It’s not the well-behaved kittens that go into the pouch.
It’s the twitchy ones. The scaredy cats. Those feral little fur balls that arrive at the Animal Rescue League of Boston absolutely petrified of people.
They’re oh-so-adorable but not-yet-adoptable. They hiss and spit and sometimes bite. So shelter employees pull out the red vest. They affectionately call it the KittenBjorn.
Named after the ubiquitous BabyBjorn infant carrier, the vest resembles a large red apron with a mesh pocket on the front. That’s the pouch. It makes the wearer look a little pregnant — with a feral kitten.
The whiskered wild things stay inside the vest for hours at a time as a kind of behavioral therapy. Employees go about their workdays, felines in tow. The kittens stew at first but listen to the staffer’s heartbeat and eventually get comfortable with human contact. The pouch socializes feral kittens under 10 weeks.
It’s been known to work in as little as two days.
The pouch went viral after the league posted it on Facebook in May, though it turns out the organization has been using the vest for 10 years after it was created by a volunteer.
In recent weeks, the league has gotten inquiries about how to make the vest, from shelters in the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest, according to Mike DeFina, a spokesman for the group.
They’ve also been contacted by tailors, ready and willing to make more kitten pouches for free. Last week, the pattern for the kitten pouch was posted on Facebook.
After more than five years of “kitten wearing” Amanda McGuire, 29 — an intake and cemetery supervisor at the rescue league’s Dedham shelter — has mastered the art of quickly scooping a kitten into the pouch. She’s also been peed on. A lot.
Occasionally, she has to wear bite-proof Kevlar gloves to protect her from needle-like teeth.
“It’s not like you’re carrying around nice kittens,” McGuire said. “It can be very stressful at times.”
Eventually, after they’ve clawed at her stomach and tried to escape at least once, every kitten “breaks,” she said. In other words, they learn to be well-behaved.
McGuire admits that she broke, too. She didn’t start this job as a cat person.
She now has two: Beyonce and Betsy.
Recently, McGuire snatched a 7-week-old black kitten by the scruff and wedged him into the pouch. He trembled terribly. Once behind the mesh, he immediately looked for a way out. The long-haired kitten arrived from Randolph with an upper respiratory infection and two ornery siblings. All three were caught by cat rescue agent, Theresa Vinic, 32.
Each week, Vinic goes out and picks up cats in the street. One week, she caught 20. Unsocialized cats are spayed or neutered and then released. The friendly adults and the little ones are often brought in to be adopted.
Sometimes, she snags the smallest ones with what she calls her “nugget napper,” a butterfly net that’s quite effective. From the net to the pouch, the kittens are prepared for their new home.