Nancyeclark's Blog


ANIMAL VOICES-ARTICLE ON FOSTERING CATS FOR THE OSPCA

The Following is an article I wrote for the OSPCA Magazine ‘Animals’ Voice” – part of which appeared in the most recent edition.

This is the full article…

Fostering: A Win, Win, Win Situation

By Nancy E. Clark

Dedicated to Fingal, Finlay, Fiona, Darla, Eden, Lilith, Libby, Cain, Abel, Bib, Bailey, Quince, Baldric, Garnet, Domino, Bramble, Zorra, Echo, Julia, Mighty Mouse, Thor, Keiko, Youko, Jet, Smokey, Addy, Teddy, Sally, Juliet, Spook, Robin, and all the fosters who have allowed me to share a small part of their lives.

I began fostering cats for the Lennox & Addington OSPCA in 2008, because I love animals, cats in particular, and I wanted to help them and my local shelter; I had time and love to give, but not a lot of money. I am also lucky enough to have a husband who is patient and kind and helpful; and a room or two I can close off to isolate the newcomers for the duration of their stay, or just until it is a good time to introduce them to the general population. We have a large family of cats of our own…spayed, neutered and up to date on all their shots. All but 3 (rescues) are shelter cats, adopted over many years and ranging in age from 1 to 12. I taught my children to be wary of strangers, but my cats have had to learn to be open and accepting of strangers and patient with kittens. After I began fostering, I realized that not only is it an important (and mostly unrecognized) part of saving animals…but the wonder of birth, the delight & pride in a blossoming personality, the amusement afforded by cats of all shapes and sizes and the downright hilarity of their antics at times…makes the job so satisfying I may never stop.

Usually it is pregnant mums who arrive at our house in Selby…a few hours, days or weeks before they deliver or just after the babies are born. Sometimes it is right smack dab in the middle of delivery, as in the case of Eden, who went into labour in the carrier on the way home and had her first kitten an hour and a half later. Quite the introduction!

The expectant/new mums are given a room which is as comfortable and clean as I can make it…with various ‘nesting’ boxes and bins so they can choose a comfortable place to have/keep their babies. The closet is the most popular spot, with a towel-lined plastic bin inside and a curtain over the opening. There is clean water and food nearby and a fresh litter box. When given the time (prior to birth), I spend time with the mums…earning their trust and building a bond that will allow me to keep track of their health and that of their litter…and to help mum be calm and happy and eat well for the babies and to begin building on her adoptability for the future.

Occasionally it is a feral/semi feral or timid cat or kitten we have to work with and socialize…lots of patience, baby food and play required, but it’s one of the best feelings in the world when they come out of hiding and let you stroke them and eventually encourage their personalities to blossom. It’s the same feeling I had when my step-daughter trustingly took my hand the first time.

Fostering is defined as “to promote the growth of, to help develop, to afford, receive or share nourishment; the foster person stands in the relation of parent, etc., as regards sustenance and nurture, but not by tie of blood.” (or species in this respect)

Nourishment is not enough, however…but nurture comes close. Webster’s Dictionary includes this: To Nurture, Nourish, Cherish. Nourish denotes to supply with food, or cause to grow; as, to nourish a plant. To nurture is to train up with a fostering care, like that of a mother; as, to nurture into strength; to nurture in sound principles. To cherish is to hold and treat as dear; as, to cherish hopes or affections. [1913 Webster]

I really like that definition…nurture, nourish, cherish. That’s the foundation of why and how I foster. To provide a warm, safe home, proper nutrition, clean litter boxes, exercise, playtime and training. To schedule (and show up for) shots and de-worming and surgeries, to provide supportive care to the ill, to ask for vet care if needed, to apply or give medicines, to be the parent the animal deserves. To work with the staff at the shelter to keep everyone as healthy as possible. But it is so much more than that, it is also the cherishing…to hold dear, love, snuggle, be endlessly patient with, to fight for them like a mother, but accept the inevitable if it comes, to grieve for them when they leave, to give them all you can to give them a fighting chance at a long, happy, contented life…because it may break your heart many times over, but fostering gives you transports of joy, much love, and satisfaction on a massive scale…healing the heartbreak and drying your tears.

It is the cherishing that is both the easiest and the hardest part of the job…and probably the most misunderstood part…the animals are both yours and not yours…and that can cause the odd moment of friction between the staff and me.

Fostering cats and kittens is a marvellous and wonderful experience, full of laughter and smiles. Having babies in the house is a constant wonder…touching, hysterically funny at times and always new…because even if they are not people…kittens and cats are individuals…each completely unique. Watching them grow from tiny eating/sleeping machines into lively, happy and distinctive personalities is a privilege and a pleasure. Normally, all you have to do is the basics of nourish, nurture and cherish. You bring them up; play with them, teach them manners (at least some), live with a chronically messy house because kittens will chase and play and leave your towels on the floor, your every nook and cranny explored and their toys on the stairs. Kittens, until taught what not to do, will get into all that they can find in hopes it is play-able…so kitten proofing starts at floor level and gets steadily higher as they grow. All too soon, they have their first shots etc. and then their surgeries, they go up for adoption and you send them off to their new people with lots of tears and a huge smile.

