Photos by Kate Karp, unless indicated otherwise.
“Well, we just learn by doing” is something parents sometimes say, and it could also be a bumper sticker for animal rescuers. Particularly bottle-feeders for newborn kittens. Just ask Claudia Marie, founder of The Little Lion Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose ultimate goal is to open a neonatal nursery for newborn kittens.
“There’s no specific rescue that makes bottle-feeding their function,” Marie said.
Little Lion is a family affair that consists of Marie, her daughter Jessica and her niece Amanda. The family element no doubt feeds into the group’s nurturing attitude toward bottle-feeding the little newborns, which they indeed learned by doing and also by taking clues from the experts at Stray Cat Alliance, which has a strong community-cat presence in the area, and from those at Zoey’s Place, a small, local feline rescue. Marie volunteered for both organizations.
After trudging after the cats and bringing them all back home, Marie found that she quite enjoyed rescuing. She especially liked the Pygmalion effect on the neonatals who survived the period of uncertainty—yes, it’s not all cuteness and catnip mice— as they grew out of their fuzzballhood into sleek pets in waiting. So she lassoed her family and began The Little Lion Foundation in 2015, achieving nonprofit status in 2016, to further giving a chance for kittens with a tenuous hold on life to turn into contented cats. Because, as the organization’s motto states, “every cat deserves to roar.” So far, the organization has empowered 300 miniature kings and queens of the beasts.
“The reason we want to care for [newborns] is that there are so many thousands of them being killed,” Marie said. “It’s heartbreaking—they’re the highest-killed population of animals across America. People overlook cats, but they can give back so much.”
In fact, Marie and her family so much enjoy waking up several times at night to feed their furry little charges and chewing off their fingernails through the tribulations of newborn feline development that they’ve decided to invite us to join them. On Monday, August 14 from 6:00PM to 8:00PM at the Veterans Park Community Center (see graphic for address and details), The Little Lion Foundation, in partnership with Pet Food Express, Long Beach Animal Care Services, and Helen Sanders CatPAWS –another cat-welfare organization that has saved countless lives of felines of all ages—will host the “Saving Kittens Workshop and Kitten Shower.” Tickets are $10.
Attendees will learn about not only the sweat and tears involved in neonatal rescue but also the rewards and ultimate joys. And help is sorely needed, especially during the throes of kitten season when an increasing number of litters shows up at the shelter or behind bushes, in trash cans, in parking lots and other locations that are no place for kittens. The Little Lion and other rescues and rescuers are overextended and need help from us.
“I think mostly it’s the lack of community education and TNR programs,” Marie said. “Long Beach has a pretty good [TNR program—trap, neuter and release], but there aren’t enough people in the community to help. We’re so underserved—thousands of kittens are killed every year.”
The workshop will educate everyone about all aspects of fostering orphan kittens. The agenda is as follows:
- An overview of issues impacting cats and kittens.
- How to set up your home, manage your time, and have all the sweat and laughter involved in helping neonatals survive and thrive.
- Proper feeding of, cleaning and providing basic medical care to a kitten.
- How to photograph, advertise, and find adopters for kittens.
- Self-care and coping with compassion fatigue—and Marie and every rescuer worth his or her kibble will tell you that this is of utmost importance. You will get it.
- How to get involved in your local community—attendance at the event is the first step.
Attendees are requested but not obligated to bring “shower gifts” of items specifically for baby cats: KMR powdered formula, Nulo chicken canned food, baby blankets and, of course, kitten toys—what baby just wants food and blankies?
Sample of a kitten's layette. Don't forget the stuffed toy.
Kitten Lady, known otherwise as Hannah Shaw, will be the main attraction at the workshop. Shaw is a combination of moggie maven and inked-up 1940s pinup girl. Watching one of her videos is an experience, both entertainment- and education-wise (check the videos on her website —they’re like nothing you’ve ever seen. Words alone don’t do them justice).
