Rosemarie Crawford is a licensed veterinary technician with a long history of helping animals – particularly kittens. She is co-founder of The National Kitten Coalition and has almost 20 years of experience in animal welfare. As a medical staff member in a high-volume, open-access shelter in IL, Rosemarie worked closely with the shelter veterinarian to provide for the animals’ medical and surgical needs. She assisted in developing and implementing progressive, proactive protocols for the care and treatment of kittens in the shelter’s kitten nursery room as well as for those in foster care.
In addition to presenting training sessions for The National Kitten Coalition, Rosemarie works at a large, six-doctor veterinary practice in northern VA, and in her spare time fosters neonatal, ill, injured or debilitated kittens for local shelters and rescues.
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Hey, Rosemarie, thanks for coming on today. Thanks, Chris for having me. I’m thrilled to be here. Well, I’m really excited to have you and to learn about your past and how you came down this path, right, for the National Kitten Coalition. So why don’t you kind of give us a little bit of background on your journey to this point? Well, way back when I was just volunteering at a local shelter back, in Illinois, and my career at that time, I was teaching high school and college English, and I was just volunteering at the shelter and helping out with kittens especially. And some neonatal kittens came in that needed a foster parent. And so I started fostering those kittens, and unfortunately, they came down with Panleukopenia within 24 hours of me having them. But we got through that and amazingly mean, Panleukopenia, for neonatal kittens is a very deadly virus. But the shelter had a vet on staff, who trained me on the fly, how to take care of those kittens. And by the grace of God, they lived. And I sometimes wonder, you know, would I be sitting here today talking with you, if maybe those kittens didn’t live. I hope I would have continued fostering because there’s such a need for fosters out there.
But that was back in Illinois, and that was almost 20 years ago and we moved to the Virginia land area and I wanted to continue fostering and helping shelters and rescues in the area to take care of kittens. And I was really surprised to find when I moved out here to Northern Virginia that many of the shelters, most of them in fact, were routinely euthanizing kittens if they were too young to eat on their own, or if they had any signs of illness or potentially signs of ringworm. And it was just unfathomable to me that this was happening because, you know, I came from East Central Illinois town and we had a full-time vet on staff, and we had a full foster program, and we were saving all the bottle babies. You know, at least they were able to go out to foster, and I expected that would be the case here. And it wasn’t. So, I started fostering as many kittens as I could, and in the process I met a wonderful woman, Susan Spalding, who was also fostering neonatal kittens and trying to help as many as she could. And between us, we were taking on a lot of kittens. It was kind of becoming a 24/7 volunteer job, and we said, we have to teach other people how to do this. And so we just actually started teaching classes to some of the local rescues, on how to take care of bottle baby kittens, so that those rescues could sign up to pull from those shelters, and the shelters started also having foster programs. And we did trainings for those shelters. And those perspective fosters on what to expect and how to feed bottle babies, and it just really grew from there. The need was not only in our community but all across the country.
Wow, so you were an English teacher, volunteering at a shelter. And that’s kind of how you fell into this. Yeah, that’s right. I always had a passion for animals, as a kid. I grew up with dogs, but I was that little girl who always wanted to have a kitten. But I never got that kitten, and so I joke with my parents to this day, I say, “See, this is what happens when your child doesn’t get a kitten growing up.” And now I help hundreds of kittens individually and thousands, hopefully, tens of thousands across the country by bringing the information to other people who are helping kittens. So then you found somebody else in Susan that was passionate about kittens as well. And then together you decided, Hey, we need to take this national, like we need to really educate and train people. Yes. So we were a little bit surprised ourselves how it just organically grew. We were, you know, like I said, teaching people locally And we did that actually for a couple of years because we wanted to help people when we wanted to help kittens. But of course it started costing money, for printing out materials and all of that. So it was a few years into it that we actually then did our 501C3 paperwork, in order to become a nonprofit organization. And that really opened a lot of doors for being able to get grants and for speaking at some of the local regional conferences. And then again, like I said, it just kind of grew organically. People attended the conference from different states or, you know, different places in the country. And then we started getting requests to go further and further out and bring the lifesaving kitten information and the training to other places. So we originally started as feline outreach, rescue and education. And when we did get that national reach and people calling across the country asking for training, that’s when we switch the name to the National Kitten Coalition. So what year did you actually form this then? So originally were founded, and formed the first organization in 2008. And like I said, we were teaching, individually, for several years before that and actually doing our paperwork. And then it was in 2014, that we switched the name to the National Kitten Coalition.
