The gray, medium-haired kitten mewed anxiously as Debra Mackey, an admissions worker at the Humane Society for Southwest Washington, gingerly coaxed it into a kennel smelling strongly of disinfectants.
“Be nice, be nice,” she said, avoiding its sharp claws.
The kitten had been brought into the shelter that morning. It didn’t have a name and staff hadn’t checked its gender. Before being taken in, the kitten had spent its short life roaming around after its mother gave birth to it outside. After Mackey placed the kitten into the kennel, it gazed with wide eyes through its metal bars. Other recent arrivals meowed and pawed at their cages.
Having this many kittens at the Humane Society is unusual for this time of year, according to Sam Ellingson, the shelter’s outreach and strategic partnership coordinator.
Each year, shelters across the country prepare for “kitten season.” It’s a period when stray and unsterilized cats breed during the warmer months and shelters see an influx of their offspring. Typically, the season would be winding down by now, said Ellingson.
“But this year has been a much longer season,” he said. The stream of kittens brought to the Humane Society has also brought unexpected demands on the nonprofit’s space, resources and volunteers.
According to Lisa Feder, the Humane Society’s vice president and director of shelter operations, kitten season typically runs from April through August. Feder, who was traveling, wrote in an email that while numbers vary each year, in 2016 the Humane Society took in 1,003 kittens, 62 percent of which were brought in during that five-month period.
This year, the Humane Society has received a total of 936 from January through October and the shelter is continuing to see very young kittens, according to Feder.
“In September and October this year, we took in 305 kittens, over 100 more than in the previous year, an increase of 57 (percent),” wrote Feder.
Ellingson explained that when kittens are first brought to the shelter they are placed in sterile kennels away from other animals to help prevent the spread of any illnesses. He said the kittens are given a health check and then go out to foster families, who care for the kittens until they are big and healthy enough to adopt out. He said that foster families have an important job caring for the kittens and will wake up throughout the night to feed them.
Once a kitten has been spayed or neutered, vaccinated and is least 2 pounds and about 8 to 10 weeks old it can be adopted out by the shelter, according to Ellingson.
“By the fall, intake usually slows and our foster homes get a bit of a break,” wrote Feder. “But this year, we still have over 100 kittens in foster care because they are too young for adoption.”
In addition to having to rearrange the shelter to find space for the kittens, the Humane Society has also asked for donations of food, Ellingson said. The shelter has also been holding more adoption events.
Overall, Ellingson said Clark County is doing a better job of controlling its stray cat population through spay-and-neuter programs. He said that while this long kitten season will slow down eventually, he noted that the next one is just months away.
Why this kitten season has been longer than usual is a mystery, but Ellingson suspects the cold spring and the warm fall have pushed it out.
“If the weather is nice and cats are about,” he said, “we will have kittens.”