AP NEWS

Aiken County Animal Shelter promotes new foster program to save lives

May 27, 2019

Two-week-old kittens Sienna and Bianca are so small they can fit in the palm of one hand.

“They were found in the parking lot when we opened up last Wednesday morning, abandoned in a box,” said Hillary Clark-Kulis of the Aiken County Animal Shelter. “They were left overnight, which – kittens cannot survive with that sort of cold. They were just limp. They hadn’t eaten. It took me most of the day to get their temperature warmed up.”

Clark-Kulis said it was “touch and go” for a few days. They were so small and young, it seemed unlikely they would survive.

But they pulled through.

“They’re fragile, but at the same time, they’re really resilient,” Clark-Kulis said. “If you provide the things that they need, it’s amazing what you can pull them back from. If you would have seen them a week ago. … You would’ve thought, why is she even bothering? You can never tell which one’s going to make it and which one’s not, which is why I try with all of them.”

When kitten season comes, the animal shelter sees many cases like Bianca and Sienna. Dropping off nursing kittens when the shelter is closed can be devastating for the animal’s health.

It’s also why the shelter is promoting its new foster program, which includes free kits that provide fosters with all the care young kittens require.

“It’s a program we’re starting this year,” Clark-Kulis said. “We’re trying to have more community involvement. ... It’s much better for animals to be in a foster home with people that are watching them.”

Fostering programs help keep young animals out of overcrowded shelters and helps teach them socialization skills they need for adoption.

The foster kits contain supplies like litter boxes and litter, syringes, toys and more. They also contain general information about how to care for young kittens and how to feed them.

The kits contain enough supplies to last two weeks, but the shelter will refill them if fosters end up looking after the kittens for longer.

“We just ask they return any unused supplies,” Clark-Kulis said.

It is because of these kits and fosters that animals like Bianca and Sienna were able to survive. The kittens will nurse until they are about five weeks old. When they are eight weeks old, or weigh about 2 pounds, they can be adopted.

“They’re just starting to learn how to walk,” Clark-Kulis said. “A couple of days ago they did the thing where they discovered that they have feet.”

The shelter is always looking for more fosters for kittens. Foster kits do not currently exist for puppies.

Clark-Kulis does not recommend taking in very young kittens unless it is known for a fact the mother is dead. She said it was also not unusual for mother cats to put their kittens in yards with dogs to protect them from predators like raccoons and foxes.

Kittens who are still nursing need special care, even if they are being taken to the shelter the next day. They cannot regulate their body temperature and should be kept in a warm environment with heating pads, warm rice packs or heating lamps. They need to be fed every few hours with kitten formula, as cow’s milk can lead to fatal digestion problems in kittens. Clear Pedialyte will also work as a temporary substitute.

“I think the majority of people don’t want to hurt animals, they just don’t know how they can help,” Clark-Kulis said. ”...We’re always here to answer questions.”

For information on the new foster program at the Aiken County Animal Shelter, or for inquiries about how to safely drop off cats or kittens, contact the shelter at 803-642-1537.

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