Kitten Lady, aka Hannah Shaw. Photo courtesy of Kitten Lady.
Marie has used several of the videos at all of the kitten-bottle-feeding workshops that she holds free of charge about once a month in different Long Beach locations, in tandem with Helen Sanders CatPAWS. She’s tickled as pink as a cat’s paw pads to have Kitten Lady partnering at the workshop.
“Kitten Lady is our model—she’s our go-to gal,” Marie said. “She speaks our language.”
Education is one of the best ways to reach people, along with social media, Marie said. She feels that there are a lot of people who’d help if they knew what to do, and her classes and workshops lay it out and make it as convenient as possible. A lot of good fosters and feeders have come out of the classes, and people already fostering cats are coming to find out how to bottle-feed. The DIY Kitten Care Kits, developed by Helen Sanders CatPAWS in 2006 in an effort to increase the number of bottle feeders and surviving kittens, add a high level of convenience. Each kit contains a SnuggleSafe warming disk (critical because tiny kittens cannot regulate body temp); a can of powdered formula to reconstitute into liquid and bottles to put it in, a small fleece blanket, and a kitten-care guide to explain the whole process. It’s all contained in a sturdy plastic container that can serve double duty as a kitten bathtub. Yes, they’ll need baths, too!
The kit also includes information on how to obtain a free spay/neuter voucher when the kitten’s old enough for the procedure. Marie stresses that fixing the cats is obligatory to stop the cycle. Kittens can go into heat as young as 6 months and can have on average five kittens themselves. Do the math—there aren’t enough Kitten Kits to serve that population.
DYI Kitten Kit provided by Helen Sanders CatPAWS. Definitely a starter kit, if the spirit's there.
If rescues like The Little Lion were paid in coin for their work, Marie could retire tomorrow, but she probably wouldn’t. She loves her profession as a substance abuse counselor, and Marie works cats into therapy. The cats aren’t adopted out of her business—just held to provide relaxation and stress relief for her clients.
“It’s so much fun to have men cuddle kittens,” Marie said.
Marie would like to start her neonatal nursery at the shelter, but she said that it’s been next to impossible to make it happen—“like talking to a brick wall,” with all the red tape involved.
“A kitten nursery is our end goal, whether it’s in shelter or not,” she said.
And all shelters, she added, should have an adequate foster program.
Marie and her family caution that bottle-feeding, fostering and adoption shouldn’t be looked at as a fun hobby or a noble thing to. It takes heart, and there’s always heartbreak involved.
“People think, these little kittens are so cute—they’re going to be adopted right away,” she said. “And they’re not—it’s a harsh reality.”
And not all the kittens live. Rescuers mourn over kittens who, even with all the love and care given to them, don’t make it. Jessica once took in a litter of three blind kittens. Two of them died, and it broke her heart.
“But one survived—Daenerys,” she said. “She got an amazing home. It’s wonderful knowing that we save the ones who need us the most. My most memorable experiences aren’t the sad ones—they’re watching the ones who would have gotten killed go to wonderful families and make them whole. I never thought that rescue would be so rewarding. There’s a lot of bad in rescue, but I find myself tearing up at the good.”
Marie sees a brighter future for newborns. Many local and national organizations are bringing projects like hers and CatPAWS’ to light: ASPCA, Stray Cat Alliance, and Best Friends. And hopefully, a growing caring community.
As my niece Amanda frankly put it, “Tell everyone to take care of the cats and not count on us to do it!”
Please join us and become part of the community in one way or another. Tickets are only $10 and are available here.
Kitten Lady will also be speaking at CatCon this weekend, August 12 and 13. Information is available here.
Visit The Little Lion Foundation on its website, Facebook and Instagram.
“Hush-a-bye, don't you cry,
Go to sleepy little baby.
When you wake, you shall have
All the pretty little horses.”
~ Traditional Southern lullaby