Regulars and Shorts

Best Friends’ kitten nursery

By Charlotte Bell

Feline Cuteness Overload alert! Volunteers needed!
by Charlotte Bell

Cats are prolific reproducers. University of Washington’s Math Department figures estimate that, taking into account the much lower survival rate among outdoor cats compared with their pampered indoor cousins, one unspayed female cat and her offspring can produce 100 to 400 kittens in seven years.

That’s a lot of kittens. It’s a lot of cats vying for scarce food, water and warmth. It’s a lot of kittens ending up in traditional shelters, and living very short lives there.

In March 2013, Best Friends Animal Society launched its initiative, No Kill Utah (NKUT). NKUT aims to bring Utah shelters to no-kill

status—90% of shelter animals adopted—by 2019. While 88% of dogs that enter shelters now find homes, only 53% of cats currently make it out alive. In order to bring kitty survival rates up to doggie levels, NKUT realized they needed to focus on finding homes for the onslaught of

kittens that populate shelters each spring.

Enter Best Friends’ Kitten Nursery.

The program rescues homeless kittens from five Salt Lake County shelters and prepares them for adoption. They do not take kittens from the general public. Since they opened in March, 700 kittens have passed through the nursery. In June alone, 200 babies found forever homes.

According to Adoptions Manager Lawrence Nicolas, the nursery takes in newborn kittens and nursing mothers with their litters. Volun­teers and staff bottle feed and wean motherless kittens—kittens in the process of weaning are called “weaners”—and provide medical care where needed. Nursery kitties are under eight weeks of age and weigh under two pounds. When kitties are weaned, socialized and in many cases, vaccinated, they are transported to the Best Friends Adoption Center in Sugar House.

Nichloas expects the kitten nursery will

welcome more than 1,000 kittens before it shuts down for the year in November—the end of kitten season.

Feeding and cleaning up after more than 150 kittens at a time requires a lot of humanpower. The nursery relies on the generosity of volunteers. Volunteer Louise Mathews says the job is both easy and hard. “I’m very busy while I’m there,” she says. “It’s hard seeing some of them that come into the nursery sick. But they get good veterinary care while they’re here. They’re awfully cute.” Will she do it again next year? Without hesitation she answers “yes.”

The nursery is always in need of volunteers. In fact, if you want to experience feline cuteness overload at the nursery, you must volunteer. The nursery is not open to the public. Neonatal

kittens are vulnerable to microscopic outside invaders and need a peaceful environment in which to mature—at least until they’re old enough to bounce off the walls themselves.

Cuteness is definitely a factor in their favor. “The kittens pretty much adopt themselves,” says Nicolas. “We’re really fortunate to have a great adoption center in a great neighborhood where people can interact with the animals,” he says of the Best Friends Adoption Center on Highland Drive.

When you read the figures—16,000 animals killed in Utah shelters last year—it is overwhelming. The good news is that this number is drastically reduced from the 46,000 animals that were killed annually before NKUT. But numbers are abstract. They can never convey the reality of those lives. At the kitten nursery, Nicolas says, “you’re able to hold in your hands the life you’re saving. You know that if you weren’t feeding this kitten, it might not survive. It’s very rewarding to know that we’re saving this life, right here.”

If you’d like to be a part of NKUT’s life-saving efforts, here are some ways you can help:
• Adopt your pets from a shelter or rescue group.
• Encourage your friends and family to do so.
• Spay or neuter your pets and encourage your friends and family to do the same.
• Sign up to volunteer at the kitten nursery or a shelter.
• Foster a shelter pet.
• Spread the word about NKUT on social media.
• Make a donation to support the campaign.
• Visit to learn about more ways to get involved.

This article was originally published on August 1, 2014.