‘Miracle’ kittens found in backpack rescued from N.J. recycling plant’s conveyor belt

Brian Marshall holds Sonny, one of two kittens his family adopted

Brian Marshall holds Sonny, one of two kittens his family adopted. Officials at the Burlington County recycling plant in Westampton said it was a miracle that the kittens survived a trip through the facility in a backpack. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Three lucky kittens are spending the holidays at new homes in Burlington County.

A backpack with cat designs — with three felines stuffed inside by an unknown doer — was placed into a recycling container, and the contents were thrown into a truck Wednesday night as a snowstorm passed through the region.

The trucks, equipped with active compressors, crush the contents to make room as more materials are collected.

The interior of a Burlington County recycling plant in Westampton, N.J
Three kittens in a backpack were dumped at a Burlington County recycling plant in Westampton, N.J. They survived a trip through some heavy-duty sorting machinery before they were discovered by employees and rescued. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

From the truck, the kittens were dumped into a pile at the county’s recycling center in Westampton. That pile was put into a processing machine. It was only after going through a wheel designed to break down recyclables that one plant worker saw something abnormal; a moving, crying backpack.

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“I saw the bookbag … and it was moving a little bit,” said Barrie Donaldson, who stopped the conveyor belt to check out what was in the bag.

“I told one of the guys, ‘There’s something in the bag,’” he said. “So I grabbed the bag and there was cats in there.”

Barrie Donaldson (left) an employee at the Burlington County recycling plant in Westampton, describes how he rescued three kittens after he noticed that a backpack on the conveyor belt he was monitoring was moving.
Barrie Donaldson (left) an employee at the Burlington County recycling plant in Westampton, describes how he rescued three kittens after he noticed that a backpack on the conveyor belt he was monitoring was moving. (Emma Lee/WHYY)
The Marshall family of Burlington Township, who adopted two of the kittens, watch the operation of the metering drum, designed to tear apart clumped recycling so it can be sorted
The Marshall family of Burlington Township, who adopted two of the kittens, watch the operation of the metering drum, designed to tear apart clumped recycling so it can be sorted. The kittens in their backpack passed through the machine before they were rescued. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Despite being tossed about on the trip and in the machinery, the kittens — two girls and one boy — were uninjured.

Officials couldn’t pinpoint exactly where the container holding the kittens was picked up — there were no witnesses. By their best guess, it could have been one of four townships.

One kitten, now named Precious, was adopted by a worker at the plant. The remaining two, Sonny and Luna, were adopted by the Marshall family of Burlington Township.

Brian Marshall says they learned about the kittens a day after their cat, Boss, passed away from being hit by a car.

“They brought out the tabby Sonny first and we fell in love with him,” he said. “We asked to see the other kitten, and they brought out Luna.”

Nicole and Alex Marshall of Burlington Township hold the kittens their family adopted, Luna (left) and Sonny.
Nicole and Alex Marshall of Burlington Township hold the kittens their family adopted, Luna (left) and Sonny. (Emma Lee/WHYY)
Ashley Bush (right), an employee at the Burlington County recycling plant in Westampton, holds Precious, the kitten she adopted.
Ashley Bush (right), an employee at the Burlington County recycling plant in Westampton, holds Precious, the kitten she adopted. Precious and two other kittens were rescued when an employee noticed a moving backpack on the conveyor belt he was monitoring. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Marshall said they decided to take both kittens after seeing them together. “We couldn’t break them up,” he added.

Burlington County Freeholder Director Felicia Hopson delivered pet supplies on behalf of the freeholders. The county animal shelter will provide free spay and neutering services for the rescues.

Officials emphasized that anyone who needs to surrender a pet can do so at the animal shelter. Hopson said that they will take them “no questions asked.”

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Ashley Bush (right), an employee at the Burlington County recycling plant in Westampton, holds Precious, the kitten she adopted
Ashley Bush (right), an employee at the Burlington County recycling plant in Westampton, holds Precious, the kitten she adopted. Precious and two other kittens survived a trip through the plant’s heavy machinery in a backpack before being rescued. (Emma Lee/WHYY)
Ashley Bush (right), an employee at the Burlington County recycling plant in Westampton, holds Precious, the kitten she adopted
Ashley Bush (right), an employee at the Burlington County recycling plant in Westampton, holds Precious, the kitten she adopted. Precious and two other kittens survived a trip through the plant’s heavy machinery in a backpack before being rescued. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

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