wash in Amado earlier this month. It was a box of 10 abandoned kittens, probably the result of two litters.
Paws Patrol volunteer Gayle Peek took the call from a crying woman and knew they couldn’t just leave the two-week old kittens to suffer. So, she said to bring them to Paws Patrol.
“You know, when the lady called I could hear the kittens in the background screaming,” Peek said. “You don't even think twice even though you know you’re taking five of them home. You can't leave them out there to die.”
The 10 kittens are now in the care of Peek and another foster volunteer, but they add to the growing number of kittens the cat rescue organization has seen this year.
Area animal shelters are all seeing higher numbers of kittens than is typical. Some think the reasons are found in the pandemic while others attribute a longer kitten season to high temperatures lingering into fall and winter.
Whatever the reason, animal rescues are in need of fosters, food and cash to continue caring for the influx of kittens and other animals.
“Kitten season has exploded and caring for 80 kittens is expensive," Hogan said.
The organization has paid nearly $15,000 for kitten care this year.
Board member JoAnn Williams said they have taken in 13 kittens in November, including the 10 from the box in Amado. In October, they brought in 18, and five more were born on-site by a mother cat in their care.
“I think it's been well over 100 kittens since March,” she said. “We are a small shelter and in spring, there’s not a lot of fosters, so a lot of them were here. This time, we were fortunate we have fosters.”
The kittens they saved from Amado are young and require special care like bottle feeding.
“They still need to be fed every two to four hours, all night long,” Williams said. “We don't have a lot of baby bottle feeders. So I ended up taking five of them initially and while they’re here we’re trying to get them to eat.”
The kittens will remain in the care of Paws Patrol for at least three months before they go up for adoption.
“We don't like to release any kittens until they are spayed and neutered because that's our mission,” Williams said. “Our veterinarian won’t do that until they are three months old.”
Williams said the kittens, each about 6 ounces when rescued, will gain about a pound per month.
Paws Patrol spends an average $480 on each kitten for care.
“Kittens can have intestinal issues requiring vet visits and tests in addition to the cost of any medicine administered one or two times a day for a couple of weeks,” she said. “During this time we schedule routine vaccines if they are not ill and/or receiving medicine. Finally, they are spayed or neutered, with spays costing more, and given a rabies shot.”
There’s also the cost of food.
She said what they need now are more fosters, and they can train people to bottle feed.
“The more fosters we have, the more kittens we can help,” she said. “If people are interested in ferals, they are our mission. They have to be taken from their moms before mom teaches them to be feral.”
Paws Patrol’s main focus is feral cats and they have a robust Trap, Neuter, Return program.
The program takes feral cats from their wild colonies and ensures they are spayed or neutered before returning them. It helps decrease overpopulation, reduces hormone-driven behaviors like fighting and spraying, and ultimately reduces the number of cats in shelters.
“We’re trying to educate people about our program... I saw a statistic that 80% of kittens are born outside, so a lot of kittens become grown ferals,” she said. “What do you do with a feral? We provide the best life we can for them. They can't be domesticated.”
Some go into their Working Cat program, which adopts out outdoor spayed or neutered cats to people with a barn, horse stable, warehouse or other outdoor location they can live in.
The Animal League of Green Valley President Kim Eisele said “kittens have been non-stop.”
Right now, they have about 170, more than 20 of which are in foster homes. It’s been a trend throughout the pandemic.
“Last year, we had 162 kittens, but last year was a big kitten year, too,” she said. “So we will surpass last year, but for two years in a row, it’s been all year round and it doesn’t seem to stop.”
Eisele thinks it has to do with the weather.
“It's November and it's 85 degrees outside,” she said. “So, I think because it's warmer they are having kittens year long and we’re not getting those breaks.”
While the kitten numbers are high, Eisele said at least the number of puppies has been fairly standard with the exception of a recent mother dog and five puppies they took in, which Eisele said is a little out of the ordinary.
She called it a “kitten year,” and said TALGV is offering a buy-one-get-one-free special for $45.
Pima Animal Care Center, which serves Pima County, is seeing an unusual increase in the number of animals they are taking in, particularly kittens and large dogs.
Spokesperson Nikki Reck said normally at this time of year things begin to slow down into a more manageable number, but it hasn’t been the case in 2021.
“It’s raining cats and dogs, and we’re taking in 75 to 100 animals every day,” she said. “It’s normally not this far into the year; it’s usually a summer thing.”
She said it’s a problem across the nation and is rooted in the pandemic.
“The pandemic has had an impact, though we can't pinpoint it to one type of thing,” she said. “It's not just PACC, it’s shelters across the country with the same problem.”
Reck said the pandemic has caused more owner surrenders of pets and many local shelters they partner with are full.
She said they have about 2,000 animals in need of homes, with more than 1,000 in foster homes and about 700 in their facilities.
“Honestly, I can't stress how unusual this is at this time of year. We usually slow down in October,” she said. “We open every day with only one or two kennels, it’s hard.”
In 2020, PACC took in 3,453 cats and 8,792 dogs. In October 2020, they took in 312 cats compared to this October, where they took in 1,271 cats.
Reck said they have needed to be creative in how they deal with the increase and there has been an effect on their operation. For example, they have had to put their Safety Net program, which helps pet owners care or keep their pets during a temporary financial instability, on pause and the wait might be longer on certain services.
“For people who don't have emergencies, such as surrender appointments, those might get pushed," she said. "It’s not a ‘no,’ but we might have to push it back."