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A day in the life: Susan Spaulding

The National Kitten Coalition’s co-founder, instructor and director of neonatal programs shares a day in her life … during kitten season

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<b>Midnight</b> I’m just finishing up midnight feeding for 3-hour litters; kittens are fed by weight, not age, so different litters may be on different schedules. I feed and potty everyone, do a mini exam on kittens in a fragile new litter who are not thriving, and make a note to contact their sponsor group in the morning to provide updates.<b>12:20 a.m.</b> Clean and sterilize bottles and nipples and fill, ready for 3 a.m. feeding.<b>12:30 a.m.</b> I do a final “walk through” check on three older, weaning litters in the kitten room. Need to change litter box and do a couple butt wipes, but I note their dry kibble has been eaten … yay! The kittens are playing like little madmen and totally destroying their water bowl … time to wipe up, change wet bedding and get more water.<b>12:50 a.m.</b> I check my calendar for the rest of the day: It’s my day to post on Facebook for Kitten Coalition; vaccines are due for my oldest litter; I need to call to set up two vet appointments; and updates are due for two sponsors.<b>1 a.m.</b> Drop in the bed (I think … I forgot to look at the clock!) I spend the first 15 minutes worrying about the litter that didn’t eat well at the midnight feeding and decide to talk to the vet tomorrow to see about starting fading kitten protocol.<b>1:01 a.m.</b> Not really, but it feels like it … it’s actually about 3:05 a.m. when I finally turn the alarm off and try to find the kitchen to warm bottles for the 3 a.m. feeding. Thank goodness they’re set up and ready to go. I drop a toilet paper roll while pottying my last litter and chase it under the table. The fragile litter is eating better … yay! I set up the basics for the next feeding.<b>3:25 a.m.</b> Wide awake, so I sit down at my computer to work on article for the Kitten Coalition newsletter. Stupidly, I also check email. I notice two urgent requests among about 113 emails since I checked around 9 p.m.—one asking for help with two preemies who need the incubator, and one asking for information on our panleuk protocol. I spend time answering emails, so the article isn’t finished … Rebecca [Jewell, executive director] is going to kill me if I don’t get it to her soon!<b>6 a.m.</b>Thank you Mr. Keurig, wherever you are—coffee is done by the time the first bottles are warmed. I begin the morning rounds; there are no morning meds today. All bottle babies get fed, pottied and weighed. Weaners get wet food and clean litter boxes; I use cardboard boxes, so they get thrown out and replaced. I go through litter to check all poop … no kidding! ... and administer vaccines to the oldest litter.<b>7:10 a.m.</b> I call the vet to discuss my fragile litter and make appointments for later in the week, then finish weighing everyone and collect wet food dishes and load the dishwasher … it’s time for more caffeine.<b>8:15 a.m.</b> Feed the dogs, feed my own kitties, scoop boxes and give them their monthly Revolution, then check emails and Facebook and message two groups to let them know their litters will be ready to return in about a week. I’m sick when I read a message from a foster that their preemies did not make it through the night.<b>9:10 a.m.</b> Feed and potty tinies, change linens, put in load of laundry, take yesterday’s laundry out of the dryer and add to pile to fold … it’s beginning to look like a mini Mount Everest of fleece.<b>9:50 a.m.</b> I’m ready to work at my computer, but there’s a familiar aroma … one of the weaners has used the clean litterbox and proceeded to track it everywhere … including on his siblings! Butt baths, clean mess, new linens, more laundry.<b>10:05 a.m.</b> Back at my computer, I finish the Kitten Coalition article and work on a PowerPoint for the next class I’m scheduled to teach, post a Facebook photo, send a couple of messages and sneak in a check on my grandkids’ activities.<b>11 a.m.</b> Time for Lisa Marie’s cart time and play … her back legs are paralyzed, but she’s just as active and curious as any kitten her age. I sit on the floor and send/answer some texts while she’s running around teasing the dogs. It takes another 5 minutes to figure out how to get up off the floor.<b>Noon</b> Feed and potty little ones; drink one of those chocolate meal shakes. Husband comes in from cutting grass and offers to feed ferals … I love that man!<b>12:30 p.m.</b> Nap time for everyone, including me!<b>2 p.m.</b> Up early because I want to have an hour to spend in the garden. I switch linens from washer to dryer and don garden clothes, then check tomatoes and peppers, plant three rows of lima beans and cut some peonies to bring in the house.<b>3:15 p.m.</b> I’m running late for the 3 p.m. feeding, but everyone is still sleeping. I fix bottles and feed and potty. The fragile litter seems more active and eating better. Kitten Brae is still recovering from being run over with a lawn mower.<b>4:10 p.m.</b> Back at the computer, I’m frustrated because I can’t find a file with photos for my PowerPoint presentation. I answer some email and message questions and realize I must have typed the words poop and stool at least a hundred times today.<b>5:10 p.m.</b> I begin feeding, meds and cleaning for weaners, make fresh formula and try to take a few photos to update rescue groups and Facebook … it’s like trying to photograph lightning with these little ones! Feed, potty and weigh little ones.<b>6:10 p.m.</b> Husband grills fresh asparagus from the garden—OK, technically from our neighbor’s garden, but it’s still absolutely delicious with a tall glass of sweet tea.<b>7:30 p.m.</b> I spend another 30 minutes on the computer (SIGH), then sit down beside a pile of magazines I’ve been trying to read for days and a half-finished sock I’m knitting for my husband. I decide on magazines … then fall asleep on page 13 of the first magazine. Husband wakes me up an hour later ... he’s fed our dogs and kitties (but he doesn’t scoop … not in his job description!).<b>9 p.m.</b> Last feeding of the day for the tinies. I spend a little one-on-one time with Lisa Marie, giving her a little spa treatment and massage, and spend some playtime with older fosters.<b>10:15 p.m.</b> It’s the last computer check for the day. I check the calendar for tomorrow, make a note to send a birthday card to my granddaughter, answer some texts and check Facebook.<b>11 p.m.</b> I start prep for tomorrow, check supplies and make a note to order more formula. It sounds daunting, but just one look in those tiny faces makes every minute worth it!

