Dakin reopening Kitten Intensive Care Unit

Milton is one of the success stories of Dakin Humane Society’s Kitten Intensive Care Unit. Milton came in with two very badly infected eyes that ultimately had to be removed. Despite being totally blind, Milton made a full recovery and was eventually adopted by a longtime Dakin supporter.

Milton is one of the success stories of Dakin Humane Society’s Kitten Intensive Care Unit. Milton came in with two very badly infected eyes that ultimately had to be removed. Despite being totally blind, Milton made a full recovery and was eventually adopted by a longtime Dakin supporter. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Milton is one of the success stories of Dakin Humane Society’s Kitten Intensive Care Unit. Milton came in with two very badly infected eyes that ultimately had to be removed. Despite being totally blind, Milton made a full recovery and was eventually adopted by a longtime Dakin supporter.

Milton is one of the success stories of Dakin Humane Society’s Kitten Intensive Care Unit. Milton came in with two very badly infected eyes that ultimately had to be removed. Despite being totally blind, Milton made a full recovery and was eventually adopted by a longtime Dakin supporter. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Belchertown resident Marianne Gambaro holds a kitten in Dakin Humane Society’s Kitten Intensive Care Unit.

Belchertown resident Marianne Gambaro holds a kitten in Dakin Humane Society’s Kitten Intensive Care Unit. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

By ABNER ROJAS

For the Gazette

Published: 07-09-2024 12:18 PM

SPRINGFIELD — As Dakin Humane Society reopens its Kitten Intensive Care Unit at 171 Union St. this month, Pioneer Valley residents are ready to continue their mission of nursing critically ill kittens back to health.

The volunteer program was put on pause in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving kitten care up to Dakin staff. Now, volunteers like Belchertown resident Marianne Gambaro say they are itching to get back to work.

“It’s just very rewarding work to see those kittens come in from being very sick — in some cases we don’t know whether they’re going to survive or not — to over the course of a couple weeks, to see them healed and thriving and able to go up for adoption,” said Gambaro, who started volunteering in 2018.

Fellow Belchertown resident Arlene Gaudet has volunteered for five years and shares Gambaro’s passion for taking care of kittens in need.

“Some need a little help at first, but that help makes such a difference,” Gaudet said. “Every kitten deserves a chance to grow and live a happy life.”

Established in 2014, the seasonal program has taken care of sick and vulnerable kittens ages 5 to 12 weeks. Gambaro and Gaudet, who both take great joy in watching the kittens recover, were saddened that they had to hold off on volunteering when the pandemic hit. Especially when Dakin needed them most, with kitten intake numbers only going up every year from 422 kittens in 2020 to 1,326 last year.

“We were crushed that we couldn’t work with them, but Dakin is very good at pivoting and many of the KICU volunteers who worked in there and had the training were able to take in the sick kittens to foster them,” Gambaro noted.

Each year, especially during warm weather months, Dakin experiences a large intake of stray newborn kittens, many of whom need significant medical attention for issues such as upper respiratory infections, dehydration, severe diarrhea, malnourishment and trauma.

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The kittens that enter the KICU come from a variety of backgrounds. They are discovered outside and brought to Dakin by concerned people, or they arrive through Dakin’s Moms Fixed Free program or its all-volunteer Kitten Street Team. Additionally, many kittens are expected to be surrendered from households that cannot care for them.

Dakin needs at least 50 volunteers, overseen by Dakin’s medical staff, to help run the 24 kennels the Kitten Intensive Care Unit contains. The unit will be staffed by two volunteers and a staff person for each of its three daily shifts from July through Oct. 31, during which time it is expected to treat approximately 250 kittens. Administering medications, feeding, monitoring vital signs and cleaning are some of the job responsibilities KICU volunteers can expect.

“People in our region care so deeply about animals,” Meg Talbert, Dakin’s executive director, said in a statement. “We are confident that we can recruit and train enough volunteers to help save these vulnerable kittens.”

Gambaro and Gaudet agree that this work is critical to a kitten’s recovery and to never count a kitten out no matter how dire their situation looks at first.

“One day a kitten may seem like it’s barely hanging on, and I’ll come back a couple of days later and the kitten is jumping around the cage like a maniac,” Gaudet said. “A little bit of care at the right time makes such a difference.”

One of those success stories, Gambaro recalled, was a kitten named Milton who came in with two badly infected eyes that ultimately had to be removed. Despite being totally blind, Milton made a full recovery and was eventually adopted by a longtime Dakin supporter. When Gambaro went for a house visit, she was amazed at both his confidence and how he bounced back.

“He was already up on the mantle rearranging the artwork, he was up on the counters checking out what was going on in the kitchen,” she said. “I always joked that he had a third eye and he was just living his best life.”

Not all situations are like Milton’s, though. Gaudet and Gambaro advise those who are considering volunteering to be aware that not all kittens are going to make it, but not to get discouraged.

“The vast majority of kittens that come into the KICU recover and can be adopted,” Gaudet said, “but a few don’t and that’s hard for volunteers and staff. At least you know that you’ve done everything you could and then celebrate all the kittens that recover and go on to become someone’s beloved pet.”

With the increase of kittens in need of care over the past few years, Gambaro said she hopes people become more aware of the KICU. As Dakin has many programs dedicated to supporting animals, she wants the public to know that the KICU is a big part of the organization that is there in case they need it.

“If you find a sick kitten, bring them in, we’ll take care of them,” Gambaro said. “If you know someone who has a kitten that has issues, bring them and we’ll take care of them. We’re there for the community. We support animals and their human companions in any way possible.”

For more information about the Kitten ICU, visit dakinhumane.org/KICU.