Kittens on Deck: Going to bat for Chicago's tiniest cats

Kittens on Deck: Going to bat for Chicago's tiniest cats
Kittens from days old to months old need rescue. They come in alone, with other kittens and some with their moms.

Spring and summer are known as kitten season as shelters and rescues overflow with the influx of homeless kittens. Usually, when the kids go back to school and summer cools into fall, fewer kittens come in the door. Unfortunately, this year animal controls around our area are still overflowing with young kittens as we approach Labor Day with lots more kittens on deck.

While cute kittens easily woo adopters and find homes quickly, a lot goes on behind the scenes to get kittens that far in the process in the first place. At Chicago Animal Care and Control (CACC), that program is called Kittens on Deck. Spearheaded by Tree House Humane Society, the city’s oldest, largest, cageless, no-kill cat shelter, Kittens on Deck saves the littlest cats in need of rescue.

Beating the Clock

At one point this week, 32 cages at CACC had kittens needing rescue. Kitten season isn't slowing down.

At one point this week, 32 cages at CACC had kittens needing rescue. Kitten season isn't slowing down.

“The volume of animals at CACC makes it a dangerous place for neonatal babies whose immune systems are underdeveloped and unable to fight off the kinds of viruses and are al too common at a high volume facility like CACC,” says Jenny Schlueter. She heads the Community Cat Program at Tree House. “The smallest neonatal babies need to be fed every few hours around the clock and even kittens up to 6 weeks need careful monitoring and assistance until they are "fully weaned".”

That explains the urgency when it comes to rescuing kittens from CACC. Just this week, there were 32 cages filled with kittens at CACC. They range from a day or two old to several months old. The one thing they all have in common is the clock is ticking as volunteers at CACC and rescues around the area network them in hopes of rescue. The Kittens on Deck program gives these kittens a second chance.

Fostering a second chance

Some bottle babies are a day or two old and need immediate rescue.

Some bottle babies are a day or two old and need immediate rescue.

“Kittens on Deck encourages people to foster "bottle babies" neonatal kittens still too young to eat on their own,” says Schlueter. “CACC is not equipped to care for these babies so typically they are euthanized the same day they arrive. When there are nursing moms available, they will try to put orphan babies with the moms. But, oftentimes these cats are not producing enough milk for another mouth to feed so the kitten on deck program is essential to save the tiniest lives at CACC.”

Thanks to the support of Tree House and PAWS Chicago Kittens on Deck has been saving the littlest lives. Volunteers have worked with rescue partners throughout the Chicago-area to network the kittens to foster. Those stepping up range from experienced fosters to first timers. Volunteers don’t walk into the program without a lot of support.

“We've held two bottle baby workshops training volunteers to feed the neonatal orphans while they await rescue,” add Schlueter. “We've been able to recruit many more foster parents and partner with rescue groups who might not otherwise have had the opportunity to transfer these babies out of CACC had we not started the program.”

Making a difference

The Rascal Flats Kittens found rescue thanks to Kittens on Deck.

The Rascal Flats Kittens found rescue thanks to Kittens on Deck.

They’ve also solicited donations for kitten kits that go with every volunteers when they pick up the kittens. While there are heartbreaking stories of kittens that have died or been euthanized before rescue, an estimated 75 percent of the bottle babies that have come into CACC this year have been rescued.

With so many kittens coming in the door as we approach September. Fosters are still needed to save lives.

For those who would love to foster but don’t feel they are ready for bottle babies, rescues always need fosters for older kittens and adult cats. By taking in these cats, other experienced fosters are able to step up and take in more bottle babies. If you’re interested in fostering, email  transfers@treehouseaniamls.org as well as rescue groups who want to partner to save the lives of kittens and cats at CACC.

Nancy - who is still a baby - needs rescue with her own kittens.

Nancy - who is still a baby - needs rescue with her own kittens.

Kittens are still coming in the door as fall starts to settle in. That’s a big change from 10 or 20 years ago when it was harder to find kittens this time of year.

Check out the kittens needing rescue from CACC here. You may also check out rescue partners able to pull from CACC here.

Past posts on cat and kitten rescue at CACC -

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    Raining Cats and Dogs

    I am a crazy cat lady and puppy mill warrior that blogs to advocate and educate about pet issues. In American animal controls, millions of pets are abandoned each year and an estimated 4 million die just because there are not enough homes. It truly seems like it’s Raining Cats and Dogs.

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