Kitten nursery helps little ones of Salt Lake County

Having opened in March 2013, the kitten nursery, which is part of a Cat Crusaders' program, has been abuzz with lifesaving. Cat Crusaders is a partnership between Best Friends Animal Society-Utah and Salt Lake County Animal Services (SLCoAS) to increase the number of cat and kitten adoptions in Salt Lake County. The nursery provides a safe haven for some of the most at-risk homeless pets, and has been so busy that over 400 cats and kittens have been saved because of it, as of the end of July.

Volunteers make kitten nursery viable

Jessica Vigos at the kitten nursery feeding a neonatal kittenThe kitten nursery's tiny residents are admitted either with or without their nursing mother. Admitting kittens who have been separated and/or abandoned from the momma cat is a big lifesaving departure from most traditional shelters. Nursing kittens require around-the-clock, specialized care. We can't stress enough how much the program is a rousing success because of our volunteers.

Volunteers come from all walks of life, and while they do require some special training, anyone can sign up. Debbie Pierce, a volunteer and foster for SLCoAS, shares, "I started with the nursery in late April, and I didn't quite know what to expect; I've never had any experience with bottle babies. You share in their success at beating the odds and surviving, and that is something that I will hold with me forever."

Jessica Vigos, an animal advocate for 20-plus years, concurs, "Volunteering for the kitten nursery puts action in my fight to help save animals and helps to make a difference locally." She says volunteering for the kittens makes her feel amazing, and while she works full time and also goes to school, she says, 'This really is what I do for me; it feeds my soul. I love them all and know I am making a difference."

Story of one kitten

While Jessica says all the kittens are incredible, there is one little kitty, Tigger, who stole her heart. "He came in (when he was) a few days old, and the little tabby always knew my voice and would purr before I even fed him," she explains. "It was amazing to see him grow. It is the same with each sweet face. They depend on us and need us; we are their human mamas for a while. They all have their own little personalities and are so special."

Tigger the kitten is one of the Salt Lake City kitten nursery successesTigger, now Tiger, not only stole Jessica's heart but also that of her fellow volunteer, Natalie Beck. Jessica was thrilled when Tigger went home.

"Initially, I wasn't planning on getting another cat," says Natalie. "My family already had two cats; however, that all changed when I started volunteering at the kitten nursery. I loved spending time helping the kittens. Tigger was one of the first few kittens I fed, and he quickly became my favorite, despite the fact I knew I really shouldn't have a favorite. I quickly fell hopelessly in love with him and knew that I wanted to adopt him."

While sharing what it was about Tigger that made her want to adopt him, she shared a similar sentiment as Jessica about this little purr machine: "Sometimes he is a sweet, cuddly lap cat who purrs very loudly, kneads on me with his paws, and often falls asleep on me. Other times, he is a curious and intensely playful little cat who is very deserving of the name Tiger, and why we changed it from Tigger."

Natalie says she is thrilled with her volunteer experience at the kitten nursery. "Without the work going on with the kitten nursery, my wonderful, lovable Tiger probably wouldn't even be alive."

Get involved to help kittens

Every day, more kittens come into the nursery, and we rely on volunteers to help care for them around the clock. Shifts start at 4 a.m. and go until 2 a.m. the following day, in two-hour increments (the last shift is 12 to 2 a.m.). We are having a hard time covering all shifts throughout the week and weekend. To volunteer, you attend an orientation and do two shadowings to learn the routine, and then you can feed the kittens on your own.

To help in Salt Lake City, you can volunteer, donate and foster

Photos courtesy of Cat Crusaders