newborn kitten wrapped in a black-and-white design bunting blanket and wearing a pink floral wreath on her head
Photo by Annamarie Pfeifer Harris.

City leaders approved two recommendations for the well-being of pets under the care of the City of Long Beach Animal Care Services:

The Long Beach Little Paws Project will become the city’s first nursery whose sole purpose is to rescue and nourish orphaned newborn kittens; and the Dogs Playing for Life volunteer-training sessions will receive another paws-up in the form of a $10,000 grant from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Video courtesy of The Little Lion Foundation.

Newborn kittens are fragile creatures. Thousands upon thousands are born on streets and in parks every year. Cats in the “wild,” often referred to as feral, are intact and able to breed, and a good number of them rendered homeless through abandonment are as well.

Female cats can give birth to upward of three litters a year, and each litter can have four to five kittens, said Anna Wong, Long Beach’s Community Cat Return to Field program director. The kittens themselves can go on to breed as early as 5 months old, which accounts not only for the number of births but also for the great number that die in shelters.

The Humane Society of the United States estimates that 70 percent of shelter cats are euthanized each year. Because of their vulnerability, most of these are newborn kittens.

Newborns enter the shelter through a handful of ways. Mother cats are subject to danger in the wild and may lose their lives to traffic, predatory animals and humans with nasty intent, leaving the babies abandoned. If they’re found alive, many are brought in. Well-intended people may come upon a litter with the mother absent and take the babies to the shelter to “save” them. Mom, meanwhile, is out at the local Mouse-Mart trying to hunt up dinner. She returns to an empty nest. And she’ll breed again.

For the past two years, The Little Lion Foundation and Helen Sanders CatPAWS—two formidable and feisty feline factions, have been in negotiations with Animal Care Services for the creation of a kitten nursery to care for these babies in one location instead of spread among a number of fosters. The nursery is on its way to becoming brick-and-mortar reality.

“It’s been a long time coming for this project,” LBACS Manager Ted Stevens said.

Little Lion was founded in 2016 and is pretty much at its own kitten stage. But the organization has been a tiger mom in saving and adopting as many neonatal kittens as possible and educating the public about their care.

Helen Sanders CatPAWS is a rescue hero in its own right and a supportive partner with Little Lion. CatPAWS has its own bottle-feeding volunteers; several years ago, the organization facilitated bottle feeding with their DIY Kitten Kits for people who are agreeable to helping raise the kittens that they bring in. The kits include everything a new foster parent could need to help a little creature thrive.

A portion of the Little Paws Nursery’s funding will come from $50,000 from the city; the nonprofit rescues will seek donations to support the effort. All the kittens will receive care in one discrete location at a commercial property, with options to renew up to 2023. Stevens said that the nursery will focus on kittens under 8 weeks old and, more specifically, the ones younger than 4 weeks old who need 24-hour care. Having all the babies under one roof will make care more manageable.

Not to rock the cat’s cradle, however, but Wong indicated that no-kill for newborns cannot exist if more kittens are continually born and resources to fix the parents are dwindling. The shelter’s Community Cats program, which among other things complements the nursery through community involvement with trap/neuter/return of adult cats, has been suffering from an increasing lack of spay/neuter clinics because of insurance restrictions imposed by the city.

“Due to insurance restrictions imposed on vendors, resources are being cut, and we’re losing clinics because the resources cannot adhere to the excessive needs required by the city for the risk assessment on the vendors if they go over $25,000,” Wong said at the Jan. 8 City Council meeting. “The voucher program has saved an astronomical amount of lives from being born and being killed. However, this voucher program does not work for us if we do not have the resources.”

Wong said that her program had previously been fixing 20 to 21 cats a week, and now they’re down to nine because of the risk-assessment restrictions. Animal Care Services, she said, euthanized 601 newborns in 2018. Access to resources must go in tandem with innovations like Little Paws, and she strongly urged that the city change the policy.

Meanwhile, sleep well, little pointy-eared creatures. Grow into beautiful, healthy adults. You have no way of knowing, but your champions are going to make it as good as it possibly can get for every little lion and set of cat paws.

Adoptables Sassy and Bobby relax in LBACS’s Dog Play Yard. Video courtesy of LBACS.

No discussion accompanied immediate approval for the Dogs Playing for Life grant for specialized volunteer training. In March 2018, Animal Care Services unveiled the new Dog Play Yard at its Open House. Funds from Friends of Long Beach Animals paid for the construction of the yard, and a grant from ASPCA provided the specialized training that the shelter volunteers require to put the program into effect.

Dogs Playing for Life comprises a team of dog behaviorist-trainers whose philosophy is that shelter dogs must play, and with one another. The team’s training and behavior-modification program for dogs in shelters has enjoyed presentations at ASPCA and Best Friends and is put into use in open-admission shelters like the city’s. Success of the program helps to socialize dogs with other dogs and making them adoptable.

In March, Dogs Playing for Life will enter its second year as another program to effectively raise adoption rates of dogs. Volunteer training is taking place through Friday, Jan. 18.