Okay, so now what has been your focus then? I mean, this is a long time that you’ve been doing this now and it seems like you’ve obviously learned a lot, must be now an expert in kittens. So how would you, kind of home the focus, of what you guys are teaching people? Yeah, that’s a good question. When we originally started, we were focusing literally on how to feed and care for bottle baby kittens. And then the attendees at the workshops would say, Well, what about this? What about diarrhea? What about upper respiratory infection? What about ringworm? What about all of these various things that kittens can have? Like I said in the beginning, some people, some shelters were euthanizing these kittens for it. Can’t we save those kittens also? And so we started expanding the content of our workshop. And basically, when we go and teach workshops for folks, we provide whatever content they most need help with. So if they’re losing kittens to diarrhea or they’re having a lot of kittens with diarrhea and they don’t want so much diarrhea, who wouldn’t? Right? We would, you know, teach a module, then on diarrhea, if that’s what they want it information on. And so, yeah, we home the focus to whatever people need. And in different parts of the country, there are different needs for the kittens in their community and different numbers of volunteers who are available in different communities. And so it’s really working with individual shelters and rescues and finding out what they need, what they’re having challenges with, and how we can best help them out with that.
It’s got to be a little bit different, depending upon the area of the country you’re in. I mean, one of the things that you’ve seen. I mean, now that you’re doing this on a national level, how does it differ in different parts of the country in the type of information and services that they need? Sure. So in certain areas of the country and even certain years versus other years, there might be more instances of various types of diseases. So sometimes shelters or rescues might have a particularly bad year with a disease like Panleukopenia, that’s like I said in the beginning, a pretty deadly viral disease. But it doesn’t have to be if staff and fosters are trained on how to recognize illnesses early and what to do to help the kitten survive through those illnesses with veterinary care and then supportive care from their fosters. These kittens really are surviving now. So certain areas in the south we might see more fungal diseases. But there are fungal diseases out west that are particular to their area. There’s, again, the difference with demographics. Some people, some shelters are in very rural areas, and so getting foster parents is more of a challenge and how we can work with them to grow a foster program. Ideas for even housing, within the shelter, so that the kittens who are there can stay safe and healthy since they don’t have a very well developed immune system as a kitten, especially until they start getting their vaccines. So yeah, there’s just lots of differences. But all across the country, the really fun thing that I love about what I get to do, and I really do think it’s a privilege when I get to do, to be able to go across the country and teach these workshops and speak at conferences is that I meet wonderful people and any of the listeners. If you’re ever feeling like you’re in this alone, there’s just so much. Know that you’re not in this alone. There are people all across the country who are also working to save animals and to save kittens, and we really are making a difference. It used to be that, like I said, in the beginning, kittens were routinely euthanized. But now all of the shelters in this area and many, many shelters all across the country now have foster programs in place, now are finding ways to help kittens. Kittens have made it onto the radar, and it used to be said that there were too many kittens, that we’d never make an impact. They’re going to keep on coming. But working as a community, we really are making a difference with TNR and with programs and shelters and with knowing how to care for these kittens. They’re surviving.
Yeah, and I think that’s a really good point because it isn’t just one thing, right, so you’re helping to save the kittens, and that’s obviously after they’re born. But then, with targeted TNR and other community outreach programs, you’re also helping with the preventative side of things. Exactly. And if we weren’t preventing some of these kittens from being born in the first place by you know, having the animals spayed and neutered before they can even get pregnant or spayed before they can get pregnant, we’re decreasing the number of kittens who are being born and therefore needing assistance and were able to find homes for these kittens now. And we’re starting to see intake numbers drop, and we’re starting to see euthanasia numbers drop. They’ve been dropping, thankfully for many years, and shelters are just doing amazing work, on finding ways to continue to decrease their euthanasia numbers, increased their live adoption rates or the live release rates. And things are just really looking up. I remember as a girl thinking, you know, hearing some of the horrible numbers of how many animals are euthanized in our country every year and just like literally, sometimes crying myself to sleep. And even now it’s like, chokes me up a little bit to think of, you know, the animals that need help. And it really touched me, ever since being a child and to now look at numbers. And yes, we still have work to do. But yes, the work is getting done and our numbers, our save numbers, are getting so much better, and I do see a brighter future for animals in our country, for sure.
