By Elisa Black-Taylor
There are several things to consider before fostering cats. While rewarding, you could end up with a lot of heartbreak as well as a dent in your wallet if you fail to check out the cat fostering rules at your shelter or the rescue you plan to foster through. You also need to prepare your home for fostering.
Here are some tips on what you should consider before taking foster cats into your life.
Fostering or Adopting?
The first thing you should do before fostering is to ask yourself whether you can bear to give up the cats you foster when a home becomes available. Most fosters have at least one foster failure on their record. By this I mean they adopt the cat they only meant to keep a short time. This is allowed in many cases, but it may limit the number of cats you have room to foster in the future.
Ask yourself whether you’ll be able to spend as much time with your resident cats as before. If you find you’ll have to cut into their playtime, it may be best not to foster.
Find out who supplies the food, medication and cat litter. Some shelters and rescue groups supply food, but not litter or medication. I received food and litter only once in a year and a half from the shelter. It was easier to walk out with a bottle of medication than it was a bag of cat food. This brings us to the subject of what to do should a cat/kitten become ill.
While researching just a bit for this article, I came across several horror stories. On some occasions rescues or shelters who sponsor the foster cat refuse to allow medical treatment for a sick feline. One lady lost every kitten she was fostering because no one was willing to foot the vet bill until it was too late.
When I fostered, I was often given a round or two of antibiotics just in case. Most of the cats I took in were sick and in need of medication anyway. The contract I had to sign at the shelter stated I wouldn’t seek major veterinary treatment without first consulting with the shelter.
I also did some private fostering for about a year. Those cats were supported by the person who asked me to care for them. We currently have one cat in a foster care situation. Hopefully he’ll be joining his mommy next year.
Dedicated Area for Foster Cats
Have a special area in your home for your foster cats. This is especially important when you take in a mother cat and her kittens. It’s not a good idea to allow your personal cats near the kittens because it could instigate fights and the kittens could be harmed or killed.
Most of our fosters didn’t want to be with the general cat population anyway. They chose to stay either in Laura’s bedroom or my bedroom. The exception was Brinkley. He’s one of our two foster failures. He enjoyed being around the other cats. He still does. Brinkley settled in so well we adopted him. He’s our FIV+ kitty.
Sealy was our other failed foster. Laura and I fell in love with him the first weekend. Due to the nature of his injury, I decided it best to adopt Sealy so we could be in control of the medical care he would need for the next several months. Sealy lived in two cages during the first four months. One was in my bedroom and the other was in the living room. In his case, the cages were necessary to keep him wound clean and to avoid injury. It would have been very difficult for us (as well as for Sealy) to nurse him back to health and then let him go.
Make sure your resident cats are all up to date on vaccines. Cats and kittens coming from a shelter are often sick. If not visibly ill, they may carry germs that can infect your resident cats.
Sanitize, sanitize, sanitize. Especially during the first few weeks. Wash your hands before as well as after handling your foster cats. Use hand sanitizer and change your clothes if at all possible. Some germs are carried on clothing and you may infect every cat you have if you aren’t changing clothes. This is one reason panleuk spreads so quickly in a shelter. The shelter staff may wash their hands, but the germs that remain on their smocks can infect any cat they come in contact with. It would be nearly impossible to ask staff to change a hundred times a day, and most rescues foster out cats they got from a shelter. There are very few litters that didn’t go through the shelter first.
Know Your Limits
Let the shelter or rescue you agree to foster for know your limits. Some cat lovers aren’t cut out to bottle feed newborn kittens. The rescue or shelter won’t know you can’t handle bottle feeding a kitten unless you tell them. Also determine how long you’re willing to foster a particular litter. There are short term fosters where the kittens only stay a few weeks, to long term where a cat may stay for many months.
I only ran into one really bad situation during the time I was fostering. . It was with an FIV+ cat named Alto. He was very aggressive and HAD to have his own room. I felt sorry for him, even though he received tons of love from us. We thought it would be a short term stay. Unfortunately, it was very difficult finding a rescue willing to take Alto. I contacted the shelter and was told if I brought him back, he’d be euthanized due to lack of space. Alto stayed with us over three months until an FIV+ rescue had a space come open. It was better to keep him alone in my bedroom than to take him back to the shelter. He never complained. Chances are he made someone a good bed buddy. He just hated other cats.
I had a few of my fosters for several months, but the average time was two to three weeks. Dolly and Fox were the fastest to find permanent homes. Cam took a bit longer, but found a private adopter through the shelter. Cam was another of our toothless cats. As with the others without any teeth, she ate anything we put in front of her. I was in touch with her adoptive mother up until the time she got Cam. Dolly was very hard to let go. She reminded me so much of my first cat Smoky.
Cat fosters are needed no matter where you may live. If you choose to join those who care for cats until a home can be found, notify your local shelter. They can put you in touch with area rescues or discuss their own fostering needs.
A cat foster family plays an important role in placing the cat in a permanent home. Many times a foster can determine whether the cat will do well around kids, dogs or other cats. We’ve had a few who were only suited for homes where the cat would be the only pet.
In closing, I’d like to say this is an excellent way to find out whether you’re ready for a permanent cat. Few situations in life allow you to try something out before you commit. Fostering cats is a good way to learn whether you want a long term relationship with a cat or whether short term, only when you want it, is better for your lifestyle.
For every cat that goes into foster care, a space opens up for another cat in need. Fostering means saving the life of a cat who could otherwise be euthanized for lack of space.