Spring and summer are "kitten season," and the P.E.I. Humane Society wants people to know what to do if they come across kittens that appear to be abandoned.
The organization receives 250 to 500 kittens every spring and summer, from unspayed female cats.
"It's unique to every situation — in some cases the way it's discovered there are kittens is unfortunately mum gets hurt, sometimes hit by a car, and the kittens are found on the side of the road," said Ashley MacLeod, the shelter's development and communications co-ordinator. "In some cases, the mum is sick."
It's common for Islanders to come across kittens, with or without mother cats, in barns or sheds in the spring, she said.
The society has come up with a new easy-to-follow infographic to which people can refer if they are unsure what to do.
First, if the kittens are injured or appear to be critically sick, MacLeod advises calling the society right away.
If they look to be well, the first step is to estimate their age.
Kittens zero to two weeks will have their eyes closed or barely open, those two to four weeks will have eyes open and alert and are becoming mobile, and those four to six weeks will be very mobile and usually talkative, and can eat food.
If they are between zero and six weeks, they need to be with their mother. Look for her, or a nest she has made.
Since the kittens' best chance of survival is with their mother, if you can see her, leave the kittens where they are. If you want to help, make sure they have access to food, water and shelter, and contact SpayAid or the society to have the cats fixed when they are ready.
If you can't see the mother, watch for her to come back for a few hours. If you need to leave, sprinkle a ring of flour around the kittens, and check back in a few hours for the mothers' footprints in the flour.
Still no mother cat? MacLeod said it's time to call the humane society to have an animal control officer pick them up.
If the kittens are six weeks or older, the society suggests using social media, such as the P.E.I. Lost Pet Network page on Facebook, to try to find their original home. If that is not successful, call the society to come get them.
Kittens six to eight weeks old are very active and playful and weigh one to two pounds, and if they're eight weeks and older will be two or more pounds.
MacLeod said many Islanders do not realize the volunteer group SpayAid P.E.I. offers a spay/neuter assistance program for low-income Islanders, and the P.E.I. Humane Society will spay or neuter cats found in the community. They will also take measures to find the pets' owners.
MacLeod notes the society does not charge fees to surrender pets, and it is very rare that they are euthanized unless they are too ill.
"Adoption is our first priority for these animals," she said. "If it's not possible we will look at other alternatives — maybe that cat belongs in a barn being a working cat, maybe he belongs on a farm catching mice for you."
The society has three full-time and three part-time animal protection officers on duty 24/7, and will attend calls anywhere on P.E.I.
Each kitten costs about $2,000 in shelter, food and medical costs. The shelter runs on donations.
Luckily, the society has no problem finding homes for the many kittens and cats it receives.
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