The CATalyst: The Truth About Cat Fostering

Steve Dale, CAT FANCY writer and syndicated newspaper pet columnist, provides a weekly cat news roundup.

If cat fostering was as organized as dog foster programs, it would be a game changer for shelter cats. So, I am thrilled has decided to host a webinar on this often overlooked topic.

Register for our webinar – Hurry, it starts Oct. 11 at 11 a.m. Pacific Time! Click here. — Eds.

In her piece, my colleague Dusty Rainboldt calls fostering cats “The toughest job you’ll ever love.” Having fostered many herself, she knows, and I absolutely refer you to her list of the 10 benefits of fostering cats.

I am here, however, to offer a reality check when it comes to fostering cats. And this reality is true all over America.

While visiting the Animal Welfare League of Chicago, the director took a hold of my arm, and squeezed tightly as she said, “Please do something,” pointing to about 10 kittens in various cages who had just come in over the past day or two. “I don’t believe people know how many kittens don’t make it; they are so incredibly susceptible in a shelter environment.”

Kittens, and cats too, are so easily stressed that their immune system can easily falter. Although shelter veterinarians do the best they can, they concede that dealing with infectious disease in cats is often a challenge. Most shelters don’t have state of the art air filtering systems. That’s not to mention that many kittens and cats are ill or bordering on illness at intake.

Of course, foster homes remove the kittens and cats from shelter environments where they are more likely to receive one on one care in a far more tranquil environment.     
While I am clearly an advocate for fostering cats, I feel compelled to tell the truth. While fostering dogs and puppies has been hugely successful, overall, the same is not true for cats.

There are many reasons for this. One is simply a lack of attention most shelters have paid to fostering cats – partially, I believe this is because cats are sometimes afterthoughts. But partially, it’s because of the staff expertise required to direct a program to foster cats. You will learn a lot by participating in the webinar on Tuesday, October 11.

Sometimes fostering a dog merely requires a leash and a plastic bag. For cats or kittens, it’s common for the foster cats to require some medical care. Knowledge and basic training is required to implement that care.

Many – likely most– people interested in fostering cats already have pet cats. The foster cats will require seclusion in a separate room. This isn’t only necessary to prevent disease transmission, many resident cats may be offended by newcomers (particularly if they are adult cats), and those resident become anxious (which could result in behavioral problems, or even cat fights). All this requires is education and planning.

Also, many cat lovers tend to have big hearts. Foster families need to understand their limit – no one person can simultaneously foster them all, and still pay attention to the resident cats, not to mention the human family members.

Shelters less adept at fostering can likely learn a great deal from pedigreed cat breed rescue programs or more experienced nearby shelters. All animal shelters should have feline foster programs. However, if you build it, they don’t always come – and that is where marketing comes in. And public education, which is offering.

There’s no question, getting kittens especially – but also adult cats – into foster homes is beneficial for that individual animal, perhaps preventing illness by reducing stress.  Also, foster programs frees up cage space, saving lives.

Back in Chicago at the Animal Welfare League, the director adds, “With more foster families, and hopefully along with them more people willing to adopt cats, we would save a lot of lives.”    

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