Before you pick up that defenseless little kitten on the side of the road and drop it off at the animal shelter, stop and think it through.
The kitten's mother is probably out looking for food and will return shortly to care for her baby.
And kittens are a lot better off being cared for by their mothers than by humans, said Hilton Head Humane Association executive director Franny Gerthoffer.
"The best chance that the kittens have is with the mother," Gerthoffer said.
Never miss a local story.
The Hilton Head Humane Association and Beaufort County Animal Services have teamed up to offer a feral cat program called TNR -- or Trap, Neuter, Release. They are asking the public to make a quick phone call instead of dropping off feral kittens at one of the shelters. The shelters will send someone out to mark the "hot spot," and volunteers will monitor the areas until the kittens are old enough to be taken from their mothers. Gerthoffer said when the kittens are at least six weeks old, shelter volunteers will trap them and make sure they get the medical care they need, neuter the mother, and then assess the kittens for adoption or release.
"If people allow the process to happen, we can save a whole lot more cats," Gerthoffer said.
Many reasons exist as to why kittens are better off with their mothers when they're young. A mother cat keeps her babies warm and fed naturally while shelter workers have to put them on heating pads and feed them by bottle, Gerthoffer said.
"A mother cat is all in one," Gerthoffer said. "She is totally equipped to take care of the kittens much better than anybody else."
Both animal care organizations are already overwhelmed by feral cats. Gerthoffer said 930 cats were dropped off at the Hilton Head shelter in 2012. Beaufort County Animal Services director Tallulah Trice said 2,628 feral cats were brought in to the Beaufort shelter in that same period.
Gerthoffer said there aren't enough volunteers and staff to handle all the feral kittens. The association does bottle feed kittens, but even still, she said many kittens die because bottle feeding isn't as efficient as being fed by a mother cat. Kittens also get immunities from their mothers' milk.
Gerthoffer also stressed the importance of not giving a kitten milk or cream because the substances are too much for their little bodies to digest.
"I understand the emotional connection that people have," Gerthoffer said. "It's very hard to come upon newborn kittens, not see a mother and go, 'Oh, my goodness' and just kind of walk away from it. So we're really not asking people to walk away from it. We're asking, 'Before you do anything, make a call to one of the organizations that will be able to monitor the situation and assist the kittens all the way through, plus also capture the mother.'"
Follow Amy Coyne Bredeson at https://twitter.com/IPBG_Amy