Most visitors to Best Friends Animal Society's Mission Hills rescue center will spend time with adoptable dogs in their cool, misted kennels or in one of the cat playrooms in an attempt to coax the fluffy felines from their cozy cat trees.
But tucked behind a labyrinth of hallways, there's a kitten nursery—open only to staff and qualified volunteers—that provides around-the-clock care to about 100 underage kittens at any given time. A cluster of kennels, with fun names like the Milk Mansion and the Aquarium, surrounds a series of feeding stations where staff and volunteers bottle-feed and weigh kittens every two to four hours.
At around eight weeks, the kittens are typically ready to be fixed and put up for adoption. But until that point, Best Friends watches over the underage felines in the nursery. Kittens under four weeks old are bottle fed, often on their tummies as if they're nursing or swaddled in a blanket. The older kittens are transitioned to a slurry of wet food, and all of the cats are weighed after each feeding. The youngest ones need a little bit of help going to the bathroom; in the absence of a mother's tongue, a soft, warm rag on their behinds helps to stimulate their urge to go.
This sort of hands-on attention isn't limited to the nursery, though. Best Friends provides food and care instructions for foster families willing to take in a kitten for at least two weeks. The program is an integral means of allowing Best Friends to continuously take more kittens into its nursery.
"Any time that we send a litter of kittens out to foster and open up a kennel in our nursery, we're immediately able to go to the L.A. city shelters, grab another litter of kittens in need and rescue them," says Liz Pashley, the foster program coordinator.
That's because Best Friends doesn't directly take in strays; rather, they scoop up homeless animals from the six Los Angeles city shelters to raise them, nurture them and give them a second chance at the spacious Mission Hills rescue center. Over the course of a year Best Friends aims to save 3,000 underage kittens—they're already over 1,000 this year.
The good news is that Best Friends' kittens typically find forever homes almost as soon as they're put up for adoption. But getting them to that point poses one of the biggest citywide challenges.
"Kittens are actually the most susceptible population in our city shelters, so that means they're actually one of the highest euthanized populations," says Kara Odenbaugh, one of the kitten nursery leads. "That's because the shelters don't have the time or the resources that it takes to take care of them."
If your heart is bursting from kitten envy and empathy right now, you can partake in Best Friends' foster program with little past experience required; they regularly host foster orientation sessions—including at the Clear the Nursery Day on Saturday, May 13. If you can't take one home but do want some hands-on kitten time, you can volunteer in the kitten nursery after completing training videos and quizzes as well as a series of nursery shadowing sessions. Otherwise, be on the lookout for Best Friends' new mobile adoption center, the "Purritos" truck.
Want more? Sign up here to stay in the know.