HOMETOWN PROFILE: Youngstown woman’s new rescue organization is cat’s meow

Gia DeAscentis holds Cera, Ducky and Tulip, a few of the neonatal kittens she rescues and cares for. The Youngstown woman operates the Itty Bitty Kitty Committee, a kitten rescue organization. Correspondent photo / Amanda Davis

YOUNGSTOWN — Gia DeAscentis is making a career shift that leaves behind one set of her “kids” for another.

As hard as she said the decision was, DeAscentis is leaving a job as a full-time intervention specialist at Stambaugh Charter Academy in Youngstown to focus on her kitten rescue.

She operates the Itty Bitty Kitty Committee, a small, home-based rescue dedicated to orphaned, special needs and neonatal kittens in need of critical care.

DeAscentis, 33, a 2009 Boardman High School graduate, works 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, but said the stress of educating children with trauma-based needs caught up with her.

“I’m stretched thin there,” she said, explaining the jump to being a full-time rescuer and groomer will be a welcome change. “I just needed a reset.”

She said she always felt motherly toward her students and rescues. “The kids at school are my kids, and these (kittens) are my kids,” she said.

The self-described introvert said she’s had a lifelong connection to animals, and that kitten rescue helped her get through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s an outlet for me,” she said. “I don’t see it as a burden.”

Kittens can get pregnant at four months, a problem DeAscentis said was exacerbated by the pandemic when clinics closed and no one was rescuing cats or getting them fixed.

“They reproduced like crazy,” she said. “Kittens having kittens … it’s so sad.”

When the mother cat isn’t around or is unable to care for her kittens, DeAscentis said they need specialized, round-the-clock care to survive. She provides that, she said, because the alternative is usually euthanasia.

DeAscentis said neonatal kittens range in age from newborn to three weeks old and that kitten season starts in April. Because of limited space, she doesn’t take in kittens over the age of 3 weeks.

One of her tougher, recent cases involved a kitten named “Champ,” who fit in the palm of her hand. He was kept in an incubator in the dining room and couldn’t swallow on his own, so she fed him with a tiny tube every hour.

DeAscentis said Champ struggled, and despite her best efforts, he passed away.

“I try to take comfort that he was loved and cared for his entire life, as brief as it was,” DeAscentis said.

She lives close enough to Stambaugh to run home on breaks to feed the kittens if she needs to, and at night, DeAscentis wakes every few hours to feed the most distressed of them.

“I’ve always had a jacked-up sleep schedule,” she said, explaining it doesn’t really bother her.

She also owns Pawsitivity Youngstown, LLC, a home-based service she started to offer a low-stress, quiet atmosphere for pet grooming.

DeAscentis got her start in rescuing in 2016 when she was working at a kennel and attending Youngstown State University. She said a friend called her for help with a rescue case because “she knew I was an animal lover.”

She admits she prefers animals over people and said she was involved in 4-H and dog shows when she was a kid.

Her boyfriend, Richie Dickinson, a postal carrier, is on board with her career shift, because he, too, loves cats, she said.

They have five cats and two dogs as pets, and all but one of the dogs were rescued. In addition, she is caring for five rescued kittens and three more that are staying with a neighbor temporarily.

DeAscentis partners with Rebel Rescue Ranch, a nonprofit based in Berlin Center, and works with other nonprofit organizations, including West Side Cats.

Sheri Hufnagel, a volunteer at West Side Cats, called DeAscentis “amazing,” and said she’s helped save the lives of many kittens.

She said DeAscentis also offers classes to teach people how to bottle feed them.

“She’s one of the only people in the area that takes time to save the little ones,” Hufnagel said. “She’s very much appreciated.”

A few veterinarians reach out to her for help when they hear of neonatal kittens in despair, and DeAscentis said she has a Facebook page that allows her to network with other rescuers in Ohio and western Pennsylvania.

DeAscentis uses her own money and donations to cover vaccinations, medical costs to spay and neuter, veterinarian visits, medication, food and supplies.

She also has an Amazon wish list to help cover the cost of supplies. To find out more, visit www.ittybittykittycommittee.org.

To suggest a Friday profile, contact Metro Editor Marly Reichert at mreichert@tribtoday.com or Features Editor Ashley Fox at afox@tribtoday.com.


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