That, by the way, is my favourite part of fostering, waving goodbye as my “children” head off into their new life…that and cuddling babies of course.

But occasionally things go very wrong. Julia, for example, had 4 babies, all extremely sick from day 2 on. We had to euthanize Mighty Mouse and Thor within days…Keiko survived to 6 weeks and then began to suffer breathing problems and we lost her too. Youko survived against all the odds and is doing well at 9 months…adopted out and happy. Then there are all the other problems that can crop up…parasites, viruses like Calici, Herpes and Corona: the problem often lies with the mum, having no idea of her exposures or carrier status, and whether my own cats can spread/catch viruses they may or may not have been exposed to years ago; as careful as you are with hand washing, disinfection and isolation…things happen. I find it hard to give up even when I know in my heart there is no hope. Henny Venus, the Shelter’s Manager and the staff have been wonderful in this respect, helping me learn to recognize the point at which to say…enough. To always recognize that these creatures are my responsibility, yes, and that I love them, yes, but they are OSPCA cats, and I must respect their experience and decision making. I think that is the hardest part of fostering…remembering always that these animals are mine in every sense of the word, except in actual fact. When you love them, it feels that they are only yours. And you have to love them to let them flower and flourish. Henny has always been kind to me in this respect, simply pointing out to me the things I know in my heart to be true, and allowing me to feel involved.

Fostering can be fun and easy and rewarding. It can be painful and hard but still rewarding. It is the luck of the draw. We have had both kinds…with the good ones vastly outnumbering the tough ones. Good or bad, happy or sad, it is a job worth doing…for them and for me.

Working with Henny and Heather and Rebecca, Haili, Jackie and Meghan and Bernice (before she retired) and the volunteers has been, overall, a wonderful experience. They are skilled and kind and supportive. They are also extremely patient with me, as I tend to be a pain in the butt kind of foster parent…perhaps over protective and sometimes unsure of my own knowledge, ability and experience. I have learned so much from them and enjoy working with them always.

There are so many good things about fostering. It brings me volumes of love and affection, it allows me to help animals get their chance at a good life, it has taught me lessons in care, in training, in teamwork, in gratitude, in life, love and letting go. I have learned discipline and sacrifice and not to mind cat hair everywhere and that kittens can be very, very bad…cute but bad. I have learned to respect and admire the people at the OSPCA and the often unrecognized difficult job they do for all the animals our society abandons, abuses, surrenders and neglects.

There are questions about fostering that may make you reluctant to start. Is it time consuming? Sometimes. Does it require some financial input? Yes, it can…with toys and litter and food…although many shelters provide food, and they all look after the medical stuff. Is it wrong to take in or raise an animal, bond with it, love it, and then see it adopted out into a stranger’s home? Isn’t that abandonment?

Well, yes it is…BUT…unless you plan on keeping every single foster animal…which would be impossible…being fostered can give the cat or kitten a much better chance at a wonderful forever home: a stray, a timid animal, an injured one or the new lives, the kittens, get to learn that people are gentle & kind, that cuddling and playing are encouraged, that food will never be in short supply, that there are soft, warm places to nap when you are tired. The socialization they receive makes them happier and that makes them much more adoptable. The whole idea behind sheltering and fostering is to find these animals homes…good homes for the rest of their lives. Adopting them out does provide some stress and distress for these animals…but ultimately it is the best ending for them, and they will soon learn to love & trust their new family…if we have done our job and taught them that people are good companions. We can help to make the match between animal and home the right one….so there should be fewer problems and fewer returns.

Fostering takes animals out of the shelter and the stresses inherent in that environment and gives them a happy home to grow up in or live and learn in, while they wait for the right person or family to come along and fall in love with them. Foster parents can learn so much about an animal’s personality and behaviour that they can help potential adopters decide if the adoptive animal is going to be a good match…because even using wonderful programs like SAFER or the OSPCA’s Feline-ality, it cannot tell you as much about them, because animals do not behave like themselves in shelters as much as they do in a home environment.

If you like or love animals…cats, dogs…whatever…if you have some space, time and love…if you like the idea of helping unwanted ones find homes…if you would like to foster an animal…please contact your local OSPCA branch or affiliate…your local shelter, rescue or humane society. You will fill out some forms and answer some questions, and they may come and take a look at your accommodations. Fostering can give you an idea of the kind of pet you want, if you do not currently have one, and it is temporary…not a life-long commitment (at first). Fostering is a wonderful way to help many animals instead of just one or two. You will change your life and that of the animals in your care for the better, and I am sure you will never regret your decision to open up your home—and your heart.


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