“I’ve always loved animals,” said Shari Wilcox, head of Michigan Orphan Kitten Rescue. “I was always the kid bringing home the strays when I was little.”
She is still bringing them home. Since the kittens she now takes in are most often newborns, she also has to get up during the night for feedings. She’s recently had the additional burden of bringing kittens to the vet for emergency surgery.
Wilcox started fostering animals for the Humane Society of Huron Valley (HSHV) in 2005. While there, she discovered that there was a gap in the animal welfare safety net. HSHV did not have the resources to deliver the 24-hour care that baby kittens required.
A kitten named Owen (photo courtesy of Shari Wilcox).
In 2012, Wilcox and two others founded a new nonprofit, “Michigan Orphan Kitten Rescue,” (MOKR). This group is dedicated specifically to caring for orphan kittens that are less than 4-weeks old.
The kittens come from HSHV, from other rescue groups, from local vet’s offices and from individuals. MOKR does not have an office anywhere, just a phone number and a post office box. The kittens are cared for in Wilcox’s Saline home and five other foster homes in the area.
Kitten season, i.e., the time of year when kittens are born, runs from mid March into September. In the last kitten season, MOKR cared for 103 kittens from about 30 litters. The litters are labeled sequentially with letters. This year they are up to litter “X” or number 24.
The foster homes typically handle two to four kittens at a time, but Wilcox often has six to eight. This is because she often takes care of newborn litters.
A young kitten is held by Shari Wilcox, founder of the Michigan Orphan Kitten Rescue. (photo by Bob Conradi)
Newborn kittens need to be fed about every three hours or eight times a day. When they are about nine days old the feedings can be reduced to perhaps six times per day. By three weeks, they can be reduced to four a day.
The care of newborns would be impossible for Wilcox to do alone, since she also has a full-time day job in the athletic department at University of Michigan. She relies on a fellow board member who can care for them while she is at work.
At eight weeks (when the animals weigh about 2 pounds), they are spayed and neutered, vaccinated, given a microchip and put up for adoption.
Interested families can find kittens from MOKR through PetFinder, where they may search by species and zip code for available animals. MOKR also participates in adoption events at Petsmart in Ann Arbor. At these events people can meet the animals before choosing to adopt.
A litter of kittens at the Michigan Orphan Kitten Rescue (Photo by Shari Wilcox)
Finding families for the kittens can be almost immediate, but it may take three to four weeks. For some reason, black kittens are last to go. Nevertheless, kittens are easier to place than adult cats. Wilcox says that in three years none of the kittens have been left unadopted.
“We’ve been really lucky here in Saline,” Wilcox said. “We’ve got a wonderful vet who is very supportive; we couldn’t do it without her. And we’ve had Jensen’s Community Pharmacy as a donations drop off place for us; Wags to Whiskers has been supportive, so it’s nice to have that community support behind what we are doing.”
MOKR has also been fortunate to find some generous donors who have helped them with their mission. Other financial help comes from the adoption fee and several fund raisers held throughout the year.
People who wish to contribute can donate money or items from their Wish List. Updates on the group’s activities can be found on their Facebook page.