With four cats, two dogs and two children, my wife, Dr. Holly Mims, and I (Dr. Perry Jameson) have a full and busy house.
We made an agreement that this was a good number of animals for our home. So I was surprised when Holly brought home a 1- to 2-day old kitten last week. Not only had we agreed not to have more pets, but we were leaving the next day for four days in the mountains.
A kitten this age is like a child. It must be fed every three to four hours for the first three weeks of life. Without a mother to help stimulate them to urinate and defecate, we would have to do this as well by rubbing his bottom with a wet cloth or cotton ball. In addition, kittens this age are unable to regulate their body temperature and they have to be kept warm to prevent hypothermia.
Holly explained that a Good Samaritan found him under her porch and brought him to the hospital. She knew the Charleston Animal Society has been overwhelmed with babies and did not want to add more, so she did the right thing and brought him home. She figured she would ask for my forgiveness later.
Of course, once I saw him, there was no way I was going to say no or be upset. He was a helpless, sweet creature at less than four inches long with eyes and ears that had not yet opened. He was so tiny, it was easy to carry him on our road trip to Brevard, N.C.
Surprisingly, since we are both veterinarians, this was the first time either of us had ever bottle-fed a kitten. It took patience waking up 2-3 times at night to act as Mama Cat, but we finally got the hang of it.
Pearl Sutton, senior director of animal services at the Charleston Animal Society, says, “Our foster and feral cat programs save more lives than anything else we do.”
The shelter can only safely hold a finite number of animals. Once this number is exceeded, the risk of disease and other issues from overcrowding becomes a problem.
To prevent these animals from being euthanized, they are transferred to foster homes. Sutton says animals are fostered for three main reasons.
The first is because of age. Since bottle-fed kittens and puppies require such additional treatment, they have to be cared for outside of the shelter.
The next is for health reasons. Pets treated for heartworm infections or recovering from surgery do best in environments where there is one-on-one care such as in a home environment.
The final reason is a simple issue of space. Once the shelter is full, to prevent euthanasia, they are sent into foster homes. It is easy to see how this program saves lives and will help Charleston become a No Kill Community.
This past summer, there were never less than 300 animals in the foster program. In June, this number peaked at more than 500.
Sutton says it does not take much to be a foster family. All food, supplies and veterinary care are provided by the shelter. There is even someone on call 24 hours a day to answer questions in case of emergency. All you have to provide is your home and time. The animals must return once a week to the shelter for a veterinary check to insure they are not having any problems.
She also described a new program called Adoption Ambassadors. The difference from fostering is that these pets hopefully will never come back to the shelter.
In this program, families will take a pet into their home with the goal of helping the pet find its forever home. The families are provided with vests for the dog to wear while out and about in the community stating that they are available for adoption.
The CAS also provides dog park passes and ideas on how to expose the pet to potential adopters.
Holly has been taking our little kitten to work every day so she can provide the 3- to 4-hour feedings that he needs. Once home at night, the kids fight over who will get to feed him next. It will take about two months for this kitten to be ready to go to his forever home. We know giving him up will not be easy, but we will always know that we helped to save a life.
Being a foster family or adoption ambassador is one way to save lives and help Charleston become a No Kill Community. It is not hard to get involved; you simply have to open your heart.
Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. To send questions, go to Veterinaryspecialtycare.com and click the “ask the pet docs” icon.