By Michelle Keith — FAN Volunteer — I loved kittens growing up. I wanted kittens growing up. My dad claimed he was allergic (a “fact” that has since been debunked), so I didn’t have kittens in my home as a kid.
After I moved out of my parents’ house and finished school, I considered fostering, but never thought it was feasible. Where would I put them? I lived in a 740 sq. ft. 2-bedroom house. I thought I had no space for kittens.
Instead, I focused on TNR (trap-neuter-return) in my neighborhood, basically trying to prevent births of the cute little fluff balls I always oohed & ahhed over.
Pictured above: Feral Affairs Network kittens in foster care, snuggling in a *FAN Woobie Bed
I’d been helping a lady with her cat colony for a few months. The caretaker finally caught a reproducing female she’d been desperate to trap. As we were standing around patting ourselves on the back for nabbing the elusive baby-maker, I began hearing little mews from overgrown brush along the fence-line.
As I got closer, six (6!!!) tiny 3-week-olds came toddling out. Brain explosion! I was relatively new to TNR. Up to that point, I’d trapped adults for spay/neuter sterilization. I hadn’t signed on for kittens. I hadn’t been in rescue long enough to know this was NORMAL.
I wasn’t ready for kittens!
I had a moment of panic. I still remember the feeling: The one where you stand and stare blankly as so many things swirl in your head that you can’t form a coherent thought.
Now what? What can I do with six NURSING kittens and their unfriendly FERAL mom?
The caretaker wanted to return mom to be with her babies. Not an option! We’d never catch the trap-savvy cat again, but I had no place to hold everyone.
I gathered kittens in a carrier, loaded the trap with Mom in the car, and winged it!
When I got home, I cuddled the little ones briefly before putting them in the trap with Mom. The next morning I made a bee-line for my local shelter where I was a volunteer. After speaking to the operations manager, I signed a foster agreement.
FOSTERING: The shelter would lend me a large wire cage/crate to use, provide litter, kitten food, kitten toys and anything else I needed to ensure the kittens would thrive. I was also responsible for getting them to the shelter when vaccines were due.
I set up the crate in my spare bedroom and that’s where the little family lived until the kittens weaned and were eating on their own. Mama was spayed and returned to her outdoor home and her caretaker. As the kittens got older, I gated off the kitchen so they could have play time and possible “potty” accidents could be easily cleaned up. Soon, they were litter box masters and allowed to free-roam in the spare room. Within 5-6 weeks of bringing them home, they were big enough to be spayed/neutered and put up for adoption. Easy peasy.
Fast forward nine years, I’m more involved than ever in cat rescue. In addition to volunteering at the city shelter, I’m a volunteer for Feral Affairs Network (FAN). I joined in 2018 after seeing a plea on Facebook for fosters.
Since that night in 2013, I’ve done A LOT of fostering…more than I ever could have dreamed. And, if I’m honest, it’s more than I want to be doing currently.
Fostering kittens comes with the territory when TNR is involved. One constant is the desperate need for more and more fosters. Rescues and shelters cannot do important, life-saving work without open homes (and compassionate hearts) willing to take in and nurture the millions of kittens born each year.
In spite of FAN’s year-round TNR efforts in Hampton Roads, each spring brings an onslaught of more tiny “fluffers” born to feral mothers. These kittens need our community’s help to achieve an outcome better than a perilous life outdoors.
In the past two years, FAN has trapped over 500 kittens. We transfer a fair amount to rescue partners, as we are a smaller organization whose focus is TNR. But, we desperately need fosters for the ones we keep (that’s about 150-175 kittens per year).
If kittens don’t make you warm and gooey inside, temporary homes are also needed for surrendered cats who need a place to decompress before going up for adoption. Senior kitties need places to stay as they await their happily ever after. Injured kitties need temporary housing as they require specialized care during recuperation.
My journey into fostering started by chance that night in 2013. The solution to a problem. Kittens who needed their mother with no place to go. My mindset morphed from ‘I can NOT foster kittens’ to figuring it out, by adding one cage in the corner of a spare room, and six little lives were saved and made it into happily-ever-after forever homes.
When I realized I could make it work – fostering in my small space – I didn’t stop. I stacked cages on top of each other so I could foster multiple litters at a time. I rearranged the room to make space for additional cages. I replaced furniture with cat trees.
Today, my spare room is the kitten room. I encourage others to foster as well! FAN needs you. The masses of kittens need you.
You don’t have to go crazy like I did. The point is this: if you have ever considered fostering, DO IT! You won’t regret it.
There is a huge misconception that you need a lot of room. YOU DON’T! Kittens are tiny. One cage with bedding, a small litter box, water, food, and toys will suffice. Rescues are always looking for fosters and often provide supplies needed to help save kittens.
You may think 2 to 3 kittens won’t make a huge difference. IT WILL!
- >> Imagine how many lives could be saved if 10 new foster families took in 2 to 3 kittens each.
- >> Imagine if their friends thought “OMG…having kittens around is amazing!” (it is!) and started fostering themselves.
- >> Imagine how much stress you could take off a local rescue by taking kittens into your home for 1 to 2 months.
- >> Imagine how much compassion fatigue you might prevent in giving rescues more resources to save cats.
It can be done, but we need to get out of our own way. Time to stop dwelling on how we can NOT and focus on how WE CAN! Start with one cage in one corner of one room and build from there. Be a FOSTER. One step can change a life.