As a result, three adult cats were brought in to Mayhew, including seven-month-old Papaya and her five kittens, who we named Kiwi, Manderin, Lychee, Coconut and Cherry.
Sadly, cases like this are common in spring and early summer – this time of year is traditionally known as ‘kitten season’ due to the influx of unwanted and stray cats with kittens that are brought in to shelters.
Every kitten that arrives at Mayhew is under the supervision of our amazing staff, but we also rely heavily on a team of dedicated volunteer foster carers to support our work. When kittens first come to us, they receive expert, round-the-clock care in our special kitten block in the cattery.
However, many of these kittens will have had minimal human contact prior to their arrival, so we then try to place them with foster carers who are able to spend time with them, getting them used to people and dealing with any additional needs, such as regular bottle feeding for younger kittens.
“When Papaya and her kittens arrived, our reaction was: 'So it begins!' During the spring and summer months our kitten block is full, and we also have kittens in foster care.”
Kittens go through a phase called the ‘socialisation period’ between two and seven weeks of age, during which they learn to accept new relationships and experiences that will shape how they react to things later in life. If young kittens have positive contact with people and are handled during this period, then they will form a strong bond with humans and enjoy living as pets.
This is where our volunteer foster carers’ help is vital. Socialisation involves a lot more than just cuddles (although cuddling is definitely one of the most enjoyable parts!), it also involves introducing the kittens to the sights, smells and sounds of a home environment and everything that entails – even simple, everyday noises like the washing machine.
When a stray or feral female gives birth to a litter, the kittens can quickly become feral themselves if they are not socialised within the first few weeks of life. If they are young enough to be domesticated when they come to us, we will look after them and rehome them when they are ready. However, older street kittens who have missed that vital socialisation period cannot be domesticated, so they are neutered and returned to where they were found, as part of our Trap, Neuter, Return (TNR) Programme.
We work closely with members of the community to ensure that there is always someone to watch out for the cats we cannot take in and rehome.
Unfortunately, stray and feral cats are a common sight on our streets: there are estimated to be around 9 million strays and 1.5 million feral cats in the UK. In London alone there are thousands of feral cat colonies living in hidden spots across the city. Unneutered cats can breed from just five months old, and one female is capable of producing a feral colony of up to 30 cats in one year.
The vast majority of cats that come to us are unneutered, so we know first-hand how big the problem is. We are here to help with a range of preventative health and welfare initiatives and are members of the London C4 scheme, providing free neutering for eligible cats. We are also currently working with councils to encourage a neutered pet policy in all tenant agreements, in the hope that this will encourage more people to neuter their pets. Not only does neutering prevent unwanted kittens, for which there are not enough homes, it also helps domestic cats to feel more settled and means they are less likely to roam in search of a mate, potentially becoming strays themselves.
Papaya and her five beautiful kittens spent time with a foster carer before finding their forever homes. However, more kittens arrive every week. Our ‘fruit kittens’ were shortly followed by another litter, brought to us by a member of the public and affectionately referred to by our Animal Welfare Officers as the ‘veg kittens’. These little guys were just ten days old when they were found in a shed inside a plastic ‘bag for life’ patterned with peas and are suffering from a number of health issues, but they are being expertly cared for by our Vet Clinic and Cattery staff.
Here at Mayhew, we strive to reduce the numbers of unwanted animals and are at the forefront of campaigns to do this. We offer all pet owners free or low-cost neutering for their cats and dogs at our Community Vet Clinic. Call us on 020 8962 8017 or visit themayhew.org/neutering for more information.
We recently saved Midnight, a tiny kitten whose face and body were infected with the worst case of ringworm we had ever seen. She was too young to have been weaned and was found mewing beneath a car, alone and frightened. Ringworm is highly contagious, which meant Midnight had to stay in our isolation unit for several weeks – a real concern at such a crucial stage in her social development. However, with the love and care of our Vet and Cattery teams we are delighted to say that she made a full recovery and has now found her forever home.
Our Animal Welfare Officers run a Trap, Neuter, Return (TNR) programme in our local area to help control the cat population. Do you have a feral cat and/or colony in your area? Please call our Animal Welfare Officers on 020 8962 8000.find out more
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