When the Bloomington Animal Shelter completed its kitten nursery in May, staff members quickly realized they would have to take down the identifying sign on its door—after all, what visitor wouldn’t be tempted to walk in and view the lovable, newborn kittens?

That would defeat the whole purpose of the nursery, however. “It’s kind of like a hospital,” Shelter Director Laurie Ringquist explains. “Our goal is to keep them healthy and keep the germs out.”

The nursery’s construction was funded by $7,000 in grant money awarded to the shelter through the 2012 ASPCA Rachael Ray $100K Challenge, with additional financial help from the city.

To gain the grant money, shelter staff identified measures to ameliorate feline illness as its greatest need, as cats in confinement can easily become sick, especially with upper respiratory infections.

“When they get stressed, their immune systems get weaker, and that opens the door for infections,” Ringquist explains. Being in close quarters is a well-known stress factor, and the cat holding area didn’t have the space to separate cat populations.

The best fix was to move the weaker cats—the kittens—to an isolated space.

Due to a decrease in the shelter’s average dog population, workers were able to reallocate space to create a kitten nursery with nine kennels.

“The kittens that are in there are staying healthier, and our euthanasia rate has dropped again over the last year,” Ringquist says. “Those were our two goals.”

The nursery also supervises human foster parents who take in kittens. They are more likely to get healthier offspring to rear to an adoptable age. These parents are vital to the shelter’s mission of nurturing the kittens so they will become good pets for the people who permanently adopt them. “Our goal is not to hold those kittens in the room the whole time.”