When Vanessa McCutcheon came in to work at the Boone Area Humane Society Monday morning, she immediately noticed something was not right.
With breakfast in hand for her fellow staff members at around 8:50 a.m., the animal shelter director took the front entrance into the large, tan building on West 16th Street instead of the back, as is the normal routine for employees. And what caught her eye as she got closer made what she called her “worst fear” come to life.
Outside of the building was a black plastic box taped shut with small holes cut out on top.
“There was duct tape holding the box closed, and as I approached, I saw it said 'kittens' on the top,” McCutcheon said.
Found inside the tub were four small domestic shorthair kittens — two males and two females between eight and nine weeks old — close to death due to lack of air flow, exposure to extreme heat and dehydration. When she first saw them, McCutcheon said the kittens looked dead, and were completely drenched in moisture from condensation forming inside of the black box.
It is unknown who had left them there or why, how long they had been trapped and exposed to high temperatures, or what their medical history entails. But McCutcheon immediately got the tiny animals placed on ice packs to combat the heat exposure and leaped into action.
“When they first came in … it was very questionable as to whether they were going to survive or not,” said Audrey Ricklefs, the owner of and veterinarian at All Pets Animal Hospital in Ames, where the kittens were rushed after being discovered. “They were having a lot of brain symptoms. They were paddling, seizing, kind of twisting their bodies up, and acted like they couldn't see; and definitely could not swallow.”
After undergoing rounds of staying in an oxygen tank, and receiving IV fluids, a variety of medications and oral glucose solution, Ricklefs said it was the quick response by the humane society and immediate treatment that kept the kittens alive. By the next day, all four were up and able to walk around with no signs of long-term damage to their health.
“They kind of turned out amazingly, and this won't always happen,” Ricklefs said. “We got lucky on that, I think.”
Thanks to donations from the local community that flooded in after the kittens were found, to the tune of $1,785, the humane society had enough funds to pay for the emergency care they needed.
“It's a hard business for those that work over at the shelter, it's really tough,” said Kim Adams, president of the Boone Area Humane Society. “And it's really nice to see support from the community. You can kind of take heart in that.
“I think we're very lucky. I would imagine within 15 more minutes, (the kittens) would not have made it. There were four of them in a very small area without much ventilation. It's like locking a kid in a hot car.”
As of Friday, all four kittens, which have since been named Hope, Justice, Love and Faith, were spayed and neutered, and preparing to enter foster care to help them learn how to socialize with humans. Currently, three of the four kittens are skittish and nervous around people and respond to interaction with hissing, likely in part due to the trauma they endured, according to McCutcheon.
The kittens will be up for adoption and in need of permanent homes within another week or so, depending on how long they require foster care.
“They've been through enough, we want them to have nice lives and be well taken care of and loved,” McCutcheon said. “The more socialized they are, the better chance they have of staying in a home forever.”
To help prevent future situations from taking a similar dangerous or possibly deadly turn, McCutcheon said an emergency number will likely be placed on the shelter's front door, to provide a way for people to contact staff if they intend to drop animals off when the shelter is closed. However, the best option for people looking to surrender animals to the shelter is still to do so during regular business hours when staff are present, or contact the shelter in advance.
The Boone Area Humane Society is open Monday-Friday from 1 to 6 p.m., and Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The shelter is closed on Sundays.
Perhaps most importantly, McCutcheon said, is continuing to educate people about the resources available to them. Sometimes there can be embarrassment about surrendering an animal, or concern about the cost of doing so. But the shelter is often able to waive the surrendering fee (which goes to support the costs of caring for the shelter's animals) in emergency situations, or offer the opportunity for people surrendering their pets to donate time as volunteers in lieu of payment.
And looking to low-cost spay and neuter clinics can help pet owners prevent accidental litters of animals that later end up being surrendered.
“It's just very frustrating for me, because I feel like we are here all the time,” McCutcheon said. “So in the few times we are not here, we come back to something like that. This situation could have been totally avoided with a little bit of education and a little bit of common sense.
“If they would just simply have called or waited. If they would have just waited for us to open, I could have taken the four healthy kittens out of their hands.”