Many people talk about adopting pets rather than buying them from a breeder or a store. But another vital piece of caring for at-risk animals is fostering.
A lot of people wonder if they can handle the work and emotions behind fostering. My earliest experience fostering litters of bottle-baby kittens reminded me of how important fostering is to helping homeless animals find health and forever homes.
One of my earliest foster cases were 2 bottle-baby kittens found on the side of the road near their deceased mother. One kitten had an upper respiratory infection and was taken to the vet before I got them from the shelter. The vet named him Wiggly because he squirmed so much. They were orange tabbies, so I named his brother Simba.
Toughing It Out
If you’ve ever seen newborn kittens, you know they don’t do much. They can’t see or hear, and they can’t really crawl.
You must get up every 2–3 hours to feed them, potty them and make sure they’re warm, but you don’t get much else out of them. The first few days aren’t very gratifying and can even be oddly isolating.
Making a Connection
One day, I had Wiggly wrapped up in a little hand towel while I bottle-fed him. As I held him, I heard a low rattle coming from his chest. His eyes were still closed and his ears were folded down, but he was warm in my hands. “There’s someone in there,” I thought as I listened to him purr.
There’s a sense of satisfaction that comes with taking good care of an animal who is completely dependent on you. It’s terrifying, but amazing.
Infant kittens cannot produce their own body heat, clean themselves, eliminate on their own or eat without you. Each time you accomplish any of those tasks without hurting them, you celebrate a little on the inside. Each time you fail to get them to latch on or eliminate, you feel like their life is suddenly in jeopardy.
Like most fosters, I understand that no matter how attentive a human caregiver is, infant animals almost always have a better chance of survival with their mom. It’s a stark reality that anyone interested in fostering must remember.
The previous 2 bottle-fed baby kittens I’d fostered were only with me a few hours. Someone had left them in a bucket outside the shelter in the middle of the night. The next morning, we found the kittens, who we figured to be less than a day old. I took them home, keeping them warm and trying to feed them, but they quickly took a turn for the worse.
Despite my best efforts and the advice of our vet, they both died that day. As rewarding as fostering a sick or young animal can be, conditions can completely change in a matter of hours.
Despite the occasional refusal to eat, a constant battle with fleas and that pesky upper respiratory infection, Wiggly and Simba were growing up strong and healthy.
During their first couple weeks, I awakened every 3 hours and came home in between classes for feedings. Then their eyes opened, and they started crawling and playing with each other.
Finding a Forever Home
After almost 2 months, Wiggly and Simba started approaching the 2-pound mark, which put them on the list to be neutered and placed for adoption.
I would cry when I remembered that someday soon the kittens would start a new life with a new family, and I wouldn’t get to watch them grow up. But I’ve always been a firm believer that just because you’re sad about a foster animal getting adopted, it doesn’t mean you need to “foster fail” and keep the animal instead.
This time, everyone won. I still got to be in their lives as they grew into adult cats. My older sister and her husband ended up adopting Simba. And my boyfriend had his eye on a couple of my foster pets that year and adopted Wiggly.
I was very fortunate to be close with the people who adopted both of my bottle babies. I have fostered well over 50 animals, and I always wonder how they are, so it’s nice to get to keep 2 of them in my life. But all any foster person can ask for is the knowledge that their foster pets have found a happy and safe place to call their forever home.