I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little they become its visible soul.
— Jean Cocteau (1889–1963)
For me, the main component of foster care is love; and love is also what is returned to you. On Friday we found out that our first little foster cat, Gizmo, was ready for adoption at the RSPCA East Burwood shelter. By Monday morning, she’d already been adopted. Friday’s news alone was wonderful to receive, but knowing that she has also found a home, a longed for forever home all of her own, why, that’s heart-warming, pure and simple.
Knowing that Louise and I assisted with a part of her new start is a wonderful feeling. When Gizmo came to us at the end of March, earlier this year, she was a little waif. She was believed to be a stray, and she looked more like a kitten in size than a four-year-old cat. She was from tiny tail to nose tip, full of pluck and spark, a real ‘tortitude.’ She blew bubbles when excited, and liked to curl up around your neck and shoulders for a nap. She also had a penchant for leaving her tongue out, and was something of a messy eater, preferring the floor to the unfamiliarity (perhaps) of the bowl. She was trusting, letting you cradle her body as you administered her medication, and could scale the scratch pole with apparent ease. Perched atop the pole, perfectly composed, she'd poke out her lolly pink tongue. Her expression appeared to say 'what?'
Seeing, up close, all the care, medical aid, and love that the staff at the RSPCA showered upon Case No. 863007 was restorative to my heart too; she was one of many, many tiny souls given freely a life altering, supporting hand. And in our home, Gizmo was able to learn how to live with other pets. In our home, we helped her to become strong and healthy. A whole lot of work goes in to getting animals ready to be adopted at a shelter. It is a slow process. It is, in this instance particularly, a rewarding process.
Like Gizmo, Mica, Rocky, and Ester are three cats at the East Burwood shelter looking to find their forever homes.
The most common question Louise and I are asked about fostering animals is: 'but how do you say goodbye? That’d be too hard.’ But this is not how I see it and it is not what I focus on. It is about helping an animal, or indeed anyone, when they need it. This is what is important. Whether or not it is hard to say goodbye doesn’t really come into it, for me. I see it as one less animal sleeping in a shelter. I see it as one animal recovering from surgery in a comfortable environment. I see it as one animal learning how to socialise with people and possibly other cats and dogs. I see it as helping them along the way. It is very easy to think things are too hard for the heart to bear, and as such to not bother. But then, that thinking leads to inaction, to doing nothing. It helps no one. It doesn’t feed kittens, ensuring they get to their correct weight. It doesn’t change kitty litters. It doesn’t comfort. There are many, many reasons being a foster carer might not be for you and all you already do, but because it is too hard to say goodbye should not be one of them. Besides, what is the worst that could happen? You become a ‘foster fail’ and you adopt the animal in your care. I’m pretty sure there are t-shirts for that.
For people thinking of adopting an animal, but who are unsure if they can commit to a dog or a cat or a guinea pig, foster caring might be a good way to see what it could be like. To experience first hand what an animal requires and what you need to and can give back. It is, to me, a situation in which everybody stands to benefit. The foster animal gets to experience a loving and safe environment, and moves one step closer to being able to be put in adoption with the hope of then finding their forever home. And the carer gets to feel like things are one step closer to Robert Browning’s ‘all’s right with the world.’ By focusing on one part you can mend, things do seem brighter. Fostering has quickly become my antidote to the prevailing 'I don't care, why bother' world-weary sentiment.
And if you already have pets, it is still possible to provide foster care. Essentially, all you need is a ‘safe house’ that is all theirs, like a bathroom or laundry, and to not leave them together unsupervised. So far, our pets, have all taken well to having two different foster cats stay with us, though it does take some adjustment. Our bathroom doubles as a ‘safe house,’ and our current foster cat sleeps on a heated pad underneath the towels. Slowly she is discovering how to get along with Olive and Lenni so that everybody can be cosy by the heater.
Animals need foster care because they are “too young, unwell, recovering from surgery, or they may need training to improve their behaviour. While [RSPCA] shelter staff and volunteers work very hard to provide a comfortable and enriching environment, many of [the] more vulnerable animals are stressed by the experience of being in a shelter. These animals recover and develop much more successfully when they are fostered in a home environment until they are ready to enter adoption. The length of foster care varies depending on the reason why the animal needs fostering. A young kitten may need two weeks of care in a foster home; an animal recovering from surgery may need more than three months. There are different fostering opportunities to suit the different time commitments each carer has available.” (RSPCA)
Love goes in, love comes out. Why not see if becoming a foster carer is for you?
The next Foster Care information session at the Burwood East shelter is on Sunday the 23rd of July, 2017.
Image credit: (detail of) Gwen John's (1876–1939) The Cat, c. 1905–08