Fostering animals is one of the greatest helps to animal rescue groups, as my fellow blogger Terry has done an amazing job of expressing in her latest series of posts. My family has been fostering cats (and one dog I just couldn’t resist) since the summer of 2010, and no two experiences have been the same. I thought of writing a post on what people considering fostering cats can expect, and might proceed to do so in the future, but for now I feel there is something to be said for sharing one’s first fostering experience. Ours was an emotional one filled with ups and downs – and I am so happy that we did it.
My mother and I were doing our regular volunteer work at the SPCA Montérégie one Sunday when a family of four arrived with two young kittens they had found the night before in a field. Considering it had been torrential that night, they took the kittens into their car and brought them home. Having two extra felines in the house worsened the allergies of a family member, though, and so they brought the kittens to the shelter. Accepting kittens that were only a month or two old was a huge risk as they can so easily fall fatally ill in a shelter environment; the reluctance and concern on the faces of us and other people at the shelter must have been easy to read because I think they got the idea that these kittens could very well die if they stayed there. The two young girls who were there with their parents were inconsolable at the notion of leaving them. In some bizarre maternal moment brought on by the crying children, my mother announced, “We’ll foster them!” We’ll what? Well, I guess there’s no reason not to… we have a spare room… I’d be home to feed them… Dad has a soft spot for kittens… After a phone call to confirm that my father’s soft spot for kittens meant that we could bring them home, the little orange brothers were set up in our car.
As is easily visible, the size difference between the boys was significant from the start. It is what made their ages ambiguous – calling them one month old or two months old is a big jump. Was the big one just a glutton, or was the little one the runt? When we first got them home, their appetites were healthy. The little guy even surprised us by eating canned kitten food all by himself, while his big brother happily lapped up the kitten formula. Both of them were full of energy, although it manifested in different ways. While the small one was a people person who loved to climb up our shirts and perch on our shoulders where he behaved like a purring parrot, the big one loaaathed us. He ran under the bureau and lashed out whenever we attempted to coax him out. When we eventually caught him outside of his hiding spot, we covered up the gap under the bureau so he was forced to stay in more easily-accessible areas of the room. That didn’t stop him from hissing whenever we got too close, though.
After a couple of days, the tiny baby stopped eating on his own. I fed him kitten formula frequently, at which time I realized that two tablespoons seems like a lot when you’re dropper-feeding a very reluctant kitten. It didn’t help to have his big brother always trying to steal the formula, although it was admittedly nice to see him coming around. The size difference, the loss of appetite, and a wicked spell of diarrhea forced us to acknowledge that something was wrong. We made arrangements through the shelter to see their favoured veterinarian and hoped for the best…
No matter how things turned out, that vet cannot be faulted for lack of trying. He pulled out all the stops to the point that I needed to write up a chart to remember medication, feeding, and sub-q fluid times. Regardless of the efforts he put into it, the vet, without frankly stating it, expressed that the kitten’s odds were not very good. Even a short day away from their mother could severely weaken an immune system, and add to that the thunderstorm that they had been caught up in – he could have caught something terrible. We had brought his brother as a point of comparison and it was alarming to see that the little one was only half of his brother’s weight. Still, we’d seen miracles happen, so we pressed on.
Not even twenty-four hours later, I went into what had become “the foster cat room” for feeding time, and the little guy who we had not even found a name for was wobbling on his last legs. It felt unfair; we had barely even had the time to try to save him. But that was it. He appeared as though he would die at any minute, yet it was only three hours later—and well after our nearby vet clinic had closed—that he passed on, his brother staying by his side the entire time. None of our own cats have ever been buried on our property…of course, the vet was always available or present when our cats passed away. But this little trooper who we had had for less than a week was set in the ground beside our house, right outside of the room where his brother continued to live for the next few months.
A strange thing happened that same day: the remaining kitten became the cuddliest cat I have ever met. The same kitten who had hissed and panicked whenever we tried to touch him was suddenly crawling all over my lap and nuzzling my face. The joke-but-not-really-a-joke is that his little bro’s spirit entered him that day. The truth is that he was, after all, just a baby – he probably felt lonely and had no choice but to turn to humans for company. It still startled us by how sudden the change in his personality occurred. After much deliberation, we decided on the perfect name for him, one that was strong and that reflected his stormy origins. Thunder.
