When a Searsmont resident discovered a lone kitten cowering beneath the porch Tuesday, April 24, they immediately called the local animal control officer. That officer in turn called Camden Rockport Animal Rescue League Shelter Manager Laura Stupca who agreed to take the tiny kitten in. Later that day Stupca and her staff used Facebook to appeal to the community — would anyone be interested in fostering the little guy for several weeks until he reached adoption age?

The post drew a number of comments and shares from the shelter’s nearly 700 Facebook fans including one from Danielle Mills Blake of Maine Coast Animal Rescue at Blake Vet in Lincolnville Beach. Blake said her organization had a nursing mother cat and that she would be glad to help. By Wednesday afternoon Blake reported good news — the kitten, named Benjamin, had been accepted by the mother and was nursing alongside her biological kittens. This is a best-case-scenario, according to Stupca.

Orphaned kittens aren’t unusual this time of year and while CRARL hasn’t been bombarded yet this spring, Stupca said she saw kittens dropped off almost daily during spring months in 2011.

“It seemed like everyday when I got to work there was a box in the parking lot or kittens in the foyer,” she recalled. Stupca said most litters are abandoned without a note or explanation.

“People find them on the side of the road or their cat has kittens and they don’t know what to do,” she explained. One day staff arrived to discover two mother cats and approximately 10 kittens left in the foyer. They worked to match the kittens to the appropriate mothers but uncertainty remained.

Stupca said CRARL tries to find foster homes for kittens that enter their care when they are younger than 8 weeks of age. When there is a mother cat, the staff runs appropriate medical tests but do not give vaccinations to mothers or young kittens until the kittens are weaned, making it important that foster homes with other pets keep the kittens separate when possible. Often a mother cat isn’t present and young kittens require bottle feeding. Stupca said foster homes are a valuable lifeline for the shelter in cases where animals require extra care.

CRARL is a no-kill shelter and Stupca said their policy is never to euthanize an animal unless medical or behavioral reasons render them unable to live a high quality life. She said even feral cats receive all medical care and are adopted out as barn cats. Some shelter residents have been there for years. At CRARL animals are always health checked, vaccinated, treated for fleas and spayed or neutered prior to adoption. In the event that an animal is too young to spay or neuter the adopter must bring the animal to a pre-scheduled appointment for the appropriate procedure. Stupca said all costs are covered by the shelter and are factored into the adoption fee which never exceeds $100 with kittens. Stupca said the cost of basic, preventative care in the private sector runs upward of several hundred dollars in the first year.

“A lot of people see ‘free kitten,’ it’s not a free kitten,” she explained.

Stupca said the best thing to do if you find a kitten abandoned or orphaned and can’t immediately reach a vet or shelter is to warm them up and check for fleas. If fleas are present Stupca said it’s best to try to eliminate them as fast as possible, even if it means gently bathing the kitten in “Dawn dish soap” or whatever might be on hand. She explained that fleas can cause serious to fatal anemia in baby animals if they’re left untreated. Stupca said it’s best to feed kittens milk replacement available at pet supply stores. According to Dr. Stacey Contakos of Camden Hospital for Animals cow’s milk can be used in a pinch — and only for a short period of time — until suitable milk replacement can be acquired.

Stupca said CRARL tries to work with foster families as much as possible. Placing young kittens can be a daunting task.

“Nine times out of 10 when you call a list of 25 names maybe two people will do it,” she said.

Stupca said CRARL always encourages people who find kittens to foster them if possible. She said the shelter provides all resources including litter and food for foster families.

“[Foster families] can even bring in their dirty towels and we’ll wash them,” Stupca said. She emphasized that time is the main objective when fostering an infant animal since they often need to be bottle fed for a period of time.

“It’s like having a baby,” she said.

She explained that some volunteers on the CRARL foster home list are seasonal residents who can’t offer a permanent home. As long as someone is able to commit to care for an animal for a period of time, they can provide a foster home.

“A lot of people just want to help,” Stupca said

Stupca explained that generally kittens with closed eyes are younger than 10 days old, kittens with open eyes and budding teeth are usually 3 to 4 weeks old. She said between 5 and 7 weeks their eye color changes from blue to a grayish color. Another good way to approximate age is by the kitten’s stance, she said a kitten under four weeks may appear a bit “wobbly” and not as sure-footed as an older kitten.

Stupca said CRARL works to match animals with human counterparts, which is sometimes difficult without any history. She said in the event that a pet owner is forced to relinquish their animal, it’s important to be candid with the shelter about any information that might help or hinder that pet’s adoption.

“If you have to relinquish an animal don’t cover anything up,” she said. “Our shelter and other shelters work really hard to make a match.”

She said the smallest details, down to favorite toys, can help make an animal comfortable and assist in helping them find a new home. She said it’s important for prospective pet owners to “do the research” in order to ensure an animal is a good match for the home and existing routine. This helps eliminate instances where animals end up in shelters, she said.

CRARL also offers a senior-to-senior program for cats. Stupca explained the shelter offers free adoption for cats older than age 6 to people older than 60.

Courier Publications reporter Jenna Lookner can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at jlookner@villagesoup.com.