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LA Is In The Midst Of A Kitten Crisis. Here's How You Can Help

ASPCA foster kittens, Emmylou (left) and Cash Jr. (right). (Photo courtesy ASPCA)

When my editor first assigned me a story about a pop-up kitten cafe, I assumed I'd be writing a literal fluff piece about another L.A. instagram-trap. Little did I know, I would uncover a massive, unrelenting, sad-town kitten crisis in Los Angeles.

Yes, you read that correctly. A KITTEN CRISIS.

Over the next several months, tens of thousands of kittens will descend upon our streets and shelters, like an adorable tiny horde.

Why? Our fair city has an extra long, feline mating season, thanks to our mild weather. It can last almost nine months. Because of that, spring and summer equals kitten overload, which means shelter overload.

Warning: If you have had a particularly bad day and feel like you might burst into tears over an AT&T commercial, now might be a good time to stop reading, take a deep breath, and get into a hot bath.

Ok, emotionally-secure and self-aware readers! Onward.

It turns out L.A. euthanizes hundreds, possibly thousands, of kittens in the spring and summer during cat mating season, because there are just too many kittens running around causing mass havoc for our shelters to handle.

More on that (horror) later, but first let's take a step back to see how this film-noiresque tale of truth-finding got started.

I cannot with this. Cash Jr., one of the ASPCA's foster kittens is cuteness overload infinity. Want to foster yet? (Photo courtesy ASPCA)

HOW I BECAME A KITTEN EUTHANIZATION TRUTHER

Kristi Labrenz, the founder of the CatCafe Lounge in Westwood, invited us to a preview of a pop-up kitten "lounge" in downtown L.A. she's planning to open this summer.

I couldn't make it to the preview (correction: my boss would, understandably, not let me take half a day off to pet kittens) so I gave Labrenz a call and started asking her my questions, namely why. Call me a skeptic, but despite widespread Japan-induced cat cafe madness, I didn't really get why anyone would want to drink a matcha latte while touching clawed, hair-shedding animals.

But within the first minute of talking to Labrenz, who is obviously very passionate about cats, I nearly dropped the phone.

She said that local shelters often euthanize kittens at high rates during kitten season, because they just don't have the resources to bottle-feed them. In some cases, if they receive kittens 5-weeks-old or younger, they euthanize them immediately.

"It's a necessary evil, unfortunately," she said.

Mass kitten euthanization?! That sounded like a serious accusation. I decided to do some fact-checking.

Stray kitten at the Baldwin Park Shelter, at the height of kitten season, June 2017. (Photo courtesy ASPCA)

FACT-CHECK: TRUE

I called the ASPCA and said for the first time in my life, "I have some questions about about kitten birthing season," much to the amusement of my co-workers.

Tina Reddington runs the ASPCA's Los Angeles Volunteer & Kitten Programs, which pairs kittens with foster homes until they are old enough for adoption. She told me that what Kristi said is 100% true — L.A. County and city shelters receive hundreds of kittens a day in the spring. In Los Angeles, 90% of the almost 34,000 kittens that enter shelters each year, arrive during this time period.

L.A. has so many kittens, in fact, that the ASPCA puts 30 of them on Alaska Airlines planes to Seattle and Portland every Friday for delivery to Pacific Northwest shelters that have a high kitten demand.

ASPCA kitten airlift! November 2016. (Photo courtesy ASPCA)

"We even have special kitten weigh-stations at the Burbank airport," Reddington said. They are, in fact, adorable.

But 30 kittens a week does not a crisis solve.

"Cats are far and away one of the most vulnerable [animal] populations in Los Angeles, period," Reddington told me. "And kittens are a vulnerable population within that group."

L.A. city shelters have already euthanized 16 kittens this year and 219 cats, according to public data from L.A. Animal Services (that number is lower than county shelters becuase of the city's no-kill initiative). Between July 1, 2018 and April 30, 2019 L.A. county shelters euthanized 9,043 cats (in comparison to a little over 2,000 dogs)— their data doesn't specify how many of those were kittens, but the ASPCA focuses their kitten rescue work there, where they say it is most needed.

Kittens that are under 5-weeks old can't stay in a shelter because they need to be bottle-fed, which requires around-the-clock care. And shelter resources in L.A. are already spread thin. Kittens aren't adoptable until they're at least 8 weeks old, which is the minimum age for spaying and neutering.

Another reason we're experiencing kitten overload: L.A. is full of feral cats — we don't have a good headcount but there could be as many as several million roaming our streets. To make matters worse, the city currently has an injunction on Trap-Neuter-Release policies. Local feral cat politics are heated (ba dum..chh), so in the meanwhile rescue groups like ASPCA are doing the best they can to get as many kittens adopted as possible.

