Sugar’s sweet salvation

Kitten nursery saves the most at-risk.
By Denise LeBeau

Sugar was all alone, no siblings or nursing mother cat in sight when she was found at a Utah service station in May 2013. At approximately a week old, the kitten was far too young to survive in a typical animal shelter environment; she’d need to be bottle-fed to stay alive. But as luck would have it, she was transported to a special place for kittens just like her. The tiniest feline would be treated like a queen until big enough to be adopted, but would she find the right person to love her? And exactly who would be meeting her needs of constant warmth, socialization and multiple feedings per day?

Kitten nursery fills a need

Sugar getting bottle-fed“Sadly, most government-funded shelters do not have the resources to provide for the needs of young kittens,” says Anna Gonce, executive director of Best Friends Animal Society–Utah. “So programs to save kittens are essential for any community that desires to be no-kill. It takes tremendous resources to keep kittens healthy, including mixing formula to feed them every two hours and a climate-controlled environment. Their daily requirements far exceed what most shelters can handle.”

But Sugar had a safe place ready to take her in because a kitten nursery, managed by Best Friends Animal Society, had opened a few months earlier for Salt Lake–area kittens just like her. Last year, it took in over 600 kittens from shelters in the area, and this year, staff and volunteers are set to save even more of the tiniest lives to end up in shelters.

In 2014, the Best Friends kitten nursery is expanding, with a goal to save 1,200 kittens. The nursery will take in kittens from four shelters: Salt Lake County Animal Services, West Valley City Animal Services, South Salt Lake Animal Services, and West Jordan Animal Services. Best Friends will manage and operate the facility and find the kittens loving homes through adoption programs and participating rescue groups.

Every life counts

Sugar the cat at homeBeyond the physical resources like proper nutrition and a facility designed around health and safety specs, the kittens need almost constant attention. To help address these needs, specially trained volunteers attend to the kittens around-the-clock. Folks don’t need to have any kitten-handling experience to sign up; all training is done on-site.

Linda Ballantyne was a volunteer when she met Sugar. It was love at first sight. “She was the darling of the nursery,” says Linda. When Sugar was old enough to be adopted, Linda was ready to take her home. It’s been a love-fest ever since. “Over the years, I haven't really purchased toys for my cats, but Sugar has so many toys she can't decide what to play with so she plays with the boxes the toys come in,” says Linda. “My two poodles love her, and they all play together. My children think I've lost my mind; Sugar is so special to me that I take pictures and talk about her all the time. She has been the best thing that's happened to this household.”

Every life counts on the road to no-kill, and this year there will be many more who, just like Sugar, will have a bright future. Anna says, “We are so excited to be able to offer this resource to our community and, in doing so, to help us move closer to being a no-kill county in Utah.”

Get involved

Learn about Best Friends programs in Utah at

Help keep the kitten nursery stocked with much-needed supplies by ordering items from the online wish list.

Photos by Linda Ballantyne