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Are you ready to foster?

by Kelley Tish Baker

You’re sold on the cause and you can’t wait to jump in feet first. But wait. Before you head off to your local shelter, you need to do some serious reflection about your current life realities.

First ask yourself:

Do I have the time, energy, space and living situation that fostering demands?

Fostering is essentially a 24/7 gig. Just the basics of feline physical care can be time-consuming, especially if the cat is sick (as anyone who’s ever tried to pill a cat knows.) Even when you’re not feeding, playing, giving medications, scooping litter and so on, you are still responsible for your fosterling’s physical and emotional well-being. That means closely monitoring the cat’s behaviour and health and quite possibly taking the cat back to the shelter a few times for medical care.

In terms of space, a foster cat needs a quiet room — meaning low- to no-traffic — which is well ventilated, closed off and ideally has a window.

All members of your household, including your pets, should be prepared for your new guest. Pets must be healthy, have their shots up to date, and able to tolerate the presence of an unknown animal.

Households where there is a lot of stress (say due to a recent job loss or serious illness) or noisy activity (say renovating) are not good matches.

Still interested in fostering? If so, you need to ask yourself this one final question:

Am I prepared to open my heart to a cat for a few weeks or months, only to have to bid farewell?

After an often intense period of nursing a cat back to health, you can find yourself quite attached to your “patient.” The first few times you have to return your now healthy fosterling to the shelter can be very hard. But if you remind yourself of the impact you’re
making you’ll be able to let go with more grace.

That’s not to that returning you foster animal is the only loss the fostering experience can bring. Tragically, not all foster cats survive, despite your and the shelters’ best efforts. This can be devastating to foster guardians, who may feel like failures and want to drop out of the program. Don’t. Instead focus on the fact the cat wasn’t able to recover despite all the best care, illustrating the dire predicament of homeless cats. You’ll realize you are very much needed and your heartbreak will be tempered.

Kelley Tish Baker is a volunteer with the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies. This article was originally published in the Summer 2011 issue of Animal Welfare in Focus.

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