There's a season for kittens and it's upon us, say animal rescue centres struggling with cats and kittens by the hundreds while trying to make ends meet on dwindling funds in a Covid year.
"Kitten season has really only just begun and we're already flooded," says Alisha Sinclair of 9 Lives Orphanage in South Auckland.
There is a similar squash and a squeeze at another Auckland rescue centre, Lonely Miaow, which has more than 700 animals on its wait list.
It's getting 80 SOS calls a day from the public, nearly three times more than last year.
The annual feline breeding season begins as temperatures rise, usually peaking in December and January.
Lonely Miaow and 9 Lives are each caring for between 200 and 300 cats at present, relying solely on volunteers to foster the animals in their homes and prepare them for adoption.
Kitten season is an intense time for carers, some having to bottle-feed tiny kittens every two hours through the night.
The sheer number of unwanted or stray kittens being born this year could be due to desexing not being done during the weeks of lockdown, says Sinclair.
Desexing was not considered an essential service at alert level 4, says SPCA communications manager Kim Taylor.
The pandemic has also dealt a financial blow to charities that rely on donations to drive rescue operations, feed animals, pay staff salaries and - a killer expense - vet bills.
On Auckland's North Shore, no-kill rescue and shelter Pixie's was sustained by its pet hotel business until Covid-19 hit.
"Nobody went on holiday and people stayed home or lost their jobs, so their dogs never came back to daycare, and our permanent source of income just went down the toilet," Chairmaine Wolmarans said.
They've upped the fundraising ante, more than doubling the number of market stalls and sausage sizzles they used to do.
"Where people used to come up to buy three sausage sizzles, they now buy one," Wolmarans said, chuckling.
"We're extremely concerned at how we financially survive this kitten season, without a severe long-term reduction in our rescue activities," said Lonely Miaow treasurer Emily Wiseman.
With Christmas coming up, rescuers are urging wannabe adopters to think about the 15- to 20-year commitment of caring for cats.
"We usually get another swarm of kittens after Christmas, from people who bought them as gifts and they're no longer wanted, or they're no longer cute and small," said Sinclair of 9 Lives.
Kittens make up 75 per cent of all animals brought into SPCA, but the country's largest animal welfare group says it hasn't seen a spike this year.
One thing all rescuers agree on: desexing is the only way to get New Zealand's unwanted animal numbers down.
"We have tens of thousands of animals still coming into our shelters each year," said the SPCA's Taylor.
Need to desex your cat?
SPCA's Snip and Chip programme is offering free or discounted desexing and microchipping throughout Auckland.