Now give me a little bit of perspective, Rosemarie, so up to like what age are the kittens most at risk. I mean, myself and my wife. I mean, we’ve always adopted kittens, that they have to be, I think, 12 weeks of age or something like that. So is that the first 12 weeks? Or give me some perspective on, kind of the focus area that you guys are educating on. We educate about kittens of all ages, so we say a kitten is maybe up to a year old. But really, it’s the younger kittens that need the most help and the younger they get, the more help they need. So oftentimes, by the time the kittens are eight weeks old or so, 10 weeks old and they’re up for adoption, they tend to be in pretty good shape, especially if the shelter or the rescue, where they are from, or even breeders, that they’ve had their vaccines. They’ve had their deworming’s. The kittens, who are less than four weeks old, are too young for vaccines, and they are also the ones who need to be bottle-fed in order to survive. And they need to be kept warm in order to survive. They can’t regulate their body temperatures at that age, and even at five or six weeks, they’re not very good at it. So they really need that human interaction and intervention, especially if they don’t have a mama cat to feed them and keep them warm. As for diseases, we do see that kittens become much more sturdy and resistant to diseases, once they start getting their vaccines. So in shelter medicine that’s looking at four weeks and 1lb. In most veterinary practices and especially the days of old kittens weren’t vaccinated until eight weeks old. And so we did. There’s a lot of kittens previously because of those diseases, like Panleukopenia or even upper respiratory infections that could turn into pneumonia and take some of these young kittens. And we do have vaccines now, for most of the diseases, certainly the common upper respiratory infections in the Panleukopenia, so getting them vaccinated really helps.
I’m sure it does now, one of the things I thought was really cool, in looking at your website is you guys actually developed a kitten nursery manual. Yes, I have to give credit, especially to Laura Brafman, who was our executive director at the time, and this was a passion of hers that she believed that more kittens could be saved with kitten nurseries. And there were some wonderful kitten nurseries already starting in the country and had been up and running for a number of years including best Friends and Austin Pets Alive and Humane, ASPCA. And San Diego Humane. And what we did was basically, we reached out to those successful nurseries and they each have a little bit of a different model. And we said, You know, hey, can we come and talk with you? Could we see what you do? People want more information about how to actually form these nurseries and to keep them running and to be successful in saving more lives. And all of those organizations were just amazing, with being able to provide us with information and being very willing to work with us. And so we put all that information together in a manual that people can go ahead and get from our website at kittencoalition.org. It’s absolutely free for download, and we hope it will help you save more kittens.
Yeah, and I think that’s really cool, and I’m guessing that your background in education and being able to organize these subjects and chapters really just make a very helpful and useful guide for people. Because I think I was telling you before we started recording, I don’t really know much about kittens at all. So if I had to do that, I wouldn’t even know where to begin. We hope that it is a good resource for people. And it’s not just about kitten nurseries. There is information in there about actual kitten care, as well. So even if you’re not planning on creating a nursery, or maybe it’s years away, there is still valuable information in there that people can use and be able to apply to the kittens that they’re taking care of in foster settings or in shelter settings. And we have additional information too, on our website on a variety of topics, and we’re always adding more, so please feel free to, you know, look at the website download. There’s fast fax information sheets and whatever will help you and your staff and your volunteers to save more lives. That information is there for you.
You know, one of the things I also think is cool. You guys go out and you’re giving these presentations. But you’re also going to do an online Kitten Coalition conference this year, aren’t you? Yes. So the online Kitten Conference, this is something that is co-hosted with the Community Cats podcast. And they also do other wonderful conferences like the online Cat Conference. And we joined together last year for the first online Kitten Conference. And it was so well received. Attendees were saying, “You have to do this again.” And so we are happy to do this again with new speakers, new topics, expanded line of speakers and topics. Really, leaders in our country, on a variety of topics that we hope there is something for everyone. From the individual rescues to shelters and rescue organizations for their staff and their fosters. Also for the veterinary community. We have some amazing veterinarians, who do great research on saving kittens, and we’re thrilled to bring all that information to folks. Yeah, I’m excited. I’m a speaker as well, and I’m really excited to attend this year and to learn a lot more. I mean, this is an area that, as I mentioned, I don’t know a lot about, so it should be kind of an interesting thing for me as well.
