Cat Fostering: My Experience and Q&A

By Erin Sherrill February 03, 2019

Six years ago, I embarked on a transformative journey by becoming a foster cat parent. Read on to learn more about my cat fostering experience.

I've always loved animals. All my life, my family had pets in the home. We mostly had dogs, but when I got a bit older, we adopted a cat. He was one of the most intriguing and lovable creatures I've ever had the pleasure of knowing; he certainly sparked my interest in the world of cats.

Fast forward ten years later: I was fresh out of college and trying to build up my resume. I wanted to find a meaningful way to do it, so I began volunteering with my local county's animal shelter. My volunteer work started with cleaning cat kennels at the satellite adoption center. Yes, I was cleaning litter boxes and wiping down stainless steel surfaces. But I was mainly focused on the cats and their personalities. I felt good helping them, even though I was merely cleaning up after them.

This experience led me to apply for a customer service job at the shelter I was volunteering with. When I got the position, I was so excited to get the opportunity to funnel my time and energy into something I felt would truly make the world a nicer place – uniting animals in need with people who wanted a pet to love and take care of. Even though I found a job I was excited about, I no longer had time to continue with volunteer work at the satellite adoption center. So I started looking for new ways to continue volunteering. As you could imagine, I didn't want to do something that would warrant being at work during my time off; however, I still wanted to help animals as much as I could. 

I noticed the volunteer office of the shelter was always buzzing with people. People there would be running back and forth with carriers full of kittens, dogs, puppies, and cats. After investigating a bit more, I learned that many of these people were volunteer animal foster parents. I knew from experience how many animals came into the shelter each day and how hard it sometimes was for staff to keep up with their needs (much less provide them with all of the attention they deserved). I decided that I wanted to do something about that – and that's how I became a foster parent. After a brief application and screening period, I was approved to begin fostering.

Since the volunteer team was already familiar with me as a coworker and knew that I had good foundational knowledge, my first foster experience was a mother and her four kittens. Moreover, each cat was battling a viral infection. I'll admit, it felt extremely overwhelming to have five sick cats coming home with me. Not to mention that I already have two cats at home which I shared with a very laidback roommate. Since my foster cats were mostly sick as-of-yet unvaccinated kittens, there wasn't an option of bringing them into a shared space with my two adult cats. Therefore, I prepared an isolated area for them where they would live during their stay with me. This was a room between my upstairs apartment and my downstairs neighbor's apartment (which she, of course, approved of first).

The shelter provided me with everything that I would need to take care of the fosters, including a large travel kennel, syringes, medications, eye drops, food, litter, toys, blankets, towels, and cardboard litter pans (for easy disposal). Each morning, I got up extra early to make sure I had time to give all of the kittens and their mom their medications, change their litter box and linens, refresh their water, and feed all of them. I would also try to budget enough time to play with them before work. After work, I would check on them again, play with them, and observe their behavior. Since they had only been assigned intake numbers at that point, I even gave them all names. 

After a few weeks of our routine, their symptoms had disappeared. It was time to take them back to the shelter to get the rest of their vaccinations. Afterwards, they were placed into the adoption area. Due to hundreds of cats being available for adoption at any given time, I was sadly unable to track their adoption journey. I am still unsure of their statuses.

After successfully nursing my first cat family back to health, I did the same for a trio of kitten brothers. Before bringing them home, I thoroughly cleaned the area where they would live. From there, I treated them similarly to the previous fosters, eventually returning them back to the shelter for health evaluations, vaccinations, neutering, and placement into the adoption area. In the end, the three boys went on to stay at our satellite adoption center, with all three eventually being placed into new homes.

I can't say the fostering experiences were all fun and games, though there were plenty of those moments. Plus, kittens are adorable! The hardest part was getting to know and love the fosters, but having to surrender them back to the shelter. It was hard to reconcile with my emotions. However, I reminded myself that the people at the shelter would do their best to find the cats new homes with people who would treat them right, love them, and keep them safe. I had to place my trust in the process. Sometimes, I debated adopting a few of my fosters myself, but I knew that I already had my hands full, both in regards to space and my finances, with two cats at home.

