Volunteering with baby kittens

Interview with Connie Murphy who volunteers with baby kittens at Best Friends in Los Angeles. She describes what it's like to bottle-feed a newborn.
By Nicole Hamilton

Connie Murphy can trace her love for cats back to when she was about five years old and living in an apartment with her parents. “I was an only child and a little lonely,” she says. “I wanted a kitten more than anything, but the apartment didn't allow pets.”

When her parents asked the management to bend the rules and they agreed, the family adopted a Siamese kitten named Nicodemus (Nicky for short). “She was my best friend and I loved her dearly,” says Connie.

Connie Murphy holding Siamese cat, Nicodemus

After adopting Nicky, cats became a constant in Connie’s life and the reason she decided to volunteer with Best Friends nearly five years ago. Since then, she’s logged more than 1,000 hours as a volunteer in the Best Friends Kitten Nursery, where she helps save some of L.A.’s tiniest homeless animals.

“Connie is a wonderful and dedicated volunteer,” says Nicole Wisneskie, kitten nursery lead. “She cares deeply about the kittens and we can always count on her to do anything we need. She’s saved us many times when we’re behind schedule.”

In the following interview, Connie shares what she loves most about volunteering in the kitten nursery and how it feels knowing each time she bottle feeds a newborn kitten, she does her part to help Los Angeles become a no-kill city.

What does volunteering mean to you and why do you do it?

Volunteering in the kitten nursery is my passion and my therapy. It gives me a purpose and makes me feel good knowing that I helped accomplish something wonderful. I have given the kittens love and nourishment. I have cuddled them, cleaned their kennels and nurtured them. The real joy is knowing I have been part of helping them grow, get their forever home and now they are bringing someone else the joy they once gave me.

Volunteer Connie Murphy wearing rubber gloves and holding a tiny kitten, with kennels behind her

Why did you decide to volunteer and what motivates you to continue?

Retirement becomes a bit boring if you don't find something interesting to do with your free time. I knew I wanted to volunteer. I just didn't know where. In June of 2015, my daughter, Andrea, called to inform me she had signed us up for an orientation with Best Friends. I had no idea what Best Friends was, but when she said the word cats, I was in.

My daughter and I started volunteering in the cat area doing cleaning and socialization shifts. Then, a month later, we trained for the kitten nursery and I found my true passion.

What inspires you most in your volunteer work?

I am so inspired by all that Best Friends does for animals. Their commitment to Save Them All motivates me to continue volunteering season after season. The staff I work with, the other volunteers and, of course, the kittens make the hours I spend in the nursery a joy. I appreciate these people a great deal and they are the reason I dedicate so much of my time to the nursery.

How Best Friends saves lives in Los Angeles

Volunteer Connie Murphy lying on the floor playing with a black and white cat

Since becoming a Best Friends volunteer, what have you learned and do you see anything differently now?

I have learned so many things while volunteering in the kitten nursery and continue to learn more each shift I work. There are many procedures to learn and follow to ensure that the kittens are properly cared for and grow up healthy and strong. And there are symptoms to watch for that might indicate a kitten may be needing medical care or just some extra TLC.

Something else I have learned is the need for patience. Not all kittens are cooperative, especially when they are first learning to bottle-feed or eat solid foods.

Probably the most valuable lesson I've learned (or in some cases am trying to learn) is dealing with my emotions. There are many ups and downs, joys and sorrows in the nursery. The kittens’ antics are hysterical to watch. It’s a wonder to see those tiny ears wiggle, but they are so fragile.

How to bottle feed a kitten

What are you most proud of in your volunteer work?

I am most proud that I have become part of a team made up of staff and volunteers that do an incredible job. Last season we cared for more than 3,000 kittens and are so close to making L.A. a no-kill city. I am also proud that last season I spent almost 500 hours helping to make it all possible.

Tell us about your favorite volunteer moment.

I have several favorite moments. I enjoy when I get to do a shift with my daughter, Andrea. We both have worked 1,000-plus hours on Best Friends shifts. And I also love volunteering at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah. My daughter and I have made it a spring break tradition and are going for our fourth visit this spring.

My ultimate favorite moment was when I adopted a kitten from the nursery that I helped care for and nurse back to health. She was part of a young litter that was very sick and ultimately they all passed except her. She was a fighter. I fell in love with her strength, her spunk and her beautiful little face. I took her home as a foster knowing I would adopt her and become a “foster fail.” She is now two and a half years old and perfect and healthy and loved.

Volunteer Connie Murphy wearing blue rubber gloves and holding a pair of young kittens with rows of kennels behind her

Do you have a super power and if so, what is it?

Everyone knows a superhero can't reveal their super power.

Do you have pets?

I have four adopted cats. There are two 17-year-old boys, Harley and Winston. Harley is a gray tabby who suffers from renal failure and is going blind, so he can be cranky and demanding at times. I wake up every morning with him in my arms. My other 17-year-old male is a stunning Maine coon who spends most of his time under the bed. He loves me best, except when I try to brush the knots from his fur.

Both of my two-and-a-half-year-old girls were adopted from Best Friends. Gracie, a long-haired tabby, was first to come home with me. She was into everything, was a bit mischievous and needed a playmate, so next came a fluffy gray-and-white kitten named Katie. They became close friends almost immediately. When they aren't wrestling or chasing each other they love playing fetch with their toy mice. My husband has to hide them when we go to bed because they will drop the toys on our heads to wake us up to play.

What would you tell others who are thinking of volunteering?

I would tell people that I feel it is the most fulfilling work they can do. Caring for tiny newborns and watching them mature into lively kittens in the nursery is incredible. It is difficult to put into words the love you feel when you care for these sweet babies.

Volunteer Connie Murphy wearing a Best Friends sweatshirt and holding a tortoiseshell kitten

Volunteer near you

Best Friends Lifesaving Center in Los Angeles works collaboratively with animal rescue groups, city shelters and passionate individuals who are all dedicated to the mission of making Los Angeles a no-kill city. As part of this mission, Best Friends hosts adoption and fundraising events, manages two pet adoption centers, and leads the No-Kill Los Angeles (NKLA) initiative. Together, we will Save Them All.




Photos courtesy of Courtney Bean and Connie Murphy