The man called looking to drop off “a momma cat and a few kittens” at Little Whiskers Animal Rescue in Maricopa.
Instead, he brought 29 cats, including a pregnant mother, to the shelter. And then on Thursday, the mother gave birth to a litter that included five conjoined kittens, who were rushed to a veterinarian in Chandler for critical surgery to try to separate them and give them a chance at survival.
According to Brittney McCarthy, president of Little Whiskers, the drop-off caught the shelter by surprise.
“The momma cat was pregnant when she came in, she had only been with us for a few days, and she had shown no signs of labor, there was no milk coming,” McCarthy said. “We didn’t have room for the 29 so we had to transfer some out to foster homes.”
About 20 of the cats were suffering from ringworm and most had upper respiratory infections, she said.
In addition to the medical issues caused by their apparent neglect, the shelter had to deal with the challenge of a unique birth in the litter.
“Five of the kittens were conjoined – they were all born in one little ball,” McCarthy said. “They were all mainly conjoined by their belly, but two were joined by their back end and one was joined by a foot to a stomach. They have been separated.”
But the shelter received bad news from the vet: two of the kittens had to be euthanized. They didn’t have much of a chance, she said.
“They were pretty small when they were born,” she said. “They had the more complicated part of the surgery and being only a day old it was really rough on their bodies. It could have put them into shock – we really just don’t know exactly what happened.”
McCarthy believes the cats came from a hoarding situation, and the man who made the drop-off has asked to bring in more cats. Little Whiskers told him the shelter would need to be able to assess the additional cats and their home situation to ensure proper resources were available.
The shelter is working with Maricopa Animal Control Officer Luke Ziccardi to gather more information about the man, who refused to give his name or show identification. The shelter does have a phone number and license plate, and Ziccardi is investigating to see if other animals could be at risk.
The community has rallied behind the conjoined kittens, donating enough money to cover the expense of their surgery by a veterinarian who declined to be identified by the shelter.
“We have recovered our expenses for the surgery and the cost of the conjoined kittens’ treatment through the donations we’ve had,” said McCarthy. “Any additional donations will go for the future vet care of all the other cats and what the mom and kittens may need.”
Those expenses will include food, shelter, adoption costs and the care of the other 20 cats. McCarthy said those who wish to donate or adopt one of the cats can best do through the shelter’s Facebook page or their web site at LittleWhiskers.org.