Kittens aged below a month old, also known as neonatal kittens, may make great Internet videos but are amongst the first to be put to sleep by vets and animal shelters alike if found abandoned, said animal rescuer and kitten fosterer Nortanti Latip
"Shelters lack the time, space and resources to raise abandoned kittens, and many vets would also rather put them to sleep because they die so easily," said Tanti.
"Hypothermia, die. Overheated, die. Feline viruses, which humans can also carry, die," said Tanti briefly as she described the challenges kitten fosterers face.
"Being a rescuer can be very heartbreaking."
According to Tanti, a simple three-step procedure – Trap, Neuter and Release – would help solve the issue of putting kittens to sleep unnecessarily.
A female cat goes into heat up to five times a year, and produces an average of four kittens each time. A single pair of cats and their kittens can produce up to 420,000 cats in seven years.
"It's just math!" said Tanti. Neutering strays could go a long way towards reducing the number of abandoned kittens, she said.
But it's not just the strays who are the issue.
"Cat owners refuse to spay their pets," she said. "People will say 'sayang' or pity them, but isn't it more pitiful when you abandon your cat when it gives birth?"
Her stance is clear: mandatory neutering.
"The government needs to put their foot down and say people have no business breeding their cats," she said. "If you want to be a breeder, then you must get a license."
Education efforts need to happen, but as an independent rescuer Tanti has yet to muster the support she would need to get the message out there.
"The message needs to start from the school level," she said. "It's too difficult to change old folks' minds about the importance of neutering, we need to plant the message while people are still young."
That's why she wants to build a community of fosterers and rescuers. "Currently, I work alone. I can only take in one batch of kittens at a go. It would be wonderful to have a community where we could reach out to each other and offer assistance when needed," she said.
Tanti aims to eventually set up an NGO, but for now is still on the lookout for fellow neonatal fosterers.
"They don't even need to be very experienced," she said. "They just need to be passionate – I can provide the necessary tools."
A true animal lover, Tanti doesn't just focus on rescuing neonatal kittens.
However, adult cats come with their own set of problems, she said. Cute kittens get more interest than adult ones, making it difficult for Tanti to find loving homes for them.
"Adoption rates are low because people don't think our local breeds are 'cute'," she said ruefully.
"At the kitten stage, it's still okay, but when they're bigger interest just drops."
In an effort to raise interest in them, Tanti started entering local cats into cat shows.
"I want people to see that our non-pedigree domestic cats are beautiful, and should be valued," she said.
"Love shouldn't be about pedigree."
Champion household cat GH HDW Ash-Katz Teletubby is one of Tanti's greatest success stories.
Rescued by Tanti as a kitten, and adopted shortly after, Teletubby is now Cat Fancier's Association (CFA) Malaysia's Best HHP Cat for 2017/2018 and CFA International Division 2nd Best Cat for 2017/2018.
But while she's now an undisputed beauty, Teletubby wouldn't have made it to where she is today without Tanti's initial rescue and the subsequent love and care of her new owner.
Even Tanti would have been hard-pressed to foresee Teletubby's award-winning future back then.
"She looked like a penyu (turtle)!" she said with a laugh.
But despite its rocky start in life, the little kitten blossomed.
"After we cared for her, you could see that her coat was shiny, and she was well-socialised.
That, and her wonderful temperament, is what judges look for in domestic shorthairs," said Tanti.
She will continue showing her rescued cats at cat shows until people truly see the beauty in our local cats.
"We groom strays into champions," she said proudly.
But while Teletubby was lucky, not many rescued cats find loving homes, something Tanti is looking to change.
"Adopt, don't shop," she urged prospective cat owners. "I hope people start to realise that our cats our beautiful – we don't need to buy expensive breeds."
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