Some of you may remember these five lovely sisters from our 2021 Holiday newsletter. They were found behind a furnace in an apartment building earlier that year. When neither their mother nor a human guardian returned for them, a kind citizen took them to his county shelter. They refused to accept them, telling him to put them back where he found them. That’s when he called Pet Assistance.

Back then we were incredulous, but we hear stories like this every day now, as more and more municipal shelters embrace policies limiting admissions and refusing cats and kittens in need. Thanks to our volunteers and donors, we had the resources and a foster home for these girls and were able to help. All are now in good, love homes. But as shelters increasingly refuse kittens refuge, it becomes harder for rescuers to keep up. Here are the possible fates these kittens faced, had the shelter’s “solution” been followed.

Kittens’ critical period for socialization is two to seven weeks of age. It’s important for them to be introduced to people and other animals during this time, and for those interactions to be positive. The older they get, and the more time they spend with unsocialized cats who display fear of humans, the more difficult it is to ever win their trust and affection. Chances for a better fate than the hard scrabble life of a free roaming cat decrease by the day. Perhaps one of these five sisters would have found an adopter in time, perhaps not. On their own, these kittens would need to focus on survival.

Veterinary literature reports mortality rates of 15%-40% for abandoned kittens up to 12 weeks of age. Had they simply been released, one or more of them would have likely died before the age of three months. Death could have come from disease, dehydration, starvation, or trauma. It likely would have involved suffering.

Let’s say four survived. One month later, though still not fully grown, they would experience their first heat cycles. Their litters would have been born in the spring of 2022. Giving birth so young would put them at additional risk, especially if malnourished, yet before their kittens were even weaned, they could have been pregnant again. If they lived, they could have birthed a second and third litter before the end of 2022. By then, or certainly by now, the spring of 2023, their first born daughters would also be mothers. Our original girls would be teenage grandmothers.

Thousands of kittens face these scenarios as publicly-funded shelters choose to shirk their duties, and leave baby animals to fend for themselves.