Filed under: cats | Tags: decision making, euthanization, foster cats, fostering, fosters, grieving for pet, loss of cat, loss of pet, love
This is Bib…named for the Michelin man as his tummy was always so big as a baby. Bib was special…his eyes, his funny little nose, his one white stocking-and his funny personality. Bib developed breathing problems from a growth behind his soft palate and when he began to have real problems getting enough air, we had to make a decision to end his struggle. We lost our gorgeous boy the same day we lost our Youko…and I just want to say that he was the best boy…the sweetest boy and my heart aches with the loss. Bibby and Youko were a wonderful part of my life – I will miss them always.
Filed under: cats | Tags: animal welfare, animals, babies, bottle babies, cat, cats, challenges, foster animals, foster kittens, fostering, fosters, hand raising orphan kittens, kittens, love, orphan kittens, OSPCA, OSPCA fostering, pets, raising orphan kittens, struggles
I am sure we have all heard of the “aww” factor, right? The cuteness, the sweetness that makes you go “aww!!! ”. The warm fuzzies. That is what everyone thinks of when I tell them I am fostering kittens…particularly baby kittens…orphans of a day old, or about a week old, or two weeks old…everyone says ”aww”. Everyone who has never done it that is.
The reality about tiny baby kittens is the “oo” factor. As in poop, poop, poop and more poop.
Orphan kittens are the cutest things on the face of the planet. They are also one of the hardest things to feed, keep warm and keep alive. And then there’s the poop.
Orphans, depending on their age, need feeding every 2 hours at the start. They will take to a bottle or not. They will suck or not. They might like syringe feeding. Or not. Sometimes a dropper. Or not. It is all trial & error and a kitten happily sucking one minute will decide not to the next. And then there is the poop.
Orphan kittens need to be kept warm and dry. But not too warm. Hot water bottles need to be refreshed regularly, and heating pads need to be under lots of towels or blankies, so that there are no hot spots…and they need to be able to get away from the warmth if they need to…so there has to be part of their space that is cooler. Their blankets, or towels, or bedding needs to be checked often to be sure they are dry and just the right temperature. And then there is the poop.
Orphan kittens need to be weighed. Need to have a set amount of formula. No over feeding or under feeding. Underfeeding leads to yelling, restless babies. Overfeeding can cause diarrhea and other problems. They need to be burped after feeding. And cuddled. They need skin time and bonding and warmth and lots of love. And they need to poop.
Orphan kittens need to have their little bodies stimulated to pee and poop. Their mum would be doing it for them…so you have to take her place, with cotton pad, ball or washcloth instead of tongue…but the job is the same…to gently encourage them to produce pee and a least a poop a day or so. Never rub…you can irritate their fragile bits. Jiggling works a treat. And be sure to clean them afterwards…so they don’t get scald and so they smell good. A kitten who has a mum is kept immaculate…and we foster parents should keep them that way too. Cats and kittens like to be clean. Bathing is sometimes necessary. Not a lot of fun for either of you…but necessary.
And then there’s the poop. Regular poop should be brown and kind of jam-like….and if you are lucky…that is all you get. However, sometimes you get weird colours and textures and blood and mucus and other horrible things because there are so many things that can cause poop problems. Overfeeding. Formula too rich. Intestinal parasites: roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms or the protozoans; coccidia & giardia.Viral or bacterial infections: there are many, but two of the scariest are FIP & distemper. Allergies. Inflammatory bowel disease. Feline leukemia. Antibiotics. Toxins. Cancer. Diabetes. Some can be ruled out or in fairly easily…but sometimes you just don’t now and it becomes trial and error to fix the problem. Kittens, due to their immature immune systems are wide open to almost anything, sometimes inherited from their mother, sometimes not.
When all is normal in the poop department, thank your lucky stars. Because it so often isn’t normal. Very often very messy and very smelly. And you have to keep the babies clean…it is vital, because they can get scald, they do not smell good and because they cuddle and sometimes lick and suck on each other…you have to not let them keep re-infecting themselves. Besides, it is harder to snuggle, kiss and love a sticky, smelly baby.
When you are raising baby kittens…you have to keep them clean, dry, warm but not too warm, hydrated and nourished. All of these can be huge challenges at times. And the younger the baby is…the harder it is to even keep them alive, much less thriving.
The tiniest, the youngest will not have had enough or any of their mum’s colostrum. They often do not suck well. And if kittens do develop poop issues…keeping them hydrated is difficult…they lose fluid so quickly.
This is not intended as a “go to” instruction manual for babies. It is just my observations of some of the things you might face when trying to hand raise kittens. And in my estimation, it is the “oo” factor which causes the most puzzlement, headaches, grief and heartache.
