Fostering Kittens Has Changed My Heart

Your heart breaks for a little while so theirs will never break again.

At the beginning of 2020, before any of us could have predicted the Covid-19 pandemic, I created a New Year’s resolutions list for myself of all I hoped to accomplish during this year. On that list, I included that I wanted to foster kittens. I currently have two cats of my own and have always had a soft spot for animals, cats and kittens in particular. I wanted to make a difference and nurture some fur babies before they went to their forever homes.

This year I have fostered three kittens — Jet, Juniper and Ollie. Jet and Juniper were my first fosters, a tuxedo boy and a tortie girl, and they came to me as stray kittens who were only four weeks old. Juniper, a beautiful tortoiseshell girl, had an eye infection and both kittens were scared, unfamiliar with people, and undersocialized. They were in my home for seven weeks and they found their forever homes at eleven weeks old. When I dropped them off at the Humane Society on a Friday, they had already been adopted by the end of the weekend. I was elated and proud of how far they had come, while also sad that I couldn’t keep them.

My current foster, Ollie, is an eight week old gray and white kitten with cerebellar hypoplasia (CH). This condition is defined as a developmental condition in which the cerebellum of the brain fails to develop properly. The cerebellum is the portion of the brain that controls fine motor skills, balance, and coordination. The condition is not painful or contagious.

Ollie is a very quiet kitten who immediately had my heart. He loves to play, give kisses, snuggle, and he has a voracious appetite. He is currently in kitten quarantine before I’ll introduce him to my two cats; I’ve learned through my fostering journey that they are excellent foster brothers. They teach the kittens manners, play with them, and help them become socialized with other animals.

During a year like 2020, which has had its share of disappointments, despair and darkness, it feels wonderful to make a positive impact in the life of an animal who needs love, care, and safety. Animals have a way of making their way into our hearts and the experience of being a foster mom to kittens has solidified my belief that all animals deserve a loving home and a chance at life. It’s also taught me the value of sharing my love wholeheartedly with these little creatures, while also releasing attachments when it’s time for the kittens to find their forever homes.

When I’m tempted to keep the kittens I foster, which is often called “foster failing,” I remind myself of a quote I read when I first began researching how to foster:

Your heart breaks for a little while so theirs will never break again.

If you are wanting to foster kittens, be prepared for both the joy that comes from nurturing these little lives, and the heartbreak that occurs when it’s time to say goodbye.

I’ve learned also how to be the best foster mom I can be by opening my home and heart to Jet, Juniper and Ollie. Here are some tips I’ve learned through trial and error these past few months:

Follow cat behaviorists and expert foster parents like The Kitten Lady, Youngest Old Cat Lady and Jackson Galaxy. They have excellent resources and are experts in cat behaviors.

Use pellet litter (recycled paper, wood shavings) with small kittens. It doesn’t get caught on their paws and is much easier to sweep up if they kick the litter outside of their litter box.

Pay attention to your foster kitten. Each one has a distinct personality and has different tolerance levels for touch, cuddling, and play.

Don’t use your hands to play with your kitten. If the kitten bites you while playing, replace your hand with a toy. Kicker toys are excellent for repurposing biting behaviors.

If your foster kitten has a high scratch drive, teach them to use scratchers and scratching posts. Cats have a natural instinct to scratch and any cat owner will tell you that declawing is an abomination in the world of cat parenting. Instead, give them a healthy outlet for their scratch drive and use positive reinforcement to help them learn where is okay to scratch, and where isn’t.

When fostering, you’ll need to quarantine your kittens for at least seven days if you have other animals in the home to prevent the spread of communicable disease. When introducing your foster kittens to your resident cats, go slowly and make sure to also give your resident cats attention and one-on-one time so as to reassure them that they are still loved.

If you aren’t currently able to foster, consider donating money or supplies to your local Humane Society. Animals will always be in need and any help you can give makes a difference!

A millennial English teacher navigating the world with lots of coffee, books and 2 cats. Just writing about life. Insta: @thepoeenglishteacher

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