By Jodi Bryant
It's 10am Saturday at Whangarei's SPCA. There's a resounding chorus of dogs barking out the back from the kennels housing around 35 canines. Inside, it's a more quiet affair as many of the bundles of feline fur sleep huddled in balls at the back of their temporary homes which are in the midst of house-keeping.
Others are in inquisitive moods and waltz up to the front of their cage playfully batting at outstretched fingers while their more adventurous peers scale the front of their enclosure in an impressive display of acrobats.
Every so often, they stop and peer at their onlooker and a not quite developed 'meow' comes out.
A farming family from Ruatangata enter. Mum and dad and their two sons are in search of a female kitten as a companion for their male one-year-old tabby, who they rescued off the farm.
"We found Grub at about three months old sick and feral," explains Jo Pivac. "We decided he needed company. All our animals have been rescued off the farm so we thought we'd adopt a kitten today."
As if on cue, the acrobats and the cuteness seem to step up a notch.
"It's like they're all saying: 'Pick me!'," Jo muses as her and the family deliberate.
At reception, a woman comes in with her two toddlers while the dad waits at the fully-laden car with the other kids and a box. They are off on holiday and have managed to catch some wild kittens they discovered running around their property on New Year's Eve.
The dogs have fallen silent now. It's feeding time, explains inspector team leader Helena Sweeting before revealing the four 'Disney Princesses' she is currently taking home and bringing to work every day.
Ariel, Belle, Merida and Moana, as she has named them, were found dumped on the side of the road in a box near Maungaturoto before Christmas. Helena recons they were probably part of a litter of typically seven with only the females discarded.
She believes they are a Cattle Cross type with possibly a tad heeler in them, due to the speckles.
"It depends on the parents, but I would imagine these girls will grow to a medium size. They are active, agility sports dogs and would suit someone with a lifestyle block."
The Disney Princesses are coming up ready for adoption or will be joining the array of other canine residents who are now dolefully peering out their kennel doors. Many of these dogs have been taken from owners due to neglect or abuse, staff members explain.
Meanwhile, the Pivacs have made a decision. A friendly, courageous tabby kitten has won them over and, according to the names and descriptions on their doors, they've narrowed it down to being either Lexie or Leo.
Lexie, Leo and Louie are tabby siblings found in Dargaville one month earlier. All three kittens spent time in foster care to gain weight before being desexed and ready for adoption.
"We're hoping it's Lexie, as we think a female would get along better with Grub," enthuses Jo.
However, a staff member is called in and a quick check under the tail reveals that the family have chosen Leo.
There is a wave of disappointment before it is explained that Leo is desexed so shouldn't have a problem being compatible with Grub.
That's it, the Pivacs' hearts were already set on Leo so he is once again brought out for first cuddles.
The family are advised on how to settle their new kitten in with their current cat and are taken out to reception to fill in paperwork.
It's a happy ending for Leo and, if it's to be a repeat of last Saturday, 17 of his peers will also be adopted. However, this varies and there are just as many animals coming in, if not more, as there are going out.
Last year, over 40,000 animals sought shelter in an SPCA centre around New Zealand. In Whangarei, around 3,000 animals are brought to the centre annually and, each year, around 900 animal abuse complaints are investigated. The majority of the incomings are during kitten season, when cats breed during the warmer months, stretching resources at SPCA shelters to the limit. Last year, SPCA saw 16,711 kittens arrive at centres nationally. There are currently over 250 cats and kittens under the Whangarei SPCA centre's care, with many in foster homes.
Most are found in various states and for some it's too late. Before a kitten can be adopted at eight weeks old, they require round-the-clock care, veterinary treatment, and somewhere warm to snuggle, eat, and be monitored.
Their medical and behaviour notes and information is entered into SPCA's animal database. They are given their own unique ID so they can be tracked at every stage on their recovery, right up to finding a new family.
Says SPCA CEO Andrea Midgen: "Every animal that is adopted from SPCA has been desexed, which helps prevent unwanted litters being born into a lifetime of struggle and suffering. Pet owners wanting to help SPCA should get their pets desexed too. It is our hope that one day kitten season will be less of a problem."
Meantime, it's good news for Leo's siblings; Lexie and Louie also found new homes just days after being cleared for adoption.