Sometimes everything goes swimmingly…you heave a sigh of relief when they get to about 16 weeks old and they get spay/neutered and go on to their new lives. Hopefully long and happy ones. Sometimes it goes only partly bad. You spend all your time trying to figure out the poop problems and trying to keep them tidy. Sometimes you lose a baby (or more)…cry a lot, work harder (as if that were possible) on those that remain, cry some more and rejoice when they get over it and grow and thrive. Sometimes they are the litter that makes you want never to do this again…to believe you cannot cry any more tears…that you are the worst foster mum ever…that god does not exist or these things would not happen to innocents like this…that vets are useless…that you will never recover from the grief…and that no one will ever ask you to do this again, because you have just killed a litter of kittens. Because if all hell breaks loose, and kittens die…you will blame yourself, even if it is in no way your fault. Sometimes you will know why it happened…and sometimes you do not get any answers…it just happens despite your fervent prayers and diligence and love and medicine and whatever else you tried to save them…shelter visits, CPR, syringe feeding, tube feeding, antibiotics,anti-virals, sub-Q fluids, hot water bottles, emergency vet visits, all the supportive care in the world….even making bargains with the devil…sometimes there is not a damn thing you can do. Kittens die sometimes.
But you swallow hard and find the resolve to do it again…and again…because when all goes well, there is incredible joy and satisfaction in seeing these wee things nurse and snuggle and grow and thrive. There is so much joy in watching their personalities blossom. I cannot tell you how deeply it affects me to have the whole litter sitting in my lap, looking at me with love, tapping my face with their soft little paws and purring to beat the band. My heart sings! And there is seeing them spayed or neutered and head off into their new lives with their forever families. It is supremely satisfying to know they would not have had that outcome if it were not for you. Fostering kittens is about hard work, long hours, a weird fascination with poop, fun, love, joy, sadness, silliness, heartache, awe and wonder and lots and lots of smiles and laughter. It really is all about the “oo” factor…but when it works…it is also about the “aww” factor.
Filed under: cats | Tags: animal welfare, animals, babies, cat, cats, crazy cat lady, foster cats, foster kittens, fostering, fosters, kittens, Lennox & Addington OSPCA, love, OSPCA, OSPCA fostering, pet ownership, pets, shelter animals, shelters, spay/neuter, stray cats
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.
Filed under: cats, hoarding?, Uncategorized | Tags: animal welfare, cats. too many cats, crazy cat lady, hoarders, love, spay/neuter, stray cats
I have too many cats. Yes, that is the consensus; Nancy is the crazy cat lady and she has too many cats. That, by the way, is not my opinion, but that of my family and friends.
I think I’ve got a good number of cats. Let’s see; Belle is the baby at 4 months, then there is Smokey at 6 months, Scamp & Spook, both almost a year, Mouse is two, Jett is 3, Molly, we don’t know, Jack’s almost 4, Tucker and Buster are around 9 or 10…also Thomas, our cat sitting visitor(?) and the two foster babies, Billy and Joy, who are about 4 or 5 months old. I guess I am going to have to get another cat or find homes for the fosters pretty quickly…I just added it up and I have 13…not a good number if you are superstitious.
The cats certainly don’t think there are too many of them..they all coexist quite happily…they are well fed, have clean water, clean litter boxes, medical care when they need it, get their shots every year and are all spayed and neutered…and there are lots of toys to play with, beds to sleep on, they all cuddle and purr and sleep and play and mostly get along, although Mouse still has issues with Jack.
There is nothing nicer in the winter than having a couple or two tabbies or black and white kitties warming your toes and snuggling against you. Some folks need silence to fall asleep and some need the tv…I just need a small furry body purring gently beside me.
There are those with too many cats, where the people are overwhelmed and the cats are unhappy and sick and the living conditions for all concerned are unacceptable…hoarders do exist, and they don’t just hoard junk, but animals too. Luckily, hoarding is now recognized as a psychiatric disorder and humane societies and the law are beginning to handle them differently than before, with more patience and respect, and often referrals to other services, recognizing that the animals are only part of the problem and that these folks need help in many ways.
As I look to my right and see Smokey and Belle curled up together in a small grey pile of fur, I know how lucky I am to know so many lovely souls and have their love and companionship. I also notice that Thomas, asleep in the big chair, is, at 18 1/2 pounds, 15 pounds heavier than Belle who barely hits 3 pounds after a meal. That’s 15 pounds or another cat. In my life though, probably two.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: chocolate, love, luge, olympics, spend, valentines
Here we are, just into 2010, the Vancouver Olympics have just begun, with a beautiful and awe-inspiring opening ceremony and also the death of a young Georgian athlete. His family are devastated and his fellow lugers and all the Olympians are at a loss to explain it and deal with the grief they feel and we all feel. All my best wishes and sympathy go to Nordars family, friends and to all who are hurting from this terrible accident.
Today is Valentines day, a day of roses and chocolate, of dinners and sweethearts, a day on which I choose not to spend a fortune, but simply to tell those closest to me that I love them, honour them and respect them, a day when I will try to heal the rifts which sometimes happen, to apologize for being unkind and to strengthen our bond. The chocolate does appeal though…….I love chocolate….