I Could Never Foster; I Would Never Give Them Up! – Part TwoBlogger
“Oh boy, was I wrong!”
After saying goodbye to Panda and Sweetie, I had sworn off fostering. My heart was just too fragile to ever do that again. Or so I thought. Panda and Sweetie didn’t last long on the adoption floor, because they had been socialized and grew up in a home environment. They actually settled in very easily into their new homes. For my husband and me, we were off to Yuma, AZ. A new duty station for him and a new job for me. This time I worked at the local Humane Society again, however it was a little different because it is the only animal shelter in the area. The closest other shelter was over 60+ miles away in El Centro, CA or 150+ miles away in Phoenix, AZ. They also had a different euthanasia policy. They are a smaller shelter than SDHS, didn’t have the financial backing, the space or staff. When I started working there, the euthanasia rate for cats was 70%.
It was because of that high euthanasia rate that sent my journey as a foster parent into overdrive. It was the sight of neonatal kittens, under 8 weeks of age, flooding in daily. If they were deemed Too Young To Survive (TYTS) (basically not eating or able to relieve themselves on their own), they would be taken straight to the euthanasia room upon intake. They didn’t have enough foster parents to support the high rate of kittens arriving day after day. As a staff member, it was heartbreaking to see. As a cat lover, it slowly started to feel like it was taking a part of my soul. These sweet innocent lives were being punished because humans had interfered.
When people bring neonatal kittens to a shelter, they have the best of intentions. However, most kittens that people find and say are abandoned or orphaned, are not actually in fact abandoned. Often times, mom had just left to find food, was in the process of moving them or had seen people come and had to run and hide because of her past experiences with people. This leads people to scoop them up and bring them into their local shelter thinking that is the best option for these little kittens. What most people do not realize is that most shelters are not equipped or staffed to handle the needs of neonatal kittens. Especially during what is known in the shelter world as the dreadful “Kitten Season.” Most people think it means kitten snuggle time and play time. What it really means is a tremendous number of neonatal kittens being euthanized, shelter staff leaving work in tears and the never ending flood just continuing the next day.
I am not telling this part of my journey to place blame on the shelter. As an open intake facility, they cannot control who brings what to their doors. This is a reality faced in shelters across the country every year. Millions of shelter/rescue workers face the problem of compassion fatigue. The easier solution that could save millions of animals and prevent compassion fatigue for the people trying to save them, is to spay and neuter. It is as simple as that. Preventing the problem at the source. Spaying and Neutering your pets before they have unwanted litters is as simple as visiting: www.spayusa.org. This even goes for a mama cat with her kittens. Once the kittens are old enough to be taken away from mama (8-12 weeks), mama can be fixed, ear tipped and released back to her neighborhood (assuming she is feral). Many rescues and shelters will take the kittens that are weaned, vet them and place them for adoption. This also goes for families who have an animal who has not been altered. Spay and neuter programs are a huge part of reducing the euthanasia numbers but the community has to be a part of the project.
Ok, back to what or who got me back into fostering again. It had been a crazy week of non-stop kittens flooding in and having to walk them back to that dreaded room. When things would get rough, I would always go into the nursery and love on some baby kittens. I mean come on, who could have a bad day when snuggling kittens? That is when I saw these two adorable kittens one charcoal grey and one orange little fluff ball. They were very scrawny and acting very sluggish in their kennel. Something about them just made me want to stay and snuggle them all day. Obviously that wasn’t a possibility since I was working, so I spoke to the foster coordinator about taking them home to foster. It could help them to be out of the shelter setting and would open up space to another batch of kittens that was continuing to hemorrhage into the shelter.
That evening when my shift ended, I headed home with my new batch of fosters, Charcoal (I know, super original) and Oliver (from Oliver and Company). That night I set up their kennel. A medium metal dog crate, lined with blankets, a litter box, toys, food and water. My husband and I each held one close with blankets while watching television. I could feel that they were very thin and needed to put on some weight. But I was worried because for their age, approximately 4-5 weeks, they were very sluggish and not bouncing off the wall like kittens their age should be. The next morning, I started to get clues as to why.
When I woke up the next morning to check on them, I saw in their litter box explosive diarrhea. In kitten world, that is not good at all. They can become dehydrated quickly and die in addition to it meaning they are not absorbing the nutrients from their food properly. So I spoke to the vet at work about bringing them in to be seen. When I did the next day, I noticed that their little bottoms were red and inflamed, it looked very painful and had a very strong odor coming out of them. To me, and I apologize for this but it is a reality, it smelled like death. Doc recommending that I put Preparation H on their bottoms and it should clear up. So I ran to the store to pick some up and went home and treated them right away. That night I snuggled them close and they fell asleep calmly on my chest before bed time.
Unfortunately, the next morning I awoke to find that Oliver had passed away overnight. I was heartbroken. What happened? I did everything I was told to do? What did I do wrong? Was it my fault? And now Charcoal was all alone. He didn’t understand what had happened at all. When I found his brother, he was snuggled up next his body. I took in Charcoal that day to the vet and explained what had happened to his brother, how the Preparation H didn’t help. He told me that sadly kittens are quite fragile. I spent that whole day at work racking my brain trying to figure out what I could have done better. What should I have done?
