DeKALB – Peg Rozhon wakes up every two hours throughout the night to feed five kittens born less than two weeks ago.
Rozhon is the volunteer coordinator at TAILS Humane Society, 2250 Barber Greene Road, DeKalb. She is caring for the kittens as a kitten foster home caretaker until they are spayed or neutered at 8 weeks of age, when they will be ready for adoption.
"It's an immense amount of work, much more work I even anticipated," said Rozhon, who said she has been sleeping on the couch lately. "Being at the shelter, you learn animal care is hard work, but it's rewarding."
May marks the unofficial start of kitten season, the time of year when animal shelters are flooded with kittens abandoned by their mothers or in need of extra care. TAILS does not currently have any kittens available for adoption because they are too young.
Last year, TAILS took in about 500 kittens younger than 6 months old. When it receives a litter of kittens, it places them to a kitten foster home whose residents are trained to care for them. It presently has about 15 foster families.
TAILS is a no-kill animal shelter. It is always in need of more kitten foster homes so that it turns away fewer kittens, said Adrienne Beeman, TAILS animal care manager.
Kittens are placed in one of three lobby cages and kept apart from adult cats to prevent spreading diseases.
"Due to overpopulation, we aren't always able to take all of the kittens," Beeman said.
Meanwhile, DeKalb County Animal Shelter, 16173 Baseline Road, Genoa, is caring for three 1-month-old kittens and five pregnant cats. Cats have a gestation period of about nine weeks.
Roberta Shoaf, president of the animal shelter, said kitten season is dependent on the weather. She anticipated the shelter could see more kittens later this year because there was a longer winter.
Some people become interested in adopting kittens in early spring and lose interest later in the season. DeKalb County Animal Shelter still has 6-month-old kittens from last fall that have not been adopted, Shoaf said.
"People are always looking for kittens now," Shoaf said. "All of a sudden, everybody that wants one has one. Then the rest sit here until they're adults."
TAILS sometimes faces the same problem. Beeman said it has trouble finding homes for black cats toward the end of the summer because of the stigma that they are bad luck. To combat that, TAILS sometimes holds promotional events in October for black cats.
Kittens younger than 4 months old are vaccinated at TAILS. If kittens are adopted when they are younger than 6 months old, owners pay a $150 adoption fee. Cats between 6 months and 6 years of age cost $85. Senior cats cost $50.
Benjamin Dahl, animal care technician at TAILS, fostered two litters of three kittens each last year. Three of the kittens were very sick, and one had to be euthanized, he said.
Two of the kittens, however, were adopted. Dahl said it feels really good to be able to care for sometimes sick and fragile kittens.
"It's probably one of the most rewarding things to know you saved a life," Dahl said.
How to help
TAILS Humane Society is accepting applications for kitten foster homes. Applicants will meet with TAILS officials for orientation and discuss whether they are suitable to take in kittens. To apply, visit tailshumanesociety.org/foster.