Southern California

4 Our Heroes: Shelter Volunteer Keeps Newborn Kittens Purring

"I'm close to a thousand hours as an LA animal volunteer, so that may qualify me as a crazy cat lady," Larson said

It can be hard to even scratch the surface of the kitten population explosion Southern California has at this time every year.

Many newborn kittens would be hopeless without people like Kristen Larson, a volunteer at the South LA Animal Shelter. Larson works almost non stop bottle-feeding and finding homes for hundreds of kittens.

It's only natural for her, since she grew up in a home that catered to cats.

"We had that household where stray cats would come in and they'd become part of the family," Larson said.

Championing the whole kit and caboodle, though, happened by accident at an animal fundraiser.

"There was nobody helping cats at that time. It was really a sad time for cats," Larson said.

Nurseries and fosters that cater to kittens under eight weeks old hadn't yet taken hold in the city, Larson said. The South LA shelter was the most in need, so Larson started volunteering.

Seven years later, she hasn't stopped.

"I'm close to a thousand hours as an LA animal volunteer, so that may qualify me as a crazy cat lady," Larson said.

More than 1,800 kittens came into LA shelters just last month. For Larson, it's like a second full-time job.

"It is kind of roll up your sleeves dirty work, [cleaning] litter pans, [feeding them] food [and] water," Larson said.

Larson claims there is still a lot of work to do when it comes to this kitten population explosion problem. At top of the list is educating people on spay and neuter programs.

There are foster and volunteer opportunities at local shelters. Foster kitten "parents" are needed to take care of kittens until they reach eight weeks and can be adopted, LA Animal Services said. Shelters have all sorts of adoption specials coming up as well.

"If we can cut down on the animals coming into the shelter, we can start filtering out enough of these guys -- finding them fosters and adopters -- that we are going to catch up," Larson said.

LA Animal Services also said if you see healthy newborn kittens with their mother, leave them alone and the mom will take care of them. That's their best chance of surviving their first eight weeks.

Thanks to volunteers like Larson, more kittens and cats are finding forever homes, an LA Animal Services spokeswoman said. She says they could not have come as close to the goal of completely no-kill shelters without Larson, calling her a hero in the animal community.

"It's in my blood now," Larson said. "I don't think I could walk away at this point."

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