Halfway through the day, as the influx of kittens never seemed to have an end in sight, a singleton kitten came in and was placed in the nursery. He was a scrawny little tabby with big ears and big doe like eyes. The kennel staff had tried to put him in with another singleton kitten, so they could have someone to play with. However, the other kitty just kept beating him up. So there he was all alone in a kennel, scared and looking down. I went in to snuggle with the nursery kittens, as was part of my daily routine. That is when I met this little boy they called Doodle. When I picked him up he was nothing but purrs and happy paws a.k.a. making biscuits. But I noticed that he seemed dehydrated, so I took him back to the clinic staff and they gave him subQ fluids.
They told me to keep him warm, because the shock from the fluids being a little colder could kill him. So following doc’s orders, I placed this little 7-ounce baby named Doodle in my sports bra, so I could keep him warm and still type at my desk to get some work done. It was at that moment when I looked down at him sleep, next to my heart and just purring that I knew he would be coming home with me. Besides, Charcoal needed a friend, too. Why should either of them suffer being alone, when they both just wanted love?
When I got home, I introduced the boys together and they hit it off right away. They snuggled almost instantly. Every night, my husband and I had a routine, grab a kitten and snuggle while watching TV. But by Doodle’s second night, Charcoal’s fourth night, Charcoal seemed to be going downhill quickly too. He wasn’t eating like Doodle was and as wasn’t playful. Doc said that it could take a few days for the meds to take effect. Time isn’t always on our side with neonatal kittens so the best thing I could do was make sure they were eating. I was worried that I would lose Charcoal too.
The next morning, my fears had been confirmed. Charcoal was dead and this time Doodle was snuggled up against him. I panicked! I was off from work that day, but rushed him in to get seen. I wasn’t going to lose another kitten and begged Doc to put him on anything that might help. He was showing all the same symptoms as Charcoal and Oliver. Being lethargic now, explosive diarrhea, and his bottom was red and swollen and had that smell of death on him. He agreed and put him on a medication to hopefully help. I took him home and cried all day while syringe feeding Doodle water to make sure he would stay hydrated. I wasn’t going to lose him. Not again. Not this kitten!
I stayed up all night with him, syringe feeding him water and mush I had made from his canned food and warm water. Within just eight hours of being on his medicine, the smell of death had gone away. Doodle was getting up and moving and eating on his own. It was the longest 24 hours of my life. Within two days, he was running around our house like he didn’t have a care in the world. And from that moment on, I was a foster mom.
Knowing that these babies would have died alone and scared in their kennels, never knowing love, I just couldn’t do it. I had the space. I had the time. So what was I going to do, use the excuse that giving them up would be hard and let hundreds die. I just couldn’t. Not anymore once you have seen the problem. Once you have lived in that world and had to be the one to walk them back to that room, listening to them cry because they are hungry, cold and want their mommy. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I had to be part of the solution, not the problem. Yes, all my cats are fixed, but I have the capacity to foster and do my part, so I do.
Since losing Charcoal and Oliver, and having our sweet Panda and Sweet go and find loving homes, we have fostered a total of 122 felines. Mostly neonatal kittens, moms with babies and a few adults that just needed time to recover, recoup or a place to crash before going up for adoption. I have learned a ton about neonatal care through fostering. Now I would never have introduced Doodle to Charcoal while they were both sick. I will never know if Charcoal passed what he had to Doodle or it was just a coincidence. I continue to learn more every day, by reading the latest techniques on neonatal care, speaking with other foster parents and through the education that is given to me through Saving One Life, the rescue I foster for now.
I get asked all the time about if I worry about “foster failing,”but we have failed only once. Doodle won not only my heart, but my husband’s. He knew that after losing Charcoal and Oliver and having to nurse back Doodle, that he was never going to leave our home. Now Doodle helps raise the foster babies. He plays with them, teaches them how to groom properly and how to be a purrfect mitten. There definitely have been others, we swore would be the hardest to give up, but the reality is, if we failed again we would have to stop fostering. As a military family it is hard enough with our moving schedule every few years to find a place that will allow four cats, let alone us to foster. Five would be pushing it. Plus, we both feel it would be irresponsible to take in another kitty permanently, knowing hundreds would be sentenced to death in their place. So four is our max on fur kids and that is just fine with our fur kids.
Fostering has so many beautiful moments, some not so beautiful ones too, but knowing that you are making a positive difference not only in their lives, but their adopter’s lives and the world is an amazing feeling. Getting updates from adoptive families is some of the best moments in the world for a foster parent. It is such a joy to see that all your hard work is being treasured by their new family. There truly is no better feeling than that moment. All those late night feedings, moments of being covered in poop and crying when it is time to let them go, all just melt away. You saved them.
Please do not let my story scare you from starting your own foster journey. I take on the hard cases – the ones that most fosters do not have the training for. Because of my background working in shelters and with animal training, I enjoy taking on the medical and behavior cases since these felines are the most at risk for euthanasia. Saving One Life pairs fosters with felines and their skill set, comfort level and time constrains. If fosters only want kittens that are eating on their own and just waiting for surgery, they will be paired with healthy kittens just waiting for them to gain the last weight needed before surgery. Fosters are the backbone to all shelters and rescue groups. They are treasured members of that group’s family.
Do you want to give fostering a try? Worried about the cost? Don’t. Saving One Life provides all of the supplies needed for you to start your foster journey. All medical costs are covered as well. All you need to do is provide a safe space they can spend time to grow, before going up for adoption. We will match you with the felines fit your criteria.
To learn more about fostering, visit: www.savingonelife.org/get-involved/kitten-care-program