At Bobbi & the Strays' no-kill animal shelter in Freeport, rooms, corners and aisles have been converted into emergency housing for kittens.
The shelter last month scrambled to house 19 kittens that arrived within 36 hours, an intake that's more normal for a two-week period.
"People are bringing them in their hands, with umbilical cords attached," said shelter board member Virginia Tokar. "Kitten season never ended this year, all through the winter and continuing right now . . . Where are we going to put them? The roof?"
Kitten season was supersized this year, and shelter officials across Long Island blame an unusually warm winter for an early start to breeding. The Northeast this year had its warmest seven months on record, climatologists said.
Usually, few or no winter newborns come in as female cats don't routinely breed in that season. But this February and March, they came -- dumped in boxes outside shelters, left inside by people who ran, or dropped off without donations, shelter officials said. By the time prime kitten season arrived, usually early spring, officials said they were seeing at least double the average number of kittens.
Veterinarian Keith Niesenbaum said cats take breeding cues from the environment. With a warm winter, he said, a cat can "squeeze in" an extra litter for the season because gestation is 60 days.
Effect of warm winter
"They're not that far removed from wild animals," said Niesenbaum, the owner of Farmingdale Dog and Cat Clinic. "They're designed to get pregnant and drop kittens when it's hospitable out in the environment.
"If it's very warm for that first litter, more of the kittens may survive outside because the conditions are less harsh and there's more food available."
It wasn't just strays that had litters, rescuers said. Some owners were more likely to let out unspayed and unneutered cats in the warm winter. Many with budget woes kicked out pets.
"Once June hit, we were expecting to see more kittens, but we saw about 20 percent more," said Sylvia Ottaka, senior director of operations at North Shore Animal League in Port Washington, where 200 felines need homes. "We were a little shocked by it."
They emailed supporters and ramped up specials to convince people to visit. Recently, adoption fees were waived for felines 6 months and older to make space for a kitten deluge expected to last well into fall.
In the past, swamped private shelters found temporary cat berths at town shelters, which often had space because many homeless animals were euthanized. But as municipalities move to "low kill," places like the Islip Town shelter got packed. There, a holding room for small dogs is now a cat room.
"The tough part is people are still bringing kittens in, and we don't have room for them," Islip shelter supervisor Joanne Daly said. "You've got to wonder what they're going to do with these kittens."
In Freeport, All About Cats increasingly relies on foster parents to keep the kittens until they can be adopted. But pleas this year to scores of people to foster led only four to sign up.
Need for adoption
It left longtime fosterer Rosemarie Cazzorla with 20 kittens early this month in her North Bellmore home. Ten was the most she had at one time. "It's not easy to get them to commit," she said of potential fosters. "They're wrapped up in their lives."
At Bobbi & the Strays, Poggi is a perfectly adoptable white cat, a "love bunny" who likes looking out windows. But with a ton of kittens available, adult cats like Poggi live years in shelters, sometimes in small cages. Poggi has waited three years for a home. "We take good care of them," Tokar said, but "I want them to sleep on someone's bed. I want them to watch TV with somebody."
To adopt, donate or volunteer, contact your municipal shelter or consider these options:
* All About Cats, Freeport, allaboutcats.org, 516-379-CATS (2287)
* Save-A-Pet, Port Jefferson Station, saveapetli.net, 631-473-6333
* Last Hope, Wantagh, lasthopeanimalrescue.org, 516-783-0030
* Bobbi & the Strays, Freeport, bobbiandthestrays.org, 516-378-4340
* Little Shelter, Huntington, littleshelter.com, 631-368-8770
* North Shore Animal League, Port Washington, animalleague.org, 516-883-7575
How to pick a pet
Make sure the family is ready. Are chaotic, home renovations going on? Can you give extra attention to the new arrival?
Pick a match to your lifestyle. Can you care for an active pet or do you need a quiet companion? Do you prefer an extrovert or have patience for a shy animal?
Ask shelter officials about the pet’s needs and personality. Is the pet afraid of noise and children? Any special health care?
1. References may be needed
2. Adoption fees can be up to $100
3. Home visits may be done to check for pet dangers
4. Bring pet to your veterinarian for a checkup
5. Spay and neuter pet