In this second interview of a three-part series, I interview Laura Baughman, the Executive Director of The National Kitten Coalition. She spoke on the topic of “Starting and Operating a Successful Kitten Nursery—Lessons Learned” this past June when the Community Cats Podcast partnered with the National Kitten Coalition partnered to offer the first-ever Online Kitten Conference.
In 2007, Laura decided to volunteer at local Washington, D.C. animal shelters. Focusing on cats, she soon began to foster back-to-back litters of kittens for several of them. According to her bio, Laura joined the NKC in 2015 because “she appreciated how little she knew about how to care for sick kittens, and respected—and craved—the expertise of the National Kitten Coalition founders after taking one of their all-day workshops.”
Laura was part of a team from the NKC that traveled in 2017 to five established, and very different, kitten nurseries around the United States. The NKC wanted to better understand how leaders in the animal-welfare field manage successful kitten nurseries so that they could share this knowledge with others who are saving kittens. Laura participated in the Online Kitten Conference, because she wanted to spread the word about a kitten nursery manual that the NKC created from their travels and offers as a free download.
ALLISON: Tell me about your first kitten.
LAURA: I was volunteering at my local animal shelter which was overrun by kittens. I saw how many were being euthanized because the shelter did not have a thriving kitten foster program into which the kittens could be transferred, and did not have trained staff to care in-house for all the kittens or even space to keep them. It broke my heart. The last straw was a cage I came across by accident in which a mom cat was cowering at the back of the cage, and one of her kittens, a black kitten, lay dead on the left of the cage, and a little orange kitten, about ¾ weeks old, was sitting near the front, in a daze, covered in fleas, emaciated. No one was focused on what was happening in that cage. I quit that shelter on the spot, went to another local shelter, and pitched the idea of a kitten nursery that would take in kittens from the shelter I quit. They agreed, but said it would take a long time to set up. I waited three years with no progress at shelter #2 on the nursery front and so I decided to “do something” on my own: find another group that would set up a kitten nursery sooner.
ALLISON: What resources were available at the time?
LAURA: None! I knew I needed to have a business plan, and that required information: about scope and costs, in particular. But I couldn’t find the information I need for a good plan. So I went to The National Kitten Coalition to ask if they would partner with me on this project and they said a loud, “Yes!”
ALLISON: Highlight some significant changes that have happened since that time.
LAURA: A growing number of shelters recognize the life-saving potential of kitten nurseries. Even the first shelter that I quit so abruptly has since created a state-of-the-art kitten foster program and a fledgling nursery of its own.
ALLISON: Why kitten nurseries?
LAURA: Kittens are the most euthanized cohort of animals at animal shelters. If communities are going to “get to zero,” they need to address this statistic. Kitten nurseries, supported by strong kitten foster programs, are key to getting to zero.
ALLISON: Tell me about the process for writing a kitten manual.
LAURA: It involved a lot of work, that’s for sure! We wanted to be thorough, and to reach out to a large number of organizations that were pursuing the effort in a variety of ways. Some had large budgets; others had hardly any budget at all. But all were caring for thousands of kittens a year. These shelters are spread out across the country, so we had to raise funds to do a lot of traveling. Each visit required two NKC visitors: one to do the interviewing; the other to take copious notes and make sure the interviewer didn’t overlook anything! And then all the information had to be synthesized and written up. It took many months. All of the NKC researchers donated their time and generous donors funded our travel expenses, which we kept “bare bones.”.
ALLISON: Describe the best kitten nursery you’ve visited.
LAURA: They were all “best” in their own ways, considering the communities they operated in and the resources each had.
ALLISON: What is the minimal that a shelter needs to start a nursery?
LAURA: A shelter needs a solid kitten foster program–meaning enough foster homes to take in the number of kittens the shelter is likely to get. Staff also need to be supportive and trained. Because kittens get sick a lot, a shelter also needs to have access to a veterinarian.
ONLINE KITTEN CONFERENCE