By Tom Prince
My wife and I decided in November last year last year to try fostering animals. Our much-loved and elderly cat had passed away a few months earlier and since the staff at The Lost Dogs’ Home Frank Samways Veterinary Clinic had always provided deeply compassionate care, we felt that fostering was a way for us to give something back.
There was only one concern: even though we consider ourselves to be moderately experienced “cat people” neither of us had raised a kitten (let alone four kittens!) or fostered an animal before.
Here are five surprising things we learnt along the way – along with one twist at the end.
1) It’s a way to ease back into animal companionship
My wife and I were fully conscious that we were not quite ready to commit to at least another decade of animal companionship. Yet the absence of a cat at home was something we felt quite acutely.
Fostering therefore seemed like a good balance between the benefits animal companionship while not (yet) embarking on years-long commitment.
Fate would bring into our home a young queen (mother cat) named Dolly and her litter of two-week-olds. At first we weren’t sure how we’d respond, but we quickly discovered that having these gorgeous animals reside with us was a good way to ease back into animal companionship.
Quite simply, the presence of these creatures was a strong reminder of why we choose to live with animals, even though there is no expectation that you adopt your foster animal (although that option is always there if you change your mind).
2) Fostering directly helps an animal’s adoption prospects
Kitten season peaks during the warmer months, which means that shelter resources and facilities are at capacity.
This means that a kitten that’s fostered in a home will (hopefully) received a maximum amount of human attention and love. In turn, interacting with your foster animal not only provides it with care and help build its confidence – you also help it socialise with humans.
This last part was something we found to be especially fulfilling. Fostering doesn’t just ease the burden on the Lost Dogs Home facilities and the staff. Your actions directly help an animal’s adoption prospects.
3) Everything you need is covered: food, litter, vet bills, pads…
Responsible pet ownership inevitably comes with the financial cost of feeding, toys and vet bills.
One unexpected benefit of fostering via the Lost Dogs Home was the fact that everything was covered. This included all litter, food specific to the needs of kittens and Queen cats, pee pads and even the carry cage. Crucially, this also applied to all vet visits for the duration of the fostering period.
Not only that, but I also found that topping up on supplies was also easy. If something ran low, I simply dropped by the centre and grabbed what I needed. It was convenient and it allowed us to spend more time caring for our animals and less time worrying about logistics.
4) You’re guided along the way
We found that the guidance throughout the whole fostering process proved to be very helpful. The phone and email exchanges when we registered to be fosterers, the face-to-face exchanges with a member of the fostering team prior to collection, and the ongoing support throughout – it all gave us the confidence to know that we were on the right path.
For those on social media there’s also the LDH – Foster Carers Facebook group. It’s a community of like-minded people and while it’s not a substitute for proper veterinary advice, it’s a great way to hear from the many people out there doing the same as you.
5) Kittens are an irresistible social draw card
As mentioned, social integration is a crucial fostering goal. For instance, kittens after a certain age require active exposure to different forms of human contact. This means daily handling, playing and, vitally, getting accustomed to being around different people.
At first we asked friends and families if they would like to see the kittens and help socialise them. However, we soon found that we were getting visits from all sorts of people. For instance, we were visited by some of my wife’s workmates who were considering adopting a cat. Similarly, various family members just loved hanging out with them, with one six-year-old in our family particularly enamoured by these little creatures.
The mere presence of kittens, we found, was a guaranteed social ice breaker and the act of fostering had the effect of bringing together friends and family.
A final word
Fostering animals is not without its challenges. Kittens can get messy and smelly. As they develop, they find ways to worm their way into just about any piece of furniture. And sometimes they can be right little terrors (case in point: my wedding band, thoughtlessly left on my bedside table, went missing and was presumed lost, before reappearing a few days later in another room).
And yet, we found it difficult to part ways when the time came for these animals to be adopted.
We’d bonded with them, learnt their quirks and habits, and named them: Philip, Bubbles, Hercule and Little Dolly (named for her physical resemblance to her mother). Over six weeks we cleaned up vast quantities of cat litter, had to isolate or make adjustments to a lot of furniture, and learned to sleep with kittens thundering through the bedroom at odd hours.
And you know what? It was immensely rewarding and we have had it any other way. We’d recommend it to anyone with the patience, dedication and a suitable home.
Oh, and after all that we adopted the mother cat.
The fostering period permitted us to get to know her character and it was through this that we grew to love her. At this very moment she’s probably snoozing away happily in front a window. That simply wouldn’t be the case right now if we hadn’t decided to foster animals in the first place.
Tom Prince is a Melbourne-based freelance writer, aspiring author and cat lover