Vet students save hundreds of kittens through the Orphan Kitten Project
There are more than 500 student groups and activities here at the University of Minnesota, but only one that deals with The Wake’s (and the Internet’s) favorite thing: kittens. The Orphan Kitten Project involves around 50 veterinary students from the U’s College of Veterinary Medicine who foster and help stray and abandoned kittens find homes.
I met with three of the OKP’s eight officers, along with two foster kittens, Pickles and Fritz, and one foster puppy, Gidget. Third-year vet student and OKP officer Erika MacKinnon explained to me that when the group formed around 2002, it received kittens only from the Humane Society and bottle-fed them until they were old enough to be adopted. Last year for the first time, OKP teamed up with Rescue Pets are Wonder- ful, “RPAW,” a nonprofit group based out of Anoka that is dedicated to finding homes for rescued cats and dogs.
It has been a crazy year for the Orphan Kitten Project. Until this school year, only five vet students fostered at a time. Since linking up with RPAW, OKP has been able to foster adult cats, pregnant cats and even puppies. Fall 2012 semester alone, 144 cats were fostered and then adopted through OKP. Even Ricky Rubio, point guard for the Minnesota Timberwolves, became involved. Rubio fostered a kitten for a month and a half after being persuaded by a friend who is a U of M vet student.
OKP officer and first year vet student Kelsey Bertamus described the day-to-day responsibilities of OKP, begin- ning with communicating with RPAW about the number of kittens currently being fostered. Officers make frequent trips to Animal Control and the Humane Society to save kittens from being euthanized. OKP then gets the kittens up-to-date on vaccinations and disperses them to adoptions throughout the metro area at PetSmart or Petco stores.
“It is also important to us that we maintain our large foster base, answer their questions, and make sure that they have supplies and are keeping up with vet care,” Bertamus said.
Not only does this process positively impact the kitten population, but the vet students receive the benefits as well. Fosterers and officers of the OKP gain experience relating to animal health and welfare.
“A lot of vet school is class. Working with OKP gives vet students a unique experience where you can learn from the health problems of the kittens,” first year vet student Kaitlin Monson said. “It’s directly applicable to what we’re learning, and what we’re going to be doing for the rest of our lives.”
Orphan Kitten Project officers pride themselves most on being the only group, next to RPAW, that will take any or- phaned animals, especially when the other option for these kittens is to be put down. “Our groups [RPAW and OKP] only turn to euthanasia if absolutely necessary,” Monson said. “I would say 85% of the animals we take in would be euthanized had we not taken them.”
What’s the main qualification for fostering a kitten? Desire. Contact OKP at firstname.lastname@example.org or Orphan Kitten Project UMN CVM on Facebook to get set up with a kitten. If you need help re-homing cats or kittens or find homeless animals and need help, contact OKP. “We can’t ever guaran- tee that we will be able to help, but we will always try,” the officers said in agreement.