Stop by the main cat adoptions board folks in Singapore browse through, at Cat Welfare Society, and you will find a lot of cats posted there looking for homes. A lot of people have risen up towards rescuing and fostering kittens on their own, which is a commendable effort that has grown over the years. This has alleviated the burden at shelters and rescue groups like ours, and lowered the euthanasia rate of kittens nationwide.
However, the urge to give kittens a forever home to ‘save’ them from the streets needs to be carried out in a responsibile manner. There are more kittens out there than there are homes, so every one of us needs to carry out rescue by triage: evaluating that the stray kitten spotted fulfills the parameters that makes it an appropriate candidate for rescue. This means that yes, some kittens need – not – be rescued and rehomed and can actually live a good life as a stray, while you free up precious fostering resources, yours and those of shelters, for the kittens that really need it. The triage rules apply for us: we only take up rescue cases that follow these guidelines.
The younger the kittens are, the more rescue may be necessary, and to gauge so, is that when the kittens are very young but have no mother. Such kittens are known as orphans. In order to gauge whether they are young, see this guide here; the kittens should be no more than 8 weeks old, not much bigger than your hand. Any kitten beyond that can actually survive on its own unless other situations prevail (see below). If the kittens are below 8 weeks of age, you need to ascertain if there is a mother. In doing so you must not touch the kittens or go too near them, because if there really is a mother, she may abandon the kittens because you are near or have disturbed her nest. Sometimes the mother may have taken time off to get food for herself. Or she may be in the midst of changing to a different nest and is moving her litter halfway. You need to stakeout the nest to see if the mother returns. Only if there is no sighting of a mother cat then can you consider rescue. A kitten’s best survival chance is still when it is with the mother because it requires mother’s milk for the antibodies. You should care for the mother on site instead, by feeding it. A nursing cat needs 2-3 times more to eat than normal. This will then ensure the health of the kittens, as well as her trust, enabling you to get the mother cat neutered when the kittens reach 8 weeks of age, and eventually the kittens when they are older.
This parameter includes kittens residing in areas where there have been complaints, where pest control has been called in (for private and business areas), where there is a busy road that the kittens go onto to play, where there have been abusive acts committed and witnessed, or where there are heavy construction works. Some factors may not require you to foster the kittens. For example, if the kittens are in a drain and you worry it might rain, consider whether you can get them to nestle elsewhere. This may mean luring the mother first, using food, and if she is trusting of you, moving her litter, or luring the kittens too. You have to find or perhaps temporarily construct an equally sheltered area – a box or old opened umbrella will suffice, with clean, inviting food. Unless there is heavy rain incoming, do not rush to evacuate the kittens from the drain, because you might cause an orphan situation if you do. Only if this fails and there is heavy rain arriving should you straightaway evacuate the kittens to foster and rehome. If the kittens for all the above scenarios are below 8 weeks of age, you should foster the mother too, in case she is willing to nurse them in a new environment. In any case, once she ends her nursing you must neuter her before returning her to where she was from.
Sickness and injury
Sick or injured kittens do not look like the kind you will find on your social feeds: they have teary eyes, matted fur, anal soiling. They could also be cold and hardly moving, have insect bites, wounds. Still unsure if kittens are sick or not? Take a photo and ask us. These kittens need rescue, and a vet visit promptly. By and large, this triage rule trumps all. Whether or not you should rehome them after they recover from foster care, depends on whether they were young when rescued (usually below 3 months) and whether or not they are feral. Feral kittens that do not take well to human contact, which you can ascertain while rehabilitating them, should be released back at their territory, preferably after neutering them. Some clinics neuter kittens as early as at 3 months of age.
Wondering where abandonment comes in? Not every abandoned kitten needs to be rehomed. The same three rules above apply. Unless the cat is completely unwilling to come out of hiding to eat from a stray feeder be it yourself or the regular caregiver, should you consider foster and rehome as a solution. Bear in mind that there may be behavioural issues such cats need help with before becoming viable for adoption. Because of the trauma of abandonment, they may fall sick, or exhibit aggression, both of which require treatment.
With these triage rules in place, you can focus your rescue efforts on the kittens that really need it, rather than trying to foster every single young one you come across or every time you are called upon for fostering help. This way, there is less adopter fatigue as well, making sure all our rehoming efforts succeed, creating fewer permanent shelter cats everywhere.
Share this with someone you know who helps to rescue or foster kittens. Remember, not every kitten needs rescue for better welfare.