Fostering takes support from the community to maintain no-kill shelters and rescue organizations. Volunteer foster homes provide easy, inexpensive ways for humane groups to save animals. Fostering cats reminds me of the old army slogan, “The toughest job you’ll ever love.” You give the cat or kitten a temporary home. You invest love and effort into the cat’s physical and emotional recovery. Finally, he or she loves you, trusts you and then, like star crossed lovers, it’s time to let him or her go. The toughest part comes when you say goodbye. Fostering is difficult and emotional, but it’s for a higher cause with a broader picture.
Both municipal and nonprofit shelters utilize foster homes. However, foster homes especially benefit rescue organizations around the country that can’t afford a shelter or that would rather invest their financial resources in the animals rather than a building, its staffing and upkeep. Even shelters that house animals on site occasionally use foster homes for nice animals with special needs.
In many communities, volunteer foster networks and no-kill rescue groups remove most of the adoptable animals from shelters that euthanize, put them in foster homes, and then place them in forever homes through adopt-a-pet events. PetSmart, PETCO and many independent pet stores provide a place for the public to meet the available animals and for the rescuers to screen potential adopters.
The Top 10 Benefits of Fostering Cats
1. Fostering saves millions of cats’ and dogs’ lives each year.
2. Fostering gives one-on-one attention to orphans and animals with trust issues that shelters otherwise would have to euthanize immediately.
3. Fostering allows cats to live in a home environment and become accustomed to typical sights, sounds and smells rather than being confined to a cage.
4. Fostering allows the foster owner to get to know the cat and give potential adopters a better idea about its personality.
5. Fostering helps socialize shy cats.
6. Fostering helps shelters build their facilities as well as keep them staffed.
7. Fostering allows parents who want their kids to experience the miracle of birth to do so without adding to the pet population by fostering a pregnant queen.
8. Fostering cats provides short-term companions for seniors without the personal pet expenses.
9. Fostering gives you an opportunity to really get to know a cat before you make a long-term commitment.
10. Fostering allows you to have no out-of-pocket expenses except food and litter because many rescue groups pay for all the foster cat’s medical needs. All you add is love.
The last time I saw Gigi, she stared back at me through the bars of a cage at Operation Kindness, a Dallas-area no-kill shelter.
After Hurricane Katrina, Gigi lived for weeks in the rubble of a collapsed home in Jefferson Parish, La. When she came to Operation Kindness, she was traumatized and suffering from coccidia (internal parasites). Shelter workers called me because they wanted an experienced foster home to medicate her and socialize her.
Gigi was fearful of everything. After months of work, she finally learned to enjoy human affection. I was tempted — so tempted — to adopt her myself. But, my husband and I can only handle so many cats. If we kept her, tomorrow when the city shelter called to beg us to take a litter of orphaned kittens that otherwise would be euthanized, I would have to say no. What a horrible choice. Keep the charming kitten who found it so hard to trust or save an endless line of kittens in the future.
Gigi has so much spirit and such a desire to not only survive, but be happy. When the time came, through tear-filled eyes, I left her in the safety of Operation Kindness. Soon, something magical happened. Gigi found the perfect home: a single work-at-home woman with a teenage daughter. The woman wanted an affectionate cat that would follow her around and sit in her lap. That’s exactly what she got with Gigi, a charming tuxedo with an upside-down teardrop on her nose who just wanted to be loved.
Without foster homes, Gigi’s story would have ended shortly after she was plucked from the ruins of her home.
Immediately following a Minneapolis purebred seizure/rescue, Linda Gorsuch (of Desert Jewel Turkish Vans in Maryland), other Turkish Van breeders and a network of purebred rescue fosters, offered temporary homes, as well as permanent homes, to more than 110 seized cats. Their quick action freed cage space in a shelter that was already overflowing. Without the foster homes, animal control officers would have been forced to immediately put down adoptable local strays, and within a few days, the seized cats would have followed.
“By fostering you take some of the pressure off the kill-shelters,” Gorsuch says. “Purebred rescues have resources to find homes that are specifically interested in those particular cats. By using all available fostering assets, it prevents more cats, purebred and not, from being put to sleep.”
No figures are available on how many cats are in foster homes, but PetSmart works with more than 3,400 rescue organizations in the United States and Canada. As of December 15, 2006, 2,850,216 animals have been adopted through PetSmart’s onsite adoptions. A website dedicated to pet adoption, www.petfinder.com, has more than 10,000 animal welfare members. Of those, one-third have shelters, one-third use strictly foster homes and the other third use both, says Kim Saunders of Petfinders shelter outreach.
Small organizations depend entirely on foster homes and adopt-a-pet events to rescue cats. Bev Freed, with Kitty Save out of Lewisville, Texas, says that foster homes enabled her group to rescue about 200 cats in the last year.
Like most organizations, Kitty Save covers all veterinary expenses including spay/neuter, shots, feline leukemia/feline immunodeficiency virus testing, worming and miscellaneous medical expenses. Foster parents pay for food, litter and everyday expenses. The foster parents are expected to take cats to the vet as needed and take them to adopt-a-pets at PetSmart.
“What happens after your foster cat gets adopted? You get a new one and a big hug. Congratulations. You saved a life. Now, let’s save another one,” Freed says.
Mary Anne Miller
Unlike Freed, Mary Anne Miller operates independently, working with local shelters and humane societies and finding homes for needy cats on her own. She constantly opens her Oregon home temporarily to cats in need. Her most memorable foster cat, Starlight, a van patterned Persian, was abandoned in the middle of nowhere. His claws had grown into his pads and his hipbones and ribs protruded. Ill equipped to live as a stray, he was starving to death. The mats that encased his body wouldn’t permit him to defecate freely. Miller removed the mats, cleaned him up, and returned him to a reasonable weight. Despite searching, Miller never found Starlight’s owners, but she located the perfect home in northern California. Three years later Starlight and his owner are a happy family.
To learn more about fostering opportunities, visit the PetSmart Charities website. To learn more about animal welfare organizations in your area, visit Pet Finder’s website, or ask your city’s animal control facility, pet supply store or your veterinarian.
What could possibly be more gratifying than to save a life and finish a story like Gigi’s and so many other cats’ with a “happily ever after” ending?
Dusty Rainbolt is an award-winning freelance writer and a member of the Cat Writers’ Association.
She lives in Texas with her husband and several cats. She and her husband have fostered more
than 200 cats.