It is difficult to put into words the positive impact fostering has had on my life. I would be hard-pressed to find an activity more rewarding, more deserving of my free time than this. Fostering is when someone takes in an animal in need of a temporary home, and provides them with all the love and care they need until they’re ready for adoption. At the time of writing this blog, I have fostered 27 dogs and cats from various organizations, fourteen of which have been kittens from Paws Crossed.
Though fosters are needed year-round, the springtime brings with it an additional necessity for temporary homes. As the weather warms, more and more kittens are born outdoors or in homes and brought into rescues. This is commonly referred to as “kitten season”. During this time, there is an increased demand for temporary placement for these little ones until they’ve grown big enough to be spayed or neutered and then adopted. Many animal shelters across the nation simply do not have the space or resources to care for such young animals, and shockingly enough “kittens under eight weeks old are one of the most euthanized populations in the United States,” according to neonatal kitten expert and founder of Kitten Lady, Hannah Shaw. This is where you come in.
It is important to note that when you foster, you are not responsible for any medical expenses that arise. The rescue organization should cover all medical bills, and many of them also provide food, toys, and supplies. If your concern is your lack of available space in your home, let me be the first to tell you that you don’t need a spare bedroom to foster kittens! All you need is room for a dog-crate and the ability to provide supervised playtime and lots of love, and you are all set to foster!
Below, I’m going to outline some of my experiences with fostering in a few sections: The Good, The “Bad”, and the Snuggly. Hopefully by the time you’ve reached the end, you’ll already be filling out that foster application! If not, I hope you will consider it.
Kittens!! It’s impossible to remain stoic when you’re being stared in the face by a teeny little kitten. Add in some stumbling-bumbling-kitten-antics, and you’ll be canceling your Netflix subscription because you have all the entertainment you could ever need right in front of you. Kittens raised in foster homes are more likely to be socialized and prepared for their adoptive homes. Though many rescues organizations are truly wonderful places filled with loving and knowledgable staff and volunteers, they will likely all agree that most animals thrive much more in a home environment. As a foster parent, you have the gift of being able to introduce your kittens to new experiences, such as toys, new people, and other pets when safe to do so. All of these experiences, as well as your expertise on each individual personality, contribute to matching each animal with a wonderful forever family. As a former adoptions counselor, I can attest to the fact that most adopters want as much information as possible about their new pets. “Do they like children? Are they afraid of dogs? Do they snuggle?” Though you may not have all the answers, adopters love learning all about the personalities of their new pet to-be.
The question I get most often from people inquiring about fostering is:
“Don’t you get attached?” The short answer is: absolutely. There is a misconception that you have to be steely, or tougher somehow, to lend your heart to these animals knowing you’ll say goodbye soon. Fostering, like any form of volunteering, is a sacrifice. And honestly, it’s a gift to be able to give them a loving home and stability. I understand the hesitation, the avoidance of heartbreak. But it is a sacrifice well worth it for the good it does. According to the Petco Foundation, “if every pet parent fostered just one pet per year, there would be no need to euthanize animals in the U.S.” It reminds me of that old story of the young girl at the edge of the ocean picking up the starfish that had been stranded ashore and gently tossing them back into the water to safety. An old man walks by, surveys the hundreds of stranded starfish languishing in the sand with the sun beating down on them and says to the girl, “What are you doing? There are too many of them
and miles of beach, you won’t make any difference.” The girl, lifting the next starfish out of the sand looks at him as she tosses it into the tide and says, “It made a difference for that one.”
Think of the difference we can make, one by one!