So if I had the chance, would I do it all again? Absolutely! I believe that fostering those cats gave them a better chance at living long healthy lives. The process made them better prepared so they could eventually find permanent loving homes.

Cat Fostering Question and Answer

  • What is fostering?

Fostering is providing a temporary home and family for an individual(s). This may involve nursing the individual(s) back to health and/or helping them work out behavioral or emotional issues.

  • What makes a good foster candidate?

A good foster candidate needs to have some basic animal knowledge and be willing to set aside time in his/her schedule to provide care for the foster(s). This includes getting to know the personality of the foster and building up their trust. A good foster candidate also needs to have fairly high emotional strength, whether it's dealing with the foster being placed into a new home or realizing that the foster is not adjusting well to living with you. Failure happens sometimes, but it is just a part of the process.

  • Can you foster if you already own pets?

It's possible that people who already have pets can become foster parents. However, that is dependent upon the needs of the foster. For example, not all cats get along well with other cats. Or, if you are fostering a sick individual, it is likely not suitable to expose the sick foster to other animals. Sometimes a workaround is possible if there is a special area in your home in which you can keep the foster separated from other animals. Also, it is important for your pets to be current on their vaccinations before a foster is brought in. This helps protect your existing pets and the newcomer.

  • What should first-timers know about fostering?

Fostering can be full of emotional highs and lows. The process requires a lot from a foster parent, both physically and mentally. Those considering fostering should also keep in mind that damages to the home may occur and are not necessarily reimbursable. For this reason, it is important to do what you can to pet-proof the home. Moreover, remember that the foster may not ever get adopted; health and behavioral variables are ultimately the deciding factors. Foster parents should keep in mind that it's critical to follow any directions provided to them by the adoption agency.

  • Do you need to buy supplies for the foster cat?

It depends. Many adoption organizations cover veterinary bills, food, and supplies that may accrue. But make sure you are clear on these terms with the adoption organization before taking your foster home. Also be aware of any special medical or dietary needs before purchasing supplies on your own.

  • What if you decide to adopt your foster cat?

If you decide you'd like to adopt your foster cat, talk to the adoption organization of your foster and prepare to undergo the same process any applicant would – a home visit and screening. Note that you may have done this already before you got approved to foster; if so, this process would likely be waived for your adoption. Remember that the adoption process can take time.

  • How do you give up your foster cat if he/she has found a permanent home?

First of all, it's very helpful if you can provide as much information as possible for the adopting individual or family. Since foster parents have first-hand experience with the cat and are familiar with its habits, mannerisms, preferences, etc., they can provide some of the best advice. Coordinate everything with the adoption organization you are volunteering with. In some cases, you will meet the adopting family yourself, but in other situations, you will likely bring your foster back to the adoption center for the adoption to take place. Some organizations may even send you on a home visit to assess the conditions before the adoption can be approved.

  • How do you give up your foster cat if he/she does not find a permanent home and you no longer want to foster?

Contact the organization you're volunteering with so that they can direct you to what your next steps will be. Never take the cat to another adoption facility or give it away to a friend.

  • Why should others consider fostering?

Many pet owners do not spay or neuter their pets, and others abandon their pets. This ever-growing population of animals needs people to provide care. If you choose to become a foster parent, you'll acquire new skills that you can apply in sometimes unexpected ways. As an example, my experience built up my emotional tolerance and led me to my current job as an Operations Manager at a zoo where I address all visitor needs.

Fostering is also a great way to try out pet ownership. It will show you whether or not you have the time, energy and desire to have a pet of your own. Fostering is a nice option, too, if you can't have a long-term pet of your own. No matter what, fostering gives the animal a wonderful experience with individualized attention. The process assists with the healthy development of the foster, which may increase the likelihood of their adoption.

  • Can I foster if I rent my home?

This varies from place to place, so make sure you check with your landlord before fostering a cat or any other animal. Generally, you will not be approved to adopt without written or verbal consent from the person who owns your home.

  • Can I foster sick animals without special training?
It is possible, but the fostering of sick animals is often reserved for more experienced foster parents. If you are interested in fostering sick animals, be sure to let your adoption agency know. This can be very helpful, as many people do not wish to take on sick animals.

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