By Guest Author Chelsy Ranard
My Experience as a First-Time Kitten Foster
My first babies were Winker, Blinker, Dozer, and Defcon. They were all sisters, and I didn’t even have them for a month before they were big enough to be spayed and put out on the adoption floor to find their forever families. They were great girls for me to take care of in order to learn about the entire foster process and how it would work for me. I worried about how my schedule would work, if my space was right for them, and if I could handle the emotional side of fostering. What I learned was that it was a lot easier in some ways and a lot harder in others. Overall, fostering for the first time was extremely rewarding for my entire household.
One of my biggest worries when fostering cats was that my schedule wouldn’t work with what the kittens would need. I do work from home, but I also have a busy schedule outside of work. What I learned was that there was a lot of flexibility in fostering. For example, I was initially given a shorter foster period that only required a few weeks of my time. My kittens were older and didn’t need to be bottle fed. And the program that I am involved with has babysitters who could take my babies if I needed to go out of town. Granted, not all foster programs are created equal, but in my case it was rather flexible.
In a work-from-home situation, there are some tips to follow in order to effectively work remote. Everyone works a little differently, but I was afraid that fostering kittens would destroy my productivity. It’s important to have a routine, keep your boundaries, and stay focused. Who wouldn’t want to sit in a room full of kittens instead of working all day? However, the kittens became a part of my routine quite easily, and I found I did need a break from them — not only to stay productive at work but also because fostering is work in itself.
Having the Right Space
Another worry that prospective fosters may have is that they don’t have the right space. In my case, I have a spare room, but I also have a giant dog and a grumpy older cat who run my home. I also have frequent visitors and a ton of nooks and crannies for kittens to hide in. What I found was that I had the freedom to create the space that worked for my home and that baby gates were a great resource. Each foster program teaches you to segregate your babies for a while, and my space worked for that. Even just a bathroom is a great space for some fosters to grow in. Slowly I was able to socialize the fosters with my own animals and always did so with very close supervision.
However, not all spaces are perfect to foster cats. Though there are positives and negatives associated with renting and home ownership, owning your home is great because you don’t have many stipulations on animals in your home. If you rent, you may need to discuss fostering with your landlord. Each foster program may require different necessities for the right environment for fostering cats, but many only require a clean, safe room while your kitties grow. In my case, the foster program supplied absolutely everything including food, litter, cat litter boxes, toys, beds, and blankets.
Kittens Are Messy (but oh so cute)
There’s no way around it: Kittens are messy — all babies of any species are messy. Kittens like to get into things, rip things up, play in their litter box, and step in their food. Before I fostered, I volunteered cleaning rooms in my local cat shelter; so I thought I knew how destructive kittens could be. However, it’s a lot different when it’s your home. My carpeted spare room saw a lot of the disarray, but I learned how to keep up with the mess:
- Clean their room daily: Cleaning the litter box each day at a minimum will help with the mess. Kittens are just learning how to use their litter boxes, so sometimes they miss, step in their waste, or kick litter everywhere. Cleaning daily will help to keep the mess under control.
- Create the right environment: You might not know the type of subflooring you have in your home, but some of it can be damaged by getting damp. Try to pick a room with flooring that won’t be damaged by a spilled water bowl (they like to play in their water) or litter box misses. This is why a bathroom is a great environment to keep them in. Consider putting down a temporary floor if you have carpet or other materials that you don’t want to get wet.
- Keep an eye out for potential messy situations: Picking up food bowls/plates, removing curtains, and picking up anything they can spill is important. By removing these potential messes, you’ll save yourself a lot of cleanup.
- Provide them with toys: Distract kittens from making messes out of the wrong things by providing them with the right toys. Scratching posts, balls, toys, boxes, and interactive toys are a big necessity with curious babies running around. Plus, it’ll keep their energy focused on a toy that’s meant for them. Play is an essential part of growing up and getting their abundant energy focused on the right items and will set them up for success in their forever family homes.
- Utilize blankets: Putting little blankets or towels under their cat boxes, food, and water will help to contain some messes when they happen. They get bunched up and yanked out, but it still helps to create a barrier between certain messy areas and the floor.
“Our hearts will break just a little so that theirs never have to break again.”
Going Through the Emotions
Thankfully, I have not experienced losing a foster baby over the rainbow bridge, though I know that’s a real possibility — especially for bottle babies or those who are sick. And I have experienced this type of loss with an elderly cat I adopted.
Fostering is a different type of loss. I didn’t realize initially how emotional it was going to be to give them back. I knew they were going back to an amazing, cageless, no-kill organization, so I knew they’d be safe. But it was hard because I wanted to (and obviously couldn’t) explain to them that I wasn’t abandoning them and that they didn’t have to be scared. I felt that through staying in my home, they learned to associate me with comfort and love, and I was leaving them when they counted on me. It was heartbreaking.
The emotional side was the hardest part — harder than cleaning up after them, harder than the pain of tiny claws in my legs, harder than coaxing them out of my boxspring when they decided to hide before bedtime. However, it’s important to remember you’re doing a job that will aid them in finding a home that’s best for them. If you don’t give them back, you can’t keep more space open to foster more cats. It’s hard, there’s no way around that, but it’s important to remember why you decided to foster in the first place.
It only took a few weeks for all four of my girls to find their forever homes. Winker and Blinker even got adopted together. My husband and I rejoiced when we read about their adoption stories and still talk about them often. Soon, I’ll receive my second group of short-term fosters and go through the process all over again. When it gets hard I’ll remember something I read about the whole foster experience that stuck with me: Our hearts will break just a little so that theirs never have to break again. My experience as a first-time kitten foster parent was fun, crazy, hectic, amazing, and heartbreaking all in one, and I can’t wait to do it again.