Joining forces to save a newborn kitten

Winter the kitten lying on her back with her paws up over her head
Best Friends medical team and volunteers team up to save a struggling, days-old kitten.
By Nicole Hamilton

If there was ever a miracle kitten, it’s Winter. She and her brother were found orphaned in a warehouse at just one day old. Tiny and helpless with their eyes and ears closed, they should have been kept warm, clean and fed every few hours by their mama. But she didn’t, or possibly couldn’t return to them.

A kind person found the newborn kittens and brought them to Salt Lake County Animal Services, and from there, they went straight to Best Friends. Danielle Barnhart, Best Friends senior manager in Salt Lake City, was the first to examine Winter and her brother. They were so cold that their temperatures wouldn’t register on a thermometer, so, she immediately put them into an incubator.

Kittens orphaned so young can be fragile and, sadly, Winter’s brother didn’t survive. But Winter’s tiny body warmed up, and each time someone went in to bottle-feed her, she nursed. Winter still needed a lot of care to survive, but once she stabilized, the team felt comfortable placing her in a home with an experienced foster volunteer. That’s where people on the kitten first responders team come in. And it’s how Jenny Brower first met Winter and agreed to take her home.

First responders in action

Jenny will never forget holding Winter’s fragile, tiny body in the palm of her hand and feeding her for the first time. It was still too early to tell if she would make it, but Jenny felt she would. As soon as she brought the bottle of formula to Winter’s mouth, she could tell that the kitten was a fighter.

“Even as a teeny tiny nugget, I remember thinking she seemed like a feisty little thing,” says Jenny. “I thought it would be a struggle. But she took to the bottle right away and gained the two grams needed for her feeding.”

As a member of Best Friends’ first responders program, which pairs foster volunteers with neonatal kittens needing care in their first 24 hours at Best Friends, Jenny has helped many kittens during their first few days of life.

When she offered to foster Winter, the plan was to keep a watchful (around-the-clock) eye on her in her new home. The next few days would be critical. Jenny would have to bottle-feed her every two hours, keep her warm, stimulate her to go to the bathroom and weigh her regularly.

[‘First responder program’ saves newborn kittens]

“Fostering newborn kittens who require help 24/7 can be intense,” says Danielle. “One of the greatest things about the first responders program is that volunteers really support one another and can often step up to take over fostering a newborn kitten when someone needs a break.”

Each day under Jenny’s care, Winter got stronger and healthier. And when Jenny asked if someone from the group could take over for her, first responder Amanda Leary said yes and moved the tiny kitten to her home.

The beginning of a beautiful friendship

A single mom who is also in school, Amanda likes the flexibility of the kitten first responder program. She was able to help make a difference by caring for Winter during a short but critical time in the young kitten’s life, while still carving out time for school and family.

Amanda fostered Winter for about a week, enough time for her to stand (albeit shakily) and take her first wobbly steps. When school and work responsibilities started to mount, Amanda contacted the team for support. It turned out that Jenny could again take in a kitten, and she was happy to have Winter back.

When Jenny met Amanda at the lifesaving center to pick up Winter, the two made a pact. “I told Jenny that I would miss Winter a lot, and that if she needed a break or a kitty-sitter, I would be more than happy to step up,” says Amanda.

That’s when their friendship began. Jenny had read Amanda’s updates on Winter and loved all the photos and videos that she shared. And she missed having Winter around. But truthfully, Winter hadn’t really left Jenny at all. The tiny kitten had claimed her heart the first time Jenny held her.

Tag teaming to help a young kitten thrive

The two stayed in touch by text and arranged dates to swap Winter. They also kept the Best Friends foster team in the loop, and they shared photos and videos with everyone.

It was Amanda who came up with Winter’s kitten food “smoothie,” served in a bottle, which she preferred over gruel on a plate (the way weaning kittens typically eat it). Amanda taught Jenny the smoothie recipe, and together they laughed about what a diva Winter was turning out to be.

[101 kittens: a foster story]

“She got whatever she wanted, and she knew it,” says Amanda. They didn’t mind spoiling her, though, and both thought about adopting Winter. They even tossed around the idea of co-adopting her.

Never underestimate the power of kittens

When Winter was about five weeks old, Jenny brought her to the Best Friends Lifesaving Center for her second round of vaccines. That’s when she met a kitten named Noggin, who was about a day older than Winter. Noggin also needed a foster home, and Jenny was looking for a buddy for Winter.

“At first Winter was hissy when Noggin tried to play with her, but after a couple days, she warmed up and they became best buds,” says Jenny. She had planned to provide them with foster care until they found permanent homes but instead, she adopted them both.

“They bring so much happiness to my life,” says Jenny, who started fostering during time off from her job to focus on her mental health. Soon after adopting them, she felt ready to return to work. “It’s so great to come home to those two nuggets. I’m so glad Winter has Noggin to keep her company while I’m at work.”

The cutest kitten shower

Jenny and Amanda still keep in touch. Amanda has already done some cat-sitting, and she recently attended a kitten shower for Winter and Noggin, who received presents, lots of treats and plenty of cuddles. “Winter will always have a special place in my heart, and I know that I will always be able to rely on Jenny when I need help with kittens I’m fostering or when I need a break,” says Amanda.

As for Jenny, she sometimes can’t believe Winter is the same kitten whose life hung in the balance while in the palm of her hand. “She seems like the type of cat who wouldn’t last two seconds alone in the wild, but it’s funny because she kind of did,” says Jenny. “She has so much sass, but she can be the sweetest thing, too. I’m so glad I’ve been able to share in her journey from her first days.”

Kittens need your help

Sign up with your local shelter to be a kitten foster volunteer and fill your home with joy while you save lives.

Foster kittens

Read more

Kitten showers help shelters prepare for kitten season

Inspiration from a kitten foster volunteer

Foster volunteer prepares to welcome 100th kitten