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Fostering: C’mon, You Know You Want To Try It!

By Sue Hayes

Have you considered it? Fostering makes an incalculable difference not just for the animals you provide with a temporary home thereby freeing up space at the shelter, but to your community at large by helping to decrease the number of unwanted pets through spaying and neutering. And I’ve heard tell that fostered animals make some of the best, well-socialized pets. 

What’s not to like? I mean really. In my case it’s orphaned, underage kittens. What warm-blooded person in their right mind wouldn’t want a continuous loop of the cutest babies ever to cuddle and care for while they grow into adoptable little muffins? And yes, every single one is the cutest one ever. Never fails. You’ll see. 

You might feel a connection with adult cats, puppies, dogs, bunnies, maybe even hamsters or guinea pigs! The need is out there. Go to your local shelter. Go ahead. Tell them you’d like to foster. I’m betting you’ll get a warm, grateful smile along with whatever guidance and training is required to start you on your way. You may never look back.

This vice of mine, this sweet tooth for sweeties was born the moment I decided to bring home my first foster family – a mama kitty with her 3 newborns. I had no earthly idea I’d be r-e-e-led in to the point of it being 5 years and 175+ kitties later with no end in sight. It’s become such a natural part of life for me; I have difficulty remembering life before fostering. As vices go, not a bad one to have, I’m thinkin’.

With its inherent ups and downs, fostering has been an unexpected joy and life-affirming experience.  I could not have anticipated the effect it would have on me overall, what ridiculously amazing, animal-loving people have come into my life as a result, and the inexplicable sense of accomplishment – albeit with a few tears – when the kittens move on to loving, permanent homes.

Of course, there can be struggles. The babies might be ailing with something or other, they might need lots and lots of this and that, but these are situations left for the experienced foster folks. It is not where shelters have the greatest need. Most often, they simply need to find warm-hearted folks with warm, loving homes to basically serve as an extension of the shelter, allowing space and valuable staff time for incoming animals needing care. Simple, really.

To start, you might opt to try your hand with a litter of older kittens or puppies almost ready for spay/neuter surgery, a mama with babies (who will really do most of the work herself), a singleton needing some socialization, or even an adult who could use some time away from the shelter to unwind. These are the vast majority of animals needing time in a foster home, and generally the easiest to care for. 

See how it goes. Open your heart and your mind to the reality of what you are providing. So many people have said to me, “I couldn’t do what you do. I’d want to keep them all.” Well, sure you would! You’re an animal lover! In fact, there’s a darn good chance that you’ll adopt at least one. There’s even a name for the syndrome – “Foster Failure.” It happens. Heck, it’s happened to me. (We won’t go into how many times.)

My response to the folks who feel they care too much to foster is always the same. Caring “too much” is exactly what makes a good foster person. You are the ones we need. You who can see past the happy/sad tears when you send them off for adoption; who can allow yourself the button-busting pride that you cared enough to be able to let go; that you probably – literally – saved a life; and that you have given the best start possible to this critter and greatly increased the odds of a happy adoption. There’s where the focus should be. Just keep a hankie close by. Then run down to the shelter and get some more! I find it’s the easiest remedy for a slightly fractured heart.

Of course, fostering kittens isn’t for everyone. They’re messy. They poop. They scratch. It can be inconvenient. That’s okay. Shelters have a need for volunteers in many areas and your niche could be elsewhere. But if fostering is something you’ve considered, something that has been simmering on the back burner for a while, consider moving it a little closer to the fore. Give it a try.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll be hooked. And the best part is – KITTENS!!

Sue Hayes fosters kittens for the Humane Society of Tacoma and Pierce County in Washington State. She chronicles her adventures in a blog called Pitter Pats of Baby Cats.
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