My name is Susan Spaulding—for 25-plus years I have fostered neonatal orphaned kittens, as well as kittens needing specialized medical care. Neonates, ill and underage kittens are one of the most at-risk groups within the animal welfare system; as little as 10 years ago, the vast majority were euthanized because rescue groups and shelters had little knowledge of how to care for them.

In 2007, after being inundated with requests for foster help—far more than we could care for—Rosemarie Crawford and I co-founded The National Kitten Coalition, a nonprofit dedicated to educating others on how to care for these fragile and at-risk kittens. For several years, we were the only organization specifically advocating for these often forgotten babies.

There’s no real “start” to the day when you foster orphaned neonates, so I decided to begin my day at midnight. There’s also no “typical” day for fosters; keeping a diary of my days has been an eye-opening experience for me … and more difficult than I ever anticipated!

Co-founder of the National Kitten Coalition, Susan Spaulding is something of a legend in the cat community. Known as “the kitten mom,” she’s fostered anywhere from 100-400 kittens a year for 25 years and shows no signs of slowing down (her tiny wards come from shelters and rescues and when well enough, return to the groups for adoptions).

In short, Spaulding is a force for animals—and she needs to give us all tips on achieving her boundless energy (caffeine is key, apparently). “It sounds daunting,” she says, “but just one look in those tiny faces makes every minute worth it!”

Click through the gallery above for an edited day (and night!) in her life.

Read all of our "a day in the life" features here. Email bwynn@humanesociety.org to submit your own "a day in the life" idea.

About the Author

Bethany Wynn Adams is a senior editor at Animal Sheltering, a quarterly magazine for anyone who cares about the health and happiness of animals and their people, and animalsheltering.org. From tales of shelter mascots to guidance on backyard chickens, Bethany works with experts from across the country and within the Humane Society of the United States to bring wide-ranging, engaging print and web news to the animal welfare community. Winner of the Cat Writers' Association's MUSE Medallion, she lives in Maryland with her husband and two naughty rescue dogs.