Champa the kitten will make an appearance at Tiny Beans. Look at this little angry face and tell me you don't want to adopt him, I dare you. (Photo by Casey Christopher/ Courtsey CatCafe)

THE KITTEN CAFE

This is why Labrenz is creating the kitten cafe, called Tiny Beans, a phrase commonly used to describe the round padding on kitten paws (heart melt). She's working with rescue groups that have bottle-nurseries, like the Stray Cat Alliance, so that they can take kittens out of shelters and get them ready for adoption. These groups usually have to trek all over the city to get the kittens adopted, which is a lot of legwork. Now they'll be able to transfer all of these kittens directly to the cafe.

"We've just figured out a way to be a part of the kitten pipeline from bottle-baby status to adoptable age," she says. "It's basically a showcase of these amazing, adoptable, cute, fluffy kids."

Despite the title, there is no actual cafe in this kitten cafe (which is why it's technically a kitten "lounge"). Meaning just kittens, no lattes or cold brew or sandwiches. I, personally, am fine with that. No one goes to a cat cafe for the food.

The goal is to get more kittens adopted so that rescues have the space to save more from high-kill shelters. Eventually, Labrenz would like to open a more permanent location, but this is a start. The price for admission goes directly into the costs of running the facility — the CatCafe is a 501(c)(3) non-profit.

Cat cafes, when you think about it, are a win-win for both parties. Getting cuddled and pet by humans helps to socialize the kittens and make them more friendly, and therefore more adoptable, Labrenz says. And studies show that petting an animal actually makes humans less anxious — it's an all-around mental health boost. I mean, is there really a better antidote to the sad dumpster fire of post-capitalist life than petting a god-damn kitten? IS THERE?

Reddington gives the kitten lounge a big thumbs up, on behalf of the ASPCA. "This kitten cafe idea is incredible because the more kittens that can go out into adoption, the more kittens can go into these foster programs," she said.

But if you can't make it to Tiny Beans, fear not! There are other ways to get some much-needed kitten time.

This is Gigi. Please adopt her. (Photo by Casey Christopher/ Courtesy CatCafe)
Meet Lou Reed, future Tiny Beans resident. (Photo by Casey Christopher/ Courtsey CatCafe)

This is Sushi. Sushi has very special whiskers. ((Photo by Casey Christopher/ Courtsey CatCafe)

YOU (YES, YOU!) CAN SAVE THE KITTENS

Reddington says that L.A. has an urgent need for more kitten fosters. Every time someone fosters a litter of kittens, rescues and shelters have room to save more (and euthanize less).

Both Reddington and Labrenz say the worst thing you can do if you find a kitten on the street is bring it to a shelter, where it could be euthanized. It's likely that the mama cat just left the kitten to go find food, so Public Service Announcement Alert: if you see a kitten on the street, leave it there!

Reddington started her kitten program two years ago, basing it out of the county shelters in Baldwin Park and Downey, which have the highest animal intake in the city. To date, the program has rescued 3,400 fur babies.

Now the ASPCA is starting their own campaign to educate the public on how they can help — you can put your zip code into the site and find a shelter where you can volunteer to foster.

L.A. Animal Services has an urgent need for foster volunteers at city shelters right now— Currently East L.A. has the highest number of kittens looking for a home (59), followed by South L.A. (36). They also have an Amazon wishlist for needed kitten items like heating pads and baby blankets that you can have sent directly to the shelter of your choice. More info here.

Michelson Found Animals Foundation in Culver City also has a kitten foster program.

For those interested in Trap-Neuter-Return programs, local org Fix Nation has tips. They also operate a free spay/neuter clinic for cats.

L.A. doesn't have a lot of kitten nurseries because Labrenz says they are extremely complicated and costly to operate, requiring 24-hour care. But Best Friends runs a one in Mission Hills that works with city shelters to lower kitten kill rates— they take around-the-clock volunteers. Duties include bottle-feeding (!!).

One of ASPCA's rescue kittens. (Photo courtesy ASPCA)

Tiny Beans opens May 18th in downtown L.A at 551 S. Spring St. Pre-sale tickets are now available. The price of admission is $25 per hour.

And if you're more of a dog person, there's a cafe for that too.

UPDATES:

10:15 a.m.: This article was updated with more accurate euthanasia numbers for L.A. city and county shelters as well as additional information about TNR, shelter foster needs and bottle-feeding volunteer programs.