Life on the streets can be hard for any cat—but for newborn kittens, who need a safe shelter and frequent feedings to survive, it can be especially dangerous. So when Orphan Kitten Club (OKC), a non-profit focusing on neonatal kittens based in San Diego, heard about a litter of kittens in Southern California who had been found without their mother, they sprung into action.
First, they took in the kittens, and gave them names based on Nepalese foods:
Dal, a brown tabby cat with white paws, has a name inspired by the Nepalese lentil dish.
OKC also provided all the care an orphaned newborn kitten needs: regular bottle-feedings, teaching them to go potty, screening them for diseases and more.
But rescuing neonatal kittens from the streets is only part of the work to build a safer world for vulnerable kittens. Whenever possible, kittens should stay with their mothers until they’re weaned, so they can bond with and nurse from their mama. That’s why, as OKC founder Hannah Shaw explains, “as part of our Orphan Kitten Club Full Circle Program, we always go and search for the mama.”
So, the OKC team traveled to the location where Momo, Dal and Aila were found and began canvassing the streets. They spoke to residents who confirmed that they had seen the mama cat in the area—and that she was still caring for one last kitten. With another kitten at risk, OKC team members were more determined than ever to find the mother.
The Search for Mama Continues
Weeks passed without any sign of the mama cat, and during that time, the neighborhood endured massive storms and flash flooding, as well as a drop in temperatures that made conditions especially dangerous for a newborn kitten. One neighbor had spotted the mama cat on her security camera, but OKC team members knew there was a strong possibility that the missing kitten had not survived. Still, they held out hope and continued to canvass the streets.
Then, one day, a pest control specialist found the missing kitten hiding behind a wooden board on a local resident’s property. With guidance from OKC, the resident took in the kitten while the search for the mama continued.
“When we got the call that a neighbor had spotted the kitten, we couldn’t freaking believe it!” Shaw recalls.
The neighbor was able to lure the mama cat into a humane trap, using both the newly found kitten and “stinky food” (aka wet cat food) as bait.
Both cats were transported to OKC’s San Diego facility, where the team continued the Nepalese food theme of the family’s names:
- They named the mama cat Thali, after a platter on which Nepalese food is often served.
- They called the kitten Aamli, after the Hindi word for tamarind, a tree that produces a brown pod with edible fruit that’s popular in Nepalese cuisine.
Thali and Aamli were quarantined together at OKC for two weeks. Then, it was time to reunite them with their long-lost family.
How OKC Saves Lives
The dramatic search and rescue that saved Thali and her kittens isn’t unusual for the OKC team, who are devoted to protecting the most vulnerable kittens. Orphan Kitten Club runs a small but mighty operation. Its physical space has just two rooms, one for quarantining and the other a kitten socialization playground that the staff fondly refer to as “Disneyland for kittens.”
But despite their small digs, OKC’s impact has reached far and wide. They offer MightyCat grants to organizations across the United States to support the care of neonatal kittens throughout the country. And their trap-neuter-release (TNR) efforts in Southern California are helping to reduce feral cat populations and keep newborn kittens off the streets.
“The approach of our TNR program is to end the cycle of kittens being born outside by sterilizing all the community cats in the neighborhood where our kittens came from,” says Sonja Lueschen, OKC’s Program Director. Mama Thali herself has benefitted from the rescue’s TNR program, receiving spay surgery to prevent her from having more kittens. “This work is so important and provides a lasting impact in the community.”
A Bright Future in Their Forever Homes
Thanks to OKC, Thali and her kittens have a new lease on life—and they’ve also changed the lives of the very lucky humans who now call them family. Each of the kittens, and even mama Thali, have been adopted thanks to OKC’s adoption listings. Aila and Aamli were adopted together by a family whose previous two cats passed away in 2022. Momo now lives with a former OKC adopter and her cat, another “graduate” from the organization.
And as for mama Thali? She and Dal have found a forever home, too, joining the family of Jeisel Morales, her husband Daniel Dunkel and their two teenage children in the Pasadena area. The family had never been “cat people,” Morales says. But after the death of their 15-year-old Shih Tzu last year, Morales heard about OKC through a friend and decided to check them out. Soon after, on January 7 of this year, she brought home the dynamic mother-and-son duo.
It’s uncommon for adult feral cats to become good household pets, but Thali (who the family has renamed Doty) has been the exception, Morales says—she snuggles with her new family like any other loving cat. Dal, whose new name is Jack, spends his days acting exactly like a kitten should: full of energy and mischief.
“He’s a curious little guy, but at the same time he’s the biggest cuddle lovebug,” Morales says. “He’ll just fall asleep on your chest for a few hours.”
The family is officially head-over-heels for their new felines—so much so that the teenagers often bicker over who gets to snuggle with which cat at night.
“Having cats is a different experience, but we needed it,” Morales says. “Having Doty and Jack has brought so much life into the house. We didn’t realize how much we needed pets in my family.”
Make a Difference for Homeless Pets
There’s no furry family quite like Thali and her kittens—but their story isn’t unique. Thousands of homeless pets across the country are looking for forever homes. If you’re inspired by their story, consider adopting or fostering a cat in your community. You can search for adoptable cats at shelters and rescues in your area. Not ready to take in a cat? Shop Orphan Kitten Club’s Chewy Wish List to send the lifesaving supplies they need right to their doorstep.
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