For about 23 of the 24 hours in a day, they are happy to sleep quietly on something warm, dreaming kitten dreams of one day fiercely attacking a wad of paper or fur mouse.
It's that other hour that's the problem because it comes in 10-minute intervals every couple of hours. Then they turn into mewling, demanding monsters with just one thing on their mind: milk.
The Chequamegon Humane Association in the past week took possession of more than 30 feral cats and kittens living on a local farm. As of Friday, volunteers and staff were trying to feed about 18 kittens, with more still to be captured at the farm.
"And we have more on the way because we have a couple of moms who are pregnant," CHA kennel staff manager Annie DeSimone said. "It's kind of insanity right now. We also have a load of surrogate kittens from another shelter that had no nursing mothers. So yeah, insanity."
That's why CHA is putting the call out for volunteers willing to foster some of the kittens that need to be bottle-fed every few hours. When it captured the feral cats, some were so distressed by the move that they abandoned their kittens; others weren't experienced moms and so they're not nursing diligently.
Where possible, CHA staff have placed kittens with surrogate moms — cats that had litters of similar age and were willing to nurse another cat's offspring.
"But that's really hit and miss," DeSimone said. "It totally depends on the mom and if she has enough milk to do it and if she's an attentive mom. Right now, we have one mom from the farm that's like, 'I'm so scared I'm just not dealing with those kittens anymore. I'll give birth to them but, no thank you, I want nothing more to do with them.' That's a real challenge."
Some of the kittens are only a few days old with their eyes still closed. Others are at the toddler stage, eagerly exploring their surroundings.
All of them are adorable and eager to be socialized with foster families, DeSimone said.
"A lot of people are afraid do to it, but it's all really easily taught," she said. "I was utterly terrified the first time I fostered a bottle baby, but it's definitely something we can teach, and we provide all the supplies."
Jessyca Swonger can speak to how quickly a foster parent can become attached to a kitten. She started out fostering before becoming a full-time kennel staff member for CHA.
"I had one I cried over when it was adopted, but other than that fostering was great," she said. "I think I've had about 30 now in the past year. The best part is you get to see and experience all the firsts, and then when they get big enough to terrorize you, it's time for them to go to a permanent home and terrorize someone else."
Fostering usually goes until the kittens are 8 or 10 weeks old and ready to be adopted. CHA is ready for more recruits.
"You just need a place in your home and your heart," DeSimone said. "Most of our fosters end up being repeats because it's so rewarding."