A pitter-patter of tiny paws across New Zealand
If you have ever adopted a kitten from SPCA you may be interested to know how they arrived at the adoptions area. Here, we take a behind the scenes insight into the journey of a kitten from being rescued off the streets right through to finding a forever home.
It’s a warm summer day and SPCA centres across the country are already in full swing with ‘kitten season’. Veterinary teams are rushed off their feet administering medication, running daily checks and carrying out desexing procedures. Animal attendants are working hard to find kittens a wonderful new family to join - the SPCA cogs are constantly turning to achieve the best outcomes for animals.
Each day, SPCA can see hundreds of animals arrive at centres across New Zealand, and during the summer especially, (when cats breed) many of these animals are kittens. Some are found stray, others abandoned, part of an unwanted litter. Often, we have no trace of their history – all we know is that they are in need of some love and proper care.
Last year more than 27,131 kittens and cats arrived at SPCA centres in need of help.
Saved from a life on the streets
While thousands of animals are rescued or saved by SPCA Inspectors on the roads a year, we are fortunate that our communities also help. These people are our ‘eyes and ears’, and often alert SPCA to animals who need help by calling SPCA helplines, or by taking animals into the nearest SPCA centre.
Kittens Squiggles, Toffee and Shortbread were found by one of these kind members of the public on the streets at just three-weeks-old.
They were tiny, vulnerable and all alone, covered head-to-toe in dirt and riddled with fleas. It might sound shocking to envisage vulnerable animals in this way, but this is the sad reality of SPCA’s work. The trio were found without a mum, so may have been abandoned or simply born to a stray mum who since lost her way. Fortunately, Squiggles, Toffee and Shortbread were found in time to have a chance at life.
In safe hands and out of harm's way, this is where their SPCA journey began.
After arriving at an SPCA centre, receive an initial vet check to assess their vitals. The vet checks their lungs for breathing, assesses whether they have a healthy heart rate and looks for other fundamental indicators of health; teeth, stomach, coat, and for any signs of pain. Larger SPCA centres have an onsite clinic and veterinary staff, while our smaller centres use a local vet to ensure the an animal receives the medical attention they need.
Then their medical and behaviour notes and information is entered into SPCA’s animal database. They are given their own unique ID so they can be tracked at every stage on their recovery, right up to finding a new family.
Then they will receive an initial vet check to assess their vitals. The vet checks their lungs for breathing, assesses whether they have a healthy heart rate and looks for other fundamental indicators of health; teeth, stomach, coat, and for any signs of pain. Most of our larger centres have an onsite clinic and veterinary staff, some of our smaller centres who do not may use a local vet or neighbouring centre to ensure the an animal receives the medical attention they need.
On arrival to SPCA, Squiggles, Toffee and Shortbread needed intensive care because they were so young and weak. First, they were given a nutritious meal by the veterinary team which they lapped up with gusto. These regular meals consisted of special kitten food vital for kittens to retain nutrients and encourage healthy growth. After they were fed, they were given a bath to remove the fleas and dirt from their fur, before being set up in the SPCA hospital with blankets, water, toys and more food. Once the vet had conducted the initial assessments, vet nurses then managed their routine care – this covers everything from administering flea treatment to cleaning up after the kittens have toileted.
At this stage, kittens need round-the-clock care to ensure they stay healthy. Fortunately for Squiggles, Toffee and Shortbread after just a short stint in the SPCA hospital they showed promising signs of recovery.
A healthy kitten should gain approximately 100g each week. Kittens can deteriorate quickly so need close monitoring during these delicate first few weeks of life. Once they display signs of good health, consistent weight gain, accompanied by regular toileting and eating well on their own, they are ready to move onto the next step of their journey.
Journey to recovery
Foster parents are vital to SPCA. These volunteers open their homes and hearts to offer temporary shelter and care for SPCA animals who need extra time to recover before being adopted. Due to the high numbers of kittens in SPCA’s care, foster parents are invaluable. They will look after kittens once they no longer require specialised or intensive vet treatment allowing centres to have space for more centres needing help. Foster parents take care of kittens from 3-weeks to several months, depending on the animal’s needs.
Four-week-old kitten Jade was brought to SPCA with her mum and two siblings. They were part of an unplanned litter and their previous owner couldn’t care for them all. Jade and her siblings were still feeding regularly from mum so needed to spend some time with a foster family.
Jade, her siblings and mum were collected from the centre and taken back to her foster parent’s home and set up in a room. They were given beds, blankets, lots of toys and space to relax and accustom to a home environment. A shelter setting can be stressful for all animals, so foster homes help them to recover in a peaceful environment at their own pace.
During the foster process, the foster parent will closely monitor the kitten’s health and document regular weight gain/loss and medication given. Jade and her siblings thrived in a home environment and there they learned how to play with one another. Jade was able to learn how to use a litter tray and familairise herself with routines such as dinner time. After around a month with her foster family, she was around 1kg in weight, eating and toileting well and a bouncy and happy kitten.
Every animal at SPCA is desexed before becoming available for adoption – we have experienced vets across New Zealand who carry out the procedure every single day.
After her time with a foster family, Jade returned to the centre to progress onto the next stage of her SPCA journey – being desexed. She was admitted back into the SPCA hospital and the procedure was undertaken by an experienced vet while Jade was sedated. This routine procedure is one of the key ways to improve animal welfare in New Zealand. If everyone desexed their animals, many of the problems we see wouldn’t exist.
A short while after the operation, Jade awoke a little foggy but otherwise unaffected and just had three small stitches on her belly which were to be removed one she was all healed. She was monitored after her surgery and when fully recovered, moved on to the best stage: adoption!
Finding a forever family
Recovery at a foster home? Check. Vaccinations, desexing, flea and worm treatment? Check. Happy, and eating well? Check. Squiggles, Toffee and Shortbread transformed from tiny sick kittens to healthy and thriving after their journey through SPCA. After one last check from the vet, they were processed for adoption by animal teams at the centre. They were allocated a room in the cattery with a card to go on the front detailing their story for potential adopters to read. Unsurprisingly, within a couple of days, all three kittens found new families of their own to go home with!
Staff and volunteers introduced them to their new families individually and discussed everything they would need at home – such as regular vet checks, enrichment and a healthy, nourishing diet. Happy they were prepared for the long-term commitment of owning an animal, the families then filled out the paperwork the same day and took Squiggles, Toffee and Shortbread home to join the family. They, along with Jade, were lucky to find wonderful new families of their own.
A bright future
Last year, over 41,000 animals sought shelter in an SPCA centre around New Zealand. Each SPCA team member helps create a bright future for them – veterinary professions, volunteers, inspectors, animal attendants and most importantly our supporters who, with their generous donations, make this work possible.
Each animal has their own story and recovery journey while at SPCA. Some are only in our care for a number of days, others can stay several months until they find a family. Some need more serious operations, others need to stay at with a foster family for longer periods to recover from either physiological or physical trauma.
The unwavering factor is that they are all cared for with equal amounts of love and dedication. The best part of this journey? Seeing an animal, once unloved or neglected, find the loving family they deserve.
If you would like to know more about becoming a volunteer or foster parent visit our website here: https://www.spca.nz/how-you-can-help/volunteer
If you would like to adopt an SPCA animal, you can see them all listed on our website here: www.spca.nz/adopt