At East Prairie Junior High School, students recently received their dose of parental education when they took in stray kittens.
It all began when a stray mother cat gave birth to five kittens and then had severe complications, said teacher Felicia Sanders. The cat was in serious trouble and tremendous pain, and the decision was made to have the cat put to sleep. An effort to find another nursing cat proved fruitless to take the kittens, she explained.
And what started out as a 24-hour ordeal turned into days and weeks.
One of the first obstacles recognized was the kittens were so small they lacked the basic instincts to suck the bottles. Students force-fed the small patients drop by drop from eye droppers until the kittens caught onto the idea. Syringes of enriched formula were carefully measured and administered at each feeding.
Student Heather Trusty said taking in the kittens was a lot of responsibility.
"It is a lot different taking care of a real baby than a sack of flour," Trusty said. "To give a baby attention 24 hours -- whew! It would be very hard if you were a single parent getting up in the night several times to feed a baby."
Identifying each kitten also proved trying for the students. All five kittens were the same color, size and weight with no individualized marking. The kittens had to have some kind of identification so one student came up with the idea of tagging them like ducks and geese with a band.
Special bands were crafted and each kitten was marked with a corresponding number. The students created graphs and charts for feeding schedules and weight gains.
At the end of the first week, it was obvious that kittens Nos. 4 and 5 were in trouble. They were only 3-4 ounces and their siblings were double that size. The students determined that an Intensive Care Unit was needed. The students took additional measures for their feedings and comfort by providing an alarm clock and hot water bottle to "trick" the kittens into thinking this was their mother, Sanders said.
At the end of the second week, even with the extra efforts, the two weakened kittens died.
A second trip to the vet resulted in the surviving kittens incorporating some solid foods, first wormings and an antibiotic for any infections.
Students also learned to mix formula using the metric system, practiced using a variety of scales to weigh the kittens and learned to administer medication. Special needs classes created their own songs and nursery rhymes to say to the kittens when they rocked them.
"It has been a good experience taking care of the kittens so that I will know what it would be like to have kids," Trusty said.
In addition the situation offered a spontaneous teaching opportunity to "Just Say No," Sanders noted.
"Having a baby is very difficult. It is the whole family's job to take care of the baby and not just the mom's. I think taking care of an animal would be a good experience for anyone that is going to have kids," said student Jeremy Henry, adding it will be a long time before he has kids.
This experience has not lacked in surprises, Sanders said. Many of the boys were as nurturing as the girls. One boy in particular insisted the milk was not warm enough, or the kittens were in a cool draft, or that the kittens just needed to bond.
"This sure is a lot of work. ... I am going to take care of the kittens because they need a dad,"" student Jimmy Guthrie observed.
Festivities are now under way to celebrate the kittens' 6-week birthday. Students have chosen an "Aristocat" theme and plan an excursion to Double B for milkshakes for the class and a special treat for the kittens. Adoptions will be finalized at the end of the six weeks.