I genuinely believe that there is no aspect of fostering that is truly “bad”. Instead, I think a more accurate word is “hard”. I won’t mislead you: giving your heart to an animal that you know is only going to be with you for a short time is painful. But what I find to be even more difficult is the reality that if people don’t volunteer their time and their hearts for these animals, many won’t ever make it out of the shelter alive. I would much rather bear the pain of saying goodbye than the knowledge that animals die because I didn’t step up when I could have. Consider that even rescues that are “no-kill” are able to maintain that status because they are not required to accept every animal that is walked through their doors. They often have to turn animals away due to space constraints. Thus, by opening your home to foster animals, you help free up the kennel they would occupy at the shelter, allowing the rescue to give that space to another animal in need. You are literally creating space for these helpless animals, and allowing the rescue to expand their reach. You not only save the animals you foster, but you save the ones that are accepted into the rescue in that vacant kennel space. Your impact reaches twice as many animals.
Now, of course fostering isn’t always just adorable selfies with kittens. It can be really hard work. Often, these animals come to you fighting an uphill battle just to get healthy. And occasionally, despite all your best efforts, you might lose them. One of the first foster kittens I brought home was this tiny little tortoiseshell at five weeks old. She was beautiful, she was spunky, and she was completely independent. Her name was Gylfie. Out of her siblings, she was the first the explore anything and everything. She was always surprising me and always making me laugh. When it came time for her to get spayed however, something went wrong. It wasn’t anything obvious during surgery (let me add that surgery is always a risk, but the benefits of getting spayed and neutered far outweigh the slight possibility of something going wrong.) But when Gylfie returned from her surgery, it became obvious that something was amiss. She began having regular seizures and lost her eyesight. As we attempted to figure out what was going on, and what her best avenues of treatment would be, Gylfie came back home with me. Her new condition required frequent medicating and observation, and I wanted her to feel as comfortable as possible as she adjusted to her new reality. She quickly adjusted to life as a blind kitten and went back to her playful ways, completely thriving and absolutely surprising me. I was so impressed by her will.
I happily cared for Gylfie for another six weeks before she suffered sudden and unexpected complications – possibly a stroke – and succumbed to her condition a few days later. The night she died, my heart felt like it was shattered into a million pieces. This kitten who I loved so much, who had fought so hard to survive, didn’t make it despite every way we had tried to save her. I realize her story might deter some from fostering. But I want to say that I would do it all again knowing the outcome. It was excruciating, and I am writing this through tears despite the fact that it’s been four months since she died. But the loss never once shook my resolve to keep helping these vulnerable little animals. Instead, it strengthened it. If they have to go, I would much rather they do after having known warmth and care and all the love they could ever want. The reality is, for kittens without mothers the odds are entirely stacked against them. Statistically, 15-40% of kittens will perish before they reach twelve weeks of age. The numbers are intimidating. There are losses. But these numbers are significantly reduced for animals in foster care. And knowing that you are making a positive
impact on even just a single life is reason enough to do it. I once read a piece about fostering that said that even though every one of my fosters takes a bit of my heart with them when they go, they give me some of theirs in return. Eventually (and hopefully), my heart will be completely comprised of the love these animals have given me. And I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way.
Letting your fosters go is hard. There is no use in sugar-coating it. I know exactly the kind of heartbreak I am signing myself up for each time, and I do it anyway. The most common comment I get is “I could never do it. I would just keep them all.” Let me assure you, you won’t. But what you do accomplish by fostering is providing a safe place for these animals to grow and develop. You give them a soft landing place when they might have never known any sort of tenderness at all. And when they do get adopted, though it hurts to say goodbye, it is so fulfilling to know that you provided that first step towards their new lives. Seeing them in the arms of their new family is a feeling that can’t be replicated anywhere else. You dread saying goodbye, of course. But once you see how happy they have made their new people, all that dread and fear fades away. You know this is what’s right. This is what was meant to happen all along. Part of you hopes that they remember you once they go to their new homes. After all, you were there for that life-altering transition from before to after, from homeless to forever home. But another part of you hopes that they won’t remember you at all. You hope that this new life is so over-flowing with love and attention and joy that you – the home during the in-between – fade into the backdrop. And you know that if it does, this creature you love so much, who forever owns a piece of your heart, now occupies the entirety of someone else’s. And that is the greatest gift.
This is what fostering is like. Fostering will change your life. And I can guarantee it will change their lives too.