Clark County’s cats are not social distancing. They’ve gotten very close indeed over the past several months, and now local shelters are overrun with kittens. This is what’s known as “kitten season”–the year’s warmest months, when cats are at their most amorous — and it is continuing apace.
“Is it ever kitten season!” said Diane Stevens, marketing director for Furry Friends, a no-kill cat rescue and adoption organization in Vancouver. “In fact, with global warming, I don’t think kitten season every really stops. Kittens are just everywhere right now.”
This year’s prolific kitten season puts a particular strain on small shelters that are already struggling during the pandemic. COVID-19 has strained finances, with fewer donations coming in, and has forced physical limits on volunteers, shelter services and interactions with adopters. Meanwhile, the kittens keep coming in an adorable, furry tsunami.
“We are a small shelter, and the most cats and kittens we adopt out for the whole year is 200, so having 55 kittens at one time, that’s a lot for us,” Stevens said. “It’s keeping our little volunteer shelter very busy.”
“We’ve been running close to 100 kittens all season,” said Janet Sword, volunteer coordinator at Second Chance Companions, which has no shelter but manages a network of pet foster homes. “I would say right now, we probably have a good 75 or more.”
Stevens and Sword both noted that the pandemic has prevented the Feral Cat Coalition from spaying and neutering as many feral cats as it would have during a normal year. Considering that one female cat can have 100 to 200 kittens in her lifetime, or up to 12 kittens in a year, that’s a lot of extra kittens out there.
Another reason, Sword said, is that veterinary offices shut down in March and April in response to the pandemic, so there was a period of many weeks when they weren’t offering spaying and neutering. When they did reopen for limited services, there was (and still is) quite a backlog, and some cat owners whose financial security was affected by the pandemic could no longer afford the operation or simply decided not to go through with it. A portion of those reproductively intact cats are now having kittens.
Fortunately, even though the pandemic has unleashed a wave of kittens, it has also provided a wave of adopters as folks spending more time at home seek companionship from feline friends. Kittens are frequently “pre-adopted,” or reserved by adopters even before they’re old enough to move to permanent homes. That’s usually at about 12 weeks old, or after they’ve been fully vaccinated, microchipped and spayed or neutered.
“All of our cats and kittens have been getting adopted very quickly,” Stevens said. “It’s really kind of an amazing thing. In fact, we’d taken some of the Humane Society’s cats because we ran out of cats, so we were adopting those out, too. We’re collaborating with other places.”
Megan Dennis, the Humane Society for Southwest Washington’s director of shelter operations, says that kitten season has been going smoothly for them, thanks to the efficiency of their contactless adoption system and the number of eager adopters. The Humane Society has only a couple of kittens available for adoption as of publication and a dozen kittens in the process of being adopted, with a hundred or so kittens waiting in foster homes. Dennis is confident that plenty of people will fall in love with a fuzzy little buddy simply by visiting the Humane Society’s adoption page, seeing the cute pictures and reading the descriptions.
“We’re trying to be as descriptive as possible in their bios, so adopters and potential adopters can get as much information as possible,” Dennis said. “We’re not able to accommodate pre-adoption visitation, but if they identify a kitten they’re interested in, the next step is to fill out an adoption request form. Someone from our adoption team will coordinate with them. Then they schedule a time to come and pick up the cat.”
Most shelters are following a similar adoption model during the pandemic. All shelters are closed to walk-in visitors, although some are accepting appointments. You can meet older kittens and cats in person during one of Second Chance Companions’ adoption events at the Vancouver Plaza PetSmart. For now, the best place to start the adoption process is online, scrolling through photographs of irresistibly sweet little faces, full of hope and tiny whiskers. All shelters require the completion of online adoption applications, and every adoption requires a fee (about $120 to $130) to help cover veterinary and other expenses.
“There’s no such thing as a free kitten,” said Sword, who warned against “free kittens” on classified websites such as Craigslist. Whatever the shelter’s adoption fee is, it’s far less than the actual cost to ensure a healthy kitten, which Stevens estimates is around $400. Beyond that, kittens grow into cats that require the expense of food and regular vet visits.
Stevens offers another word of caution for potential adopters, reminding folks that kittens need a lot of attention, constant care and a watchful eye, just like rambunctious toddlers.
“They’re high energy, so they have two speeds: either bouncing off the walls or sleeping,” Stevens said. “If a person can’t handle a lot of activity, they shouldn’t have a kitten. People with very small children might not be a good fit, because kittens can be easily damaged. It’s something for kids that are just a little bit older, for a family that doesn’t mind a lot of energetic activity in the household.”
Stevens also suggests adopting two littermates together, because they’re already bonded and they’ll keep each other occupied so you don’t have to.
If you feel your heartstrings being tugged by all those tiny meows, what can you do? If you can, donate to your local shelter. If you want to adopt a kitten (or two), there are many, many kittens waiting to meet you, with big eyes and soft fur and an arsenal of heart-melting antics. See the box for information about how to adopt kittens from four local shelters, plus a list of items to donate especially for kittens.
“These cats and kittens are very important to us, and we put a lot of time and a lot of our heart into them,” Stevens said. “It’s not about trying to get them adopted as fast as possible. It’s more about putting them into the right home so that they can live a long and happy life in the right environment.”