What is fostering?
Fostering an animal entails working with a shelter or adoption program to provide a temporary home environment for an animal in need or to relieve pressure on an overburdened system. It provides a bridge, between the impersonal and sometimes scary shelter, and a forever home with the right family or individual pet parent. When deciding whether or not fostering is right for you, it’s important to understand why there’s a need, what special needs different types of foster cats might have, and the practical realities you need to be prepared to work with.
Why is fostering important?
The ASPCA outlines seven reasons why fostering is important, especially during “kitten season” between spring and summer.
- It can save the lives of newborn (“neonatal”) and “peewee” (four to eight weeks) kittens. These vulnerable youngsters often require specialized, 24-hour care. Many programs offer training to understand and meet these needs.
- Younger kittens do not have fully-developed immune systems, and exposure to multiple animals in a shelter setting exposes them to germs that their body isn’t ready to encounter. Fostering creates a safer and healthier setting for them.
- Fostered cats receive more attention, and increased socialization can reduce anxiety and help prepare the cat for a happier move into a forever home.
- Kittens who receive foster care are better sensitized to the home environment, allowing them to transition more comfortably and happily into a permanent domestic setting.
- Fostering helps prevent the births of more homeless cats. In addition to being in a safe, indoor setting, cats are typically spayed and neutered before being placed in foster care.
- Fostering creates more space in shelters and frees up support resources for other animals in need.
- Fostered animals benefit from an expanded pool of potential forever homes when they are introduced to the friends and families of their caregivers.
Some types of cats that need fostering
When considering fostering a cat, it’s important to understand that different populations of foster cats have different needs and to figure out the type of support you’re best equipped to provide. Felinefoster.org breaks down the main differences:
- Neonatal cats require constant care that might not be available in some shelters.
- Young kittens need a safe place to grow up healthy and learn proper behavioral skills in a home.
- Cats recovering from sickness or injury require a peaceful, restful place to get better.
- Cats experiencing high anxiety due to displacement might begin to break down emotionally after going from a safe and comfortable home to a tiny, locked cage. These cats benefit from a return to stability, freedom of movement, playtime, and the other comforts that have (to them) been inexplicably taken from them.
- Public emergencies like extreme weather or a pandemic can result in a sudden spike in the number of displaced animals in need. Fostering during such times can help shelters create space without having to resort to euthanasia.
- Cats that shelters need to learn more about the benefits of being in a temporary home, so that the caregiver can report back to the shelter or adoption organization with information on the cat’s temperament, personality, etc. This helps make the perfect match with a future forever home.
- Hospice cats are animals who are near the end of life. No animal should spend their last days in an institutional, lonely setting. “Fospice” places such animals with loving humans who take care of them until the appropriate time. Some hospice cats, expected to live only a few weeks, end up living longer due to the support and love of a fospice caregiver.
Things to consider before deciding to foster
There are a number of factors to think through thoroughly before deciding to foster cats. A few of the biggest considerations are:
- How will you separate fostered animals from other animals in the home? For the safety of the new arrival and the permanently-homed pets living with you, you will probably need to keep them separated at first (possibly indefinitely, depending on the type of foster animal in your care). The organization you’re fostering from will likely be able to offer guidance.
- Remember that foster animals often have special needs in addition to the basic care and socialization common to all pets. Make sure you’re fully prepared to set aside the time that might require.
- Do you want to foster only adult cats, kittens, or both? The different populations of cats in need come with different needs. A local shelter or other animal agency might appreciate a commitment to learning how to bottle-feed a kitten, but they have older cats in need if you don’t have the time or interest in that. Figure out what you feel you can realistically offer, and work from there.
- Remember that you will have to let the animal go when she or he is adopted. You will need to be emotionally prepared to say goodbye, possibly forever, when that time comes. This can be harder than it sounds, but that doesn’t erase the many rewarding aspects of opening your home temporarily to an animal in need.
If you think that fostering might be right for you, you can reach out to shelters in your area to begin exploring your options.