Although Thunder’s newfound loveable attitude was a pleasure for us, we knew that the best thing for him was to foster another kitten around his age. After a rare Sunday when I missed volunteering at the shelter for the sake of other plans, I came home to learn that my mother had acquired the perfect playmate for Thunder: an adorable fluffy boy who was around Thunder’s age and had just arrived at the shelter that day. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I only vaguely remember his backstory. I know he wasn’t a stray; I think he was the last of a litter of kittens that had failed to sell. Well, prospective owners may have rejected him, but Thunder immediately adopted him as his brother-from-another-mother.
We wanted them to be adopted together. Of course we did. Thunder had already endured a tragic loss in his life (but maybe we were just projecting), and Ninja—as we named the new kitten—was enamoured with Thunder too…how could we ever separate them? But when a major cat adoption day rolled around in September and we had only had one failed inquiry into Thunder, we had to accept that they might be split up. Regardless, as volunteers to consult with at this particular adoption day, my mother and I could do our best to get them adopted together.
Well, maybe halfway through the adoption day, we failed. Ninja’s adoption had been decided while we were each busy elsewhere. A hilarious revelation occurred when my mother met the couple that was adopting him: she knew them! The man was the brother of my father’s good friend – a friend of my father’s himself, really. Ninja would be an only cat in his new home, which did make us a bit sad, but we knew that he would be better alone than Thunder would be. There was also an incredible reassurance in knowing that we would be able to hear news of how Ninja was doing. My father recently saw Ninja at his house, and he fits in perfectly and has been an overall great cat for them…even though his fur is a little longer than they had anticipated.
Thunder the heartbreaker, the absolute perfect cuddlemuffin of a cat, was not snatched up as we had expected him to be. And after Ninja left for his new home, he began climbing his cage and crying out. The visitors all thought it was his adorable way of getting attention, but we knew that our foster baby was actually going into a panic because he was alone. At that point my mother was essentially set on Thunder becoming our foster failure (for those not familiar with the term, that would be officially adopting the animal you fostered); however, sometimes you need to be patient for the perfect family. If you are, they will certainly come along. For Thunder, the perfect family did indeed come along that day: major animal lovers whose pets were their children, lots of other kitties and dogs to befriend. The only obstacle was that they were looking to adopt an older cat, one who had been at the shelter for a while, one that would tug on their heartstrings. Fortunately my mother has a flair for dramatic storytelling and hit them with the, “His brother died in his arms!!” story. They did say that they wanted a cat with a sad history…
So they adopted him, and Thunder was welcomed into a new, big animal family. We just got news of Thunder, whose full name is now Fonzie Thunder-toes, and he is still the same lover kitty that he was since the death of his brother. He adores all of his furry siblings and his human mom and dad, who should never feel unloved with the ultra cuddly “Fonzie” around! He has come a long way from the feral kitten who was found in a thunderstorm a couple of summers ago. His family says that rainy or stormy weather still makes him miserable.
The man who initially found Thunder and his brother wrote an article about the event that you can read online here, which is also the source for the first image above. The article is in French, but the gist of it is that physical animal abuse, while an obviously horrendous thing, is not the only thing we should be concerned about. Abandonment is detrimental to animals too, and is a generally malicious thing to do. He wrote the article before we told them of the smaller kitten’s passing, which is in itself a strong example of how imperative it is that people are aware of situations such as kittens being abandoned on the side of the road. If those kittens had been left out there for much longer, Thunder likely would have gone the same way as his brother. The fact that we had a part in not only keeping him safe from such a fate, but also seeing him through to a wonderful family – that is the joy of being a foster family, even if we had to endure a loss to get there.
Since these first three kittens, we have gone on to foster many other animals in need. From Mia the purebred Tonkinese who hated other animals, Minnie the tripod cat and her chubby brother Jessy, Cupcake who monopolized the kitchen (much to the hyper-friendly mutt Ruby’s dismay), submissive cats like Bermuda and Charline, to the depressive-turned-purrific Bailey who is sitting by side right now—and plenty of others in-between—we have had the privilege of housing so many fantastic animals that have gone on to find the perfect families for them.
From foster to forever home, there is no better feeling than seeing a pet we’ve homed living the good life we had wished for them as we prepared them for adoption!