Walking into the neonatal kitten unit housed in the Davenport building of Austin Pets Alive’s Lady Bird Lake Campus is an experience like no other. At first glance it looks like your typical veterinary hospital unit, with floor to ceiling cages and an array of syringes and other medical instrumentation arranged on the counter. The walls are painted white, the lighting is fluorescent and people come and go on a regular basis attending to the sanitation and cleanliness of rooms that house dozens of animals at any one point in time. But what’s striking about this unit is the intense quiet broken by tens of little meows – an immediate sign of the many young lives being nurtured and saved. On Thursday afternoon, this is where I found Faith Wright, Director of Operations at APA, bottle feeding kittens together with one of the many APA volunteers that are essential to all of the organization’s programs, including the Bottle Baby Nursery.
“I have a new favorite today” she said, “I-21″, referring to a small white kitten no more than a few days old that she had bottle fed earlier that afternoon. She informed me that he was a good eater. The good eaters bring hope to the Bottle Baby Nursery – which, although has an overall success rate of around 80 percent, can see multiple kittens pass away on any one day. The good eaters are a reminder of the successes of the Bottle Baby Nursery, which provides intensive, round the clock care to newborn kittens until they are capable of eating on their own.
Prior to the introduction of the Bottle Baby Nursery at Austin Pets Alive, the vast majority of kittens brought into Austin shelters were euthanized. The program has changed the landscape for the care of orphaned kittens in the Austin area by providing the resources and manpower necessary for the intensive 24 hour care required by this fragile class of animals. In 2011, APA was able to take in every orphaned kitten that arrived at Austin Animal Center, the City of Austin run animal shelter from which Austin Pets Alive pulls a large number of its animals. The organization is on track to do the same in 2012.
Although my initial intention on Thursday was to simply stop by APA to introduce myself to Faith and let her know that I’d be working with the organization over the long term on a photography project, she quickly encouraged me to take the opportunity to learn about the program and photograph the organization at work.