Kittens run Andee Bingham’s life. “I have not had a good night of sleep in probably six years,” says the executive director of Esther Neonatal Kitten Rescue. “I take home the ones that are just a few days old, severely sick or injured. It’s definitely all consuming.”
When Bingham moved to Western North Carolina from New England in 2015, she discovered a cultural shift along with the milder climate. “There’s a lot less outdoor cats up north because of the weather. There’s also a different culture around spaying and neutering [in New England], and there’s just more resources,” she says. “When I came down here and started working in rescue, everyday people would walk through the doors with these tiny kittens who didn’t have moms.”
Bingham realized that if she wanted to work at a neonatal kitten rescue in the Asheville area, she would have to start one. She says, “I had all this neonatal kitten experience and I had already worked in rescue for many years in many different positions. I’d worked in adoptions, basic medical care, fundraising, grant writing, marketing. I started thinking, ‘Can I really do that?’ And it all fell into place.”
Esther Neonatal Kitten Alliance opened in 2019. Two years into its operation, the organization is currently fundraising to purchase the building that houses the nonprofit’s nursery and resource center at 21-B Pond St., Arden.
Xpress sat down with Bingham to discuss the organization’s future, advice she’d offer those launching a nonprofit and her favorite kitten story.
This interview has been condensed and lightly edited.
Xpress: How did the prospective building purchase come about?
Bingham: We tried to buy the building before we moved into it. At that point, we were only a year old. We didn’t really have much of a tax history. We had a few donors willing to co-sign for us, but the bank saw it as a big risk because we weren’t able to prove on our own that we had support and revenue. So, we talked to the owner of the building, and he agreed to allow us to sign a two-year lease with the option to buy. A couple months ago, we had a deadline to tell him for sure that we were purchasing. Since then, we’ve been fundraising. As of [Oct. 24], we’re about 75% of the way to our goal, and we have a closing date set for the middle of November.
What did you have to do to prepare for this latest fundraising drive?
One good thing about having the fundraising and donor relations background is that I know how important it is to keep people up to date with what we’re doing, thank them and be very transparent. I’ve spent the past few years making sure that our supporters trust us, love what we’re doing and want to give. When we finally announced publicly that we were starting this campaign, the amount of support we got was really incredible. I think that the preparation was just what any nonprofit should be doing, which is just really showing how much you appreciate the people who give support.
Is that the No. 1 piece of advice that you would give to a nonprofit starting a fundraising drive?
Yes, I think it would be that. But I’d also advise that nonprofits be realistic about what their supporters can give. If their donors are generally giving $20 or $25, then maybe expecting them to give $10,000 is not reasonable. You don’t want to set goals that are unrealistic and unattainable. Knowing your donors, what their capacity is, what they’re excited about and connecting with them as people rather than piggy banks is important. Connect with them as humans who just want to support what you’re doing.
How do you balance the needs of these newborn kittens with your own?
Very badly! My mindset has been to just get through these first few years until we have the resources to hire more staff. Once that happens, I’ll be able to step back to a reasonable amount of hours per week. What I’ve been doing is taking home the most critical kittens. Once we can hire more staff, do a more effective job of training our fosters and bring in more fosters who are wanting to take care of those kinds of kittens, then I can finally sleep. Buying this building will free up enough revenue to bring our part-time foster coordinator on full time next year. Hopefully by sometime next year, I will not be taking kittens home every single night. That’s what I’m passionate about and that’s what I want to be doing. But I definitely could use more sleep than I get.
Do you have a favorite kitten story?
Last year, we got a Facebook message from this woman who worked with a trap, neuter and release organization. Three of the five kittens had their umbilical cords wrapped around their legs for a few days. We had dealt with umbilical strangulations before, but normally the cats had only been strangled for a few hours.
But in this case, the kittens were in really, really bad shape. After a few days, the antibiotics started working. The swelling started to come down, but unfortunately, the circulation had been cut off for too long and their feet ended up going necrotic.
One cat, Toby, wasn’t able to gain weight. He would nurse all day but kept burning his calories to fight his infection. So at night, I would take him home and tube-feed him in an effort to help him gain weight.
On one night, probably around 3 in the morning, I was sitting in front of his incubator, bottle-feeding another kitten. And suddenly, he just stepped out of his foot like he was stepping out of a shoe. It was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. For a moment, he was like, “What just happened?” and then he carried on like nothing was wrong. He and I bonded, and I adopted him. He is a goofy, lovey, gentle creature.