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Don’t kit-nap, there’s a better way to help Tampa Bay’s stray and feral kittens

Kitten season is upon us. Local resource centers and rescues are operating at full capacity.
A kitten up for fostering on Monday, July 5, 2021 at the Humane Society in Tampa.
A kitten up for fostering on Monday, July 5, 2021 at the Humane Society in Tampa. [ ARIELLE BADER | Times ]
Published Jul. 15
Updated Jul. 15

The cats and kittens of Tampa Bay are in need of homes.

St. Francis Society Animal Rescue is fostering over 600 kittens and cats, the Humane Society of Tampa Bay has over 300 and the Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center is at 232 percent capacity. They’re all strained for resources, especially veterinarians. The county resource center only has two of its five positions filled and the Humane Society has one vet.

The Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center is only accepting animals in cases that involve “injury, neglect, or animal bites.”

“Stop buying, spay and neuter your own cats and if you see that there’s a feral cat problem in your neighborhood, step up and get some help with trapping,” said Maria Matlack, director of marketing of the Humane Society.

It’s kitten breeding season, and will be until the end of August, and cats and kittens are running amuck. Some are feral (not social with humans) and others are stray (socialized with humans), but they need to be vaccinated and sterilized to keep the cat population healthy.

The end game to overpopulation is to spay and neuter, and the Humane Society serves as a surgery center every Monday to sterilize as many as 100 cats. St. Francis and the county resource center each bring cats and kittens to the Humane Society weekly. The cats are spayed or neutered, vaccinated and either put up for adoption or returned to where they were found if they are feral.

How to help

The process is known as trap, neuter, vaccinate, return. The Humane Society will provide a trap and St. Francis can send one of their volunteers out if people spot strays.

But it’s important to read up and avoid becoming what the Humane Society calls a “kit-napper.”

“What (people) think are orphan kittens, 95 percent of the time the mama kitten is either out hunting or she’s been scared away by them and mama will come back to the kittens,” said Scott Trebatoski, the director of the Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center.

A mother cat cares for her kittens who are in need of fostering on Monday, July 5, 2021 at the Humane Society in Tampa.
A mother cat cares for her kittens who are in need of fostering on Monday, July 5, 2021 at the Humane Society in Tampa. [ ARIELLE BADER | Times ]

What to do when you find a litter of kittens

The correct step, according to national and local organizations, is to wait and observe the kittens for a few hours, barring the presence of imminent danger. Alley Cat Allies, a national organization for cats’ well-being, advises to sprinkle flour around the kittens to see if the mother leaves paw prints in case she returns while you’re not watching. If she comes back, leave the cat and her kittens alone. It’s okay to leave out food or water, build an outdoor shelter and keep an eye out for predators. If the mother doesn’t return after a few hours and the kittens begin to look malnourished, intervene by fostering the cats, referring them to a friend or checking Find Feral Friends for a home.

“The best place for kittens is with their mother,” Alley Cat Allies president Becky Robinson said. Shelters can be high stress environments, and can hurt the health of the mother and her ability to care for her kittens.

Once kittens get to four to five weeks old, begin to socialize them so they are fit for adoption after being sterilized at eight weeks.

The difficulty right now is finding homes, even temporary ones, where kittens can go in order to learn to be around humans, St. Francis Society president Kathy Walvoord says.

Following this process is not always possible.

Stray cats wait for their surgery and vaccines on Monday, July 5, 2021 at the Humane Society in Tampa.
Stray cats wait for their surgery and vaccines on Monday, July 5, 2021 at the Humane Society in Tampa. [ ARIELLE BADER | Times ]

Walvoord said it’s better to rescue a lone kitten found somewhere the mother might not return. Kittens can easily die from hypothermia, so in scenarios such as when she found a newborn behind a Publix in the cranny of an enclosed shipping crate, it’s better to rescue the kitten and nurse it to health.

Alley Cat Allies instructs to never take the kittens to a shelter without researching whether it euthanizes animals. Robinson says to only use the shelter if it has a “Wait Until 8″ program, which the Hillsborough County Animal Resource Center does, or some sort of kitten nursery. The “Wait Until 8″ program freely provides people with all the tools they’d need if they decide to foster the kitten until it is eight weeks old and suitable for adoption.

There’s plenty of feline friends out there. Give the numbers below a call if you’re looking to foster or adopt a new buddy.

Cat rescues

St. Francis Society: Contact form

Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center: 813-744-5660

Human Society Tampa Bay: 813-876-7138

Alley Cat Allies: 240-482-1980

Friends of Strays Animal Shelter: 727-522-6566

Humane Society of Pinellas: 727-797-7722

SPCA Suncoast: 727-849-1048

Humane Society of Manatee County: 941-747-8808