The smallest animals at the shelter take the biggest effort to save. That’s where PAWS’ Kitten Relay Program comes in.
Orphaned kittens who are too young to eat on their own have always faced the biggest obstacles to survival in Philadelphia’s shelters due to the intense care they need. Often found when they are just days old, before they are able to eat on their own or have developed an immune system, these delicate kittens need round-the-clock feedings to survive and quick exit from the shelter to avoid becoming sick.
To begin saving these vulnerable kittens, PAWS established a successful foster-based neonatal rescue program in 2018. Our innovative “Kitten Relay” maintains a pool of specially trained on-call foster parents ready to help bottle-feeding kittens when they arrive at the shelter. They assemble into teams to share the responsibility of their care. Each member takes the kittens for 1-3 days, providing constant coverage for the kittens and a manageable and sustainable experience for the fosters.
To support each team, PAWS provides mentorship, training, veterinary care, and essential supplies such as milk replacement formula, feeding syringes, and warming pads. Once the kittens are eating on their own, they “graduate” into our regular foster program and eventually grow big enough for adoption.
PAWS works closely with the city shelter to coordinate bottle-feeder rescue, with the ultimate goal of ensuring safety for every newborn kitten that comes in. Before we started this program, most orphaned newborns entering the city shelter didn’t survive; in 2018, the program’s first year, we were able to save approximately half. In 2019, we rescued 84 neonates; only five could not be saved. In 2020, despite the tumult of the pandemic, every savable kitten has been rescued.
This proven-effective program is playing a major role in completely eliminating the killing of neonatal kittens in Philadelphia.