COVENTRY — When Rebecca Martin’s parents called her one day seeking advice regarding a bunch of kittens they’d just found in their woodpile, she was quick to help.
“We go to take a look, and they’re these little emaciated, flea-covered fluff balls,” Rebecca said Wednesday, as she and her husband Matthew Martin recalled the genesis of their nonprofit. “It broke our hearts.”
Although clueless at the time when it came to caring for neonatal kittens, Rebecca and Matthew brought the three-week-old litter to their home in Coventry. And when the next morning it appeared one of the five had died overnight, Rebecca worked frantically to revive it.
“I worked on this kitten for an hour,” Rebecca said, recounting the ordeal. “I was holding her and I said, ‘God, give me a miracle.’”
The kitten, still unresponsive after an hour, was placed into a box while its siblings were brought to the vet to be checked out. But when Rebecca’s nephew peered into the box later that day, he noticed the kitty inside seemed to still have some life in it.
“I rushed it to [Ocean State Veterinary Specialists],” Rebecca said, “and they took it back right away, came back within two minutes and said, ‘it’s not responding to CPR, it’s not going to make it.’ And I said, ‘keep trying.’”
That was three years ago. And today, Lazarus — who also goes by Peanut — is thriving as a furry member of Rebecca and Matthew’s family.
“That was the catalyst for us,” Matthew said. “After that event, [Rebecca] started volunteering with shelters, and we took some kittens in, but we quickly realized, we’ll have a house full of cats in a year if we keep this up. What can we do to continue to support something we’re passionate about without having 30 cats in the house?”
Rebecca and Matthew founded Rhode Island Kitten Kits last year, driven by a love for cats and a hope to ensure that more kittens like Peanut make it to adulthood. The goal, Rebecca said, is to supply veterinary clinics and animal shelters in every Rhode Island town with emergency kits that include all the supplies necessary to properly care for a neonatal kitten.
“If we could have gone to Ocean State that day and said, ‘what do we do?’ and they could have given us a kit, it would have been so much easier,” Rebecca said.
The Martins hope through their efforts to see a decrease in kittens being euthanized, Rebecca said, noting that their need for around-the-clock care puts neonatal kittens at a high risk for euthanasia.
“Town-run rescues and shelters aren’t equipped to deal with them, so a lot of the time they’re euthanized,” she said, adding that foster care is the best chance kittens under five weeks old have for survival.
Stocked with blankets, heat pads, formula, bottles, nursing kits, litter, litter trays and puppy pads, the kits also contain valuable insight into caring for neonatal kittens, as well as information about area support groups, veterinarians and animal rescues.
“It all stems from what we didn’t know the first time it happened to us,” Matthew said of the nonprofit, which also supplies foster homes that need them with all the items necessary for raising kittens to an adoptable age.
Rebecca and Matthew delivered their first emergency kits to Ocean State Veterinary Specialists in April, and are now focusing on getting kits into other locations. The couple is currently holding a fundraiser to invite Rhode Islanders to sponsor a town for $35.
“That’s enough to get a kit into that town’s municipal shelter or a vet clinic,” Rebecca said, estimating that, since a fundraising event Sunday, more than half the towns statewide have received sponsorships.
The Martins have both always loved cats — in fact, Rebecca had recently lost her 20-year-old cat when she met Matthew, who at the time had three cats of his own.
These days, the couple shares their home with seven cats, including Peanut.
“You do reach a limit, and seven is our limit,” Rebecca said with a laugh.
The experiences they’ve had caring for neonatal kittens over the last three years has only grown their adoration for the feline members of their family.
“When you’re up every two or three hours feeding them, cleaning them, you can’t help but get attached,” Matthew said, “and now these are our little babies.”
In addition to making their kitten kits available statewide, the Martins hope through their nonprofit to promote fostering and to increase awareness around how to properly care for kittens.
“I don’t think we were always cat people to the level that we are now,” Matthew added, sitting beside Rebecca, who wore a baseball cap with the word ‘meow’ written on it.
“We’re those annoying people who tell you to spay and neuter your cats,” he continued. “We’ve become those people, and that’s OK.”
To learn more about Rhode Island Kitten Kits, to make a donation or to sponsor a town, visit the nonprofit’s Facebook page at facebook.com/rhodeislandkittenkits.