So I’m curious. What are the goals for the National King coalition? What do you guys wanting to achieve? So our mission is to increase survival rates of kittens, and we do that through education. So we want to see a country and a world where kittens are given a chance to grow and thrive and have a chance at life. So we are continually bringing new services, new topics to people all across the country and the world via Webinars. And people tell us, you know, Hey, do you have something or they’ll ask us. You know, do you have something on such and such on this topic or that topic? Or we’d really like some information about such and such and so we’ll go ahead and put together a program for that. The more we provide, the more we realize that there’s more we can still do. We used to worry, in the beginning that, gosh, once we create this information or once we taught a class on a particular topic, we will have done everything that people need. And we’ve learned that there’s always more and more that can be done for kittens. New programs are always coming up and new topics that people want information on. In the world of the veterinary community, there’s always more research. And going across the country, like I said, is just really a privilege to meet people and to also see what’s happening in different parts of the country.
And sometimes we’re able to share that information, where we’ve worked with a shelter or rescue, perhaps on the West Coast and later on someone somewhere else in the country might be having a similar challenge. And we will say, Well, here’s something that worked for another organization and so all of us together are really providing additional information on saving kittens. No, and I really love that. I love the collaboration. I love the focus on helping. I mean, it’s a big problem, as you mentioned, and the more that we can share our knowledge and pool our resources and really just create this online community, I really think we can have a huge impact. Yes, absolutely. We’re seeing it already, and it’s just moving in the right direction.
So from being an English teacher to now being a veterinary technician and running the National Kitten Coalition, what have you learned about yourself through this process, Rosemarie? Oh, my goodness. So I guess one of the things is that if I want something bad enough, I could make it happen. And I guess I’ve seen that in other portions of my life, as well. But when I saw this need here for kittens and yes, it was an overwhelming need, but to just sit by and do nothing, it was not gonna work for me. And so I had to learn a lot. I have no idea about paperwork for creating a nonprofit organization. But with other things, in the world of animal welfare, there are people out there willing to help. There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel. And thankfully, there was a wonderful person who was fostering here, who’s a retired CPA. And she helped me with the paperwork and we got through it and with any new challenge that comes up and I think, Well, how are we going to create that or implement that? But the need is out there. And when I want badly enough to help, then we find a way to be able to make something happen. So I think I’ve learned I’m capable of doing more than I thought and that if I put my mind to it, and especially if I talk with other people. I grew up not really asking for help a lot. I like to be able to do things on my own. And so reaching out to ask for people’s help was kind of a little bit foreign to me, it caused me to be a little bit uncomfortable. But I’ve been just amazed and thrilled and so happy that so many people are willing to help. And together we all have such great ideas and can help each other. We can’t know everything about everything. So what we don’t know about, we can ask other people about. And like for example, Chris, you’ve been amazing. There’s so much about technology that I don’t know and understand about. But you do and your depth and wealth of information on that has been phenomenal. And I appreciate the help, too, that you’ve been able to provide and the advice on some technology things. Yeah, I’m very glad to do that, and it’s really, I’m very similar to you in that style. Like I want to do more. I can’t sit idly by and I’m not afraid to try things, to learn. And I think like you said, you’ve got to learn to ask for help. I’ve certainly been trying to do more of that myself, as things continue to grow and we have to work together, I mean, we’re all in this for the common cause. And I think the more that we can share and help and bolster each other and help out in different ways, I think it’s gonna have just a huge impact on getting us to where we want to be. Absolutely.
So is this really where you thought things would turn out when you started this? Not at all. Never did I imagine, you know, when I was volunteering in a shelter, almost 20 years ago, that this is what would become of that. I had no idea. I am a believer that things happen for a reason and for whatever reason, I was put on this path and I’m going along with the path and I used to worry like, Where is this all going to go? You know, what do we do next? But it’s unfolding, and I have to believe it’s unfolding as it should. It was never a thought in my mind that I would be here and that I would switch from being an English teacher to a veterinary technician because I wanted to know more about how to help kittens. And so that’s why I went back to school because I had kittens who I was fostering. And I didn’t understand why certain medications were helping or how a disease process worked. And so, yeah, that path opened up because of animal welfare as well. I’m just following where the path is taking me. Well, I think it’s an amazing path. I’m really glad that you took it. I’m excited to see what you’re doing with the National Kitten Coalition. So people can, of course, check out all your resources at kittencoalition.org.
And is there anything else you want to mention, Rosemarie today before we wrap things up? Just that, I’m really thrilled that there are so many people working to save kittens out there. Thank you for all the work that all of your listeners do every day. That helps animals. Yeah. And we’re here for a resource if you need us and just working together, helping animals. Absolutely well, Rosemarie it has been great talking with you. Thanks so much for coming on today. Thank you so much for having me on your show. Chris.
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