Survivor kitten turned teacher

Person holding Arabelle the kitten, whose mouth is open in a meow
Arabelle needed extra care to thrive and in return she helped teach people how to care for other kittens in need.
By Sarah Thornton

Arabelle arrived at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary from a local shelter during one of the first waves of newcomers for kitten season. She was with her mom (a timid tuxedo cat who didn’t know what to think of all the people around her) and one sibling. And although the world can be a tough place for newborn kittens, having their mom nearby should have been the ideal situation to increase their chances of growing up to be healthy, happy cats.

Unfortunately, the small feline family had already lost two of Arabelle’s littermates, and when the third, sadly, passed away during their first night at the Sanctuary, the staff soon discovered the likely cause.

“The mom was so shut down and shy and scared that she was not producing enough milk for them,” says Amy Kohlbecker, director of Cat World at the Sanctuary. “So, we made the decision then to separate Arabelle in order to supplementally feed her to make sure she didn’t die."

While Arabelle’s mother moved into a special area for very shy cats (to unwind and relax), Arabelle went into foster care with Amy. But she wasn’t yet completely out of the woods.

Another scare for a survivor kitten

With Amy bottle-feeding and keeping a close eye on her, Arabelle gained weight and continued to grow. Amy’s own cats easily accepted the new little ball of fur into their home because they were already used to foster cats and kittens coming and going. But it was Spencer, a bottle baby the previous year, who took an extra-special interest in his new foster sister. “When she first came to my house, he would groom her like she was his kitten.” Amy says.

At first Spencer was simply curious about the tiny creature, but when he got a whiff of the kitten formula, he started playing with Arabelle. (Of course, he also wasn’t above trying to sneak some kitten formula whenever Amy and Arabelle weren’t looking.)

When she was big enough, Arabelle started to climb into the cat bed on the couch (a popular spot for Amy’s cats to hang out) and also work her way into cuddle piles. At mealtimes, she followed Amy to the kitchen for her bottle, and she had the usual bursts of kitten playtime energy when she absolutely could not be stopped. But then Amy saw that kitten energy disappear again. And when Arabelle started “reverse sneezing,” which sounds like a mix between a sneeze and a cough, Amy worried she may have inhaled some of her formula.

[Kitten whose life hung in the balance now the life of the party]

“She was just really, really dull all day and wasn’t really active,” Amy says. Arabelle didn’t run to the kitchen for milk or get up to play, and Amy watched over her with increasing anxiety. That night when Arabelle’s breathing became difficult, Amy rushed her to an emergency clinic, and after a thorough checkup that included radiographs, Arabelle was diagnosed with pneumonia and bronchitis, and prescribed antibiotics.

During the next couple of days, Amy says it was difficult to get Arabelle to eat anything. “She can be a pistol when she wants to be, and it was pretty difficult to get the food in her. She lost a lot of weight.” But Arabelle once again proved she was a survivor when, just two days after her trip to the clinic, she was back to her regularly scheduled kitten shenanigans, as well as her regular appetite. Nothing was going to keep her down for long.

Kitten helps teach a lesson about lunch

Back at the Sanctuary, the staff was getting ready for more kittens to arrive, as is the case every kitten season. It would be the first time for new caregivers to handle newborn kittens and bottle-feed them, so it was time to hold a class and get some hands-on training. And Amy had the perfect kitten candidate to help teach everyone.

Arabelle went to work with Amy and became the model for bottle-feeding lessons. With her appetite at full force, she had no complaints about being passed from caregiver to caregiver as they gained hands-on experience. “She was a teacher,” Amy says. “Everybody in Cat World has fed her, pretty much, and practiced with her.”

[Tiny kitten goddess with ‘kittentude’ comes back from the brink]

With the arrival of a family of volunteers who had never met a kitten so little, Arabelle became, as Amy describes, a spokesperson for newborn kittens.

Being a teacher and ambassador might seem like a lot of responsibility for such a little kitten but to Arabelle it just means more food and attention, so she’s pretty happy with the arrangement. And with the education she’s provided, many more kittens with stories like hers will be kept safe, fed and happy.

Plus, she’s getting lots of experience with new people and other cats. So, while her mom continues to enjoy the peace and quiet (and hiding spots) of the shy cat room, Arabelle is fearless and will no doubt soon be ready for her next big adventure, a home of her own.

Kitten season is here

With kennels filling up with new litters, now is the perfect time to sign up with your local shelter to be a kitten foster volunteer.

Foster a kitten

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