Kitten. Crisis. Not exactly two words you’d expect to find in the same sentence. But here we are, Jacksonville, deep in the throes of a kitten crisis.
The concept of infinite fluffy kittens, while adorable, is in reality draining local shelters of resources at an alarming rate. Neonatal kittens are coming to shelters in the arms of well-meaning citizens by the thousands (yes, year to date, we’re more than 2,000 in Duval County) and organizations like the Jacksonville Humane Society are doing their best to keep up.
The use of the word “crisis” is not editorializing. Neonatal kittens who come to the shelter without their mothers are in a life-or-death situation. These kittens are the most at-risk group in shelter systems, with the mortality rate averaging as high as 40 percent. Their immune systems are so weak and compromised that despite every intervention, the odds are stacked against these tiny tabby, calico, tortoiseshell and tuxedo felines.
Underage kittens cannot eat on their own and must learn, within a few hours, how to nurse from a bottle or risk dying from lack of nutrients. They need round-the-clock care that staff and volunteers—faced with hundreds of animals every day—simply cannot provide. Leaving kittens in the shelter overnight with no one available is not an option, so a volunteer willing to take them home and care for them the very same day is the only solution. The volunteer foster must care for the kittens until they reach eight weeks of age, when they can be safely spayed or neutered and made available to adopt.
This is the cycle repeated at the
Jacksonville Humane Society approximately 22 times a day, according to last month’s numbers. In the month of May, despite numerous strategies and interventions, JHS alone received 683 underage kittens. From Jan. 1 through June 15, 2019, JHS took in 1,583 underage kittens—compared to 1,095 in 2017. The interventions are working, but the number of kittens continues to rise.
Still, we have hope. We believe the tide will turn because … this is Jacksonville. This was the first city of its size in the nation to achieve no-kill status, with more animals leaving shelters alive than ever in its history. This community made the map as a trendsetter in the world of animal sheltering, proving to be a worthy investment for national foundations such as PetSmart Charities, Petco Foundation, Maddie’s Fund and Best Friends Animal Society.
Many people thought it was impossible, out-of-reach, unattainable, but we did it. And we can do it again. But we need our community. We cannot do this alone.
Will you help us?
We have to begin with what’s producing the kittens: cats. Cats can get pregnant at four months of age; a female cat can have up to three litters a year. The city of Jacksonville offers a free program called SpayJax, and JHS offers low-cost alteration procedures. Please take advantage of these programs. If you see a cat on your street, don’t assume someone will get it fixed—be the one who does it. If you are feeding outdoor cats, take the steps to get them altered via a Trap/Neuter/Return program. Not only will you reduce unwanted litters of kittens, but you will improve their quality of life much more than a can of food ever will.
Did you find kittens? Please follow the “Don’t Kitnap” procedure: Look for the mother and let her provide the care. No mom? Consider caring for them with the help of a veterinarian instead of bringing them to our door. By keeping just one litter of kittens out of the shelter, you save the lives of countless others.
Jacksonville, we need you. You have been there for us in times of need. You’ve opened your homes to adopted pets. You’ve given your time, talents and resources to help us build our amazing, state-of-the-art facility. Your love for animals and our community is what gives us hope. It’s our best shot at ending this crisis.
We are better together. Join us! Sign up to foster a litter of kittens. Provide a home to orphaned kittens by choosing to adopt this year. Learn about resources available to support those who found kittens and/or need spay/neuter resources on our website, jaxhumane.org/kittenhelp, or come talk to us at 8464 Beach Blvd.
Generosity breeds joy. And joy is a powerful weapon when facing a crisis.
Layendecker is the senior manager of education and outreach at the Jacksonville Humane Society.