Should I foster a baby animal? Which?
September 24, 2016 8:06 AM   Subscribe

I've never had pets. I know my household cannot absorb a forever pet. But I have some time and I want to snuggle baby animals. Tell me your good and bad animal fostering experiences and help me figure if I'm a good candidate for an animal foster mom.

Here's the family profile:

I'm - probably temporarily, but who knows for how much longer - a stay at home mom to two gentle, responsible, sensitive children who go to elementary school during the early part of the day.

My husband, who works long hours, is a cat lover, and has owned bunnies in the past.

We don't have any pets now, because we don't have the extra budget it takes to care properly for an animal - including the cost of vet care, cleaning, wrecked furniture, etc - and don't want the commitment to finding care when traveling. Also, I absolutely cannot have fleas in the house - I am allergic; and we cannot afford to tent the house again after the hideous bedbug disaster we had a while ago. I don't have much of a sense of humor about poop in wrong places. I get stressed out when things are dirty.

Reading about kitten fosters, it sounds like you need a dedicated room. We have a spare room that is rarely used. It is (white) carpeted, but I could probably...(?) get a dropcloth onto the floor and bed to protect it against accidents. (Maybe? Or would kittens just crawl under it and get hurt?)

Is wanting to snuggle and care for baby animals for a while, but knowing that I cannot keep one, a good reason to foster, if the rest of the family is on board? Could I reasonably expect flea-free fosters? Is doing this in a carpeted room a recipe for disaster? What happens at the end of the foster period - do I have to keep them until someone adopts them, or is there a finite commitment? Would my kids be traumatized by coming to love an animal and having to give it away? What else should I think about before deciding whether to approach an organization?
posted by fingersandtoes to Pets & Animals (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: If costs and mess and wrecked furniture are concerns, I'd suggest you volunteer at an animal shelter rather than fostering, because temporary pets incur all those things just like permanent ones. (Also, white carpet is indeed a barf and poop magnet.)
posted by Sweetie Darling at 8:18 AM on September 24, 2016 [16 favorites]

Best answer: Pets eliminate in the wrong places sometimes, especially baby pets. They can be dirty and/or gross sometimes, and can damage furniture. Fleas can be prevented but not completely avoided with 100% certainty.

Respectfully, I don't think fostering is right for you.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 8:18 AM on September 24, 2016 [12 favorites]

Best answer: For kitten fostering: how old are your kids? Some places don't allow households with children under a certain age to adopt or foster kittens. I would check on that.

Fostering kittens is a huge gift to the shelter, the kitties themselves and to their forever owners. You can help them become socialized with humans, which is a huge part of making sure their forever-adoptions are actually permanent. You a really are doing something important for the community in taking this on!

Have you looked at the Itty Bitty Kitty Committee blog? I recommend reading it and asking Laurie any questions you have about fostering! She has fostered about 200 kittens and been an instrumental part of them all finding homes. Full disclosure: she fostered our two cats and that's how my husband found them.
posted by Pearl928 at 8:19 AM on September 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Can only speak for cats, myself: kittens are WORK. And mess! They can and probably will get into everything... yes, they will absolutely end up under the dropcloth and they will love it. Kittens are cats on hard mode, tiny and fast and needy and delicate. Volunteering at an animal shelter sounds like a much better fit!
posted by Baethan at 8:38 AM on September 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: There is always a risk of fleas with foster kittens. You don't need to pay for vet care, and the kittens are probably clean, but you never know. And they're still learning where to poop.

Often there are older cats available who have minor illnesses or need to be socialized -- by then they know how to use a litter box (though the first time in a new house they might have an accident, it would not likely be more than the once), they will be flea free, etc. If you want to foster cats, I would look at not the tiny little babies who are absolute monsters and can get into anything because they are so little, but at the older cats.
posted by jeather at 8:42 AM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seconding volunteering at an animal shelter to get your fur fix. It would probably be better for you at this time than having kittens in your actual house - kittens are the most adorable creatures living, but they poop, pee, eat messily, and DESTROY things.

I know that the no-kill shelter near me has "summer camp" type programs for kids where they can socialize with dogs and cats. If your kids are old enough, maybe a shelter in your area offers kid programs for them?

There are also older cats who need foster homes, to prepare them for adoption. A calm, child-friendly older cat might be a good fit for you if you really want to foster.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:45 AM on September 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

We are the proud servants of two cats. One of whom we recently adopted as a kitten via some friends who foster.

Honestly, in terms of costs and the problems you describe, the cats we permanently consider our bosses are pretty easy. The grownup cat doesn't do any of that stuff except occasionally poop outside the litter box/cough up hair balls. But cleaning that stuff up isn't really any more disgusting than cleaning the litter box in the first place, so, meh. The kitten will occasionally do something annoying like knock over a glass, chew a cord, or scratch the couch*. This hasn't resulted in significant property damage. When we travel, we just ask a friend to look in on them in exchange for dinner or something. (Going away for more than a week or so would be more complicated, I agree.)

Our cats need minimal vet care, though this is something I worry about as our older cat gets older and weirder.

However, we're pretty good friends with the folks who fostered our kitten, and we've watched what they tend to go through. They get the tough cases. Whether that's a litter of newborn abandoned kittens who need round the clock care, a semi-feral Savannah Cat who can't be trusted not to bite and scratch everything to death, strays who fear for their lives and hide in impossible to reach places, cats that aren't housetrained at all, whatever.

The idea that having one or two permanent cats with relatively stable personalities is harder than fostering is... weird. To say the least.

*In a manner that would probably annoy Martha Stewart and which I wouldn't want if we had heirloom quality antiques, but on our IKEA furniture is mostly just tedious.
posted by Sara C. at 8:51 AM on September 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

If your main barrier to cat ownership is financial, you might be a good candidate for fostering an older animal. If you do "respite care", or care for other fosters when _they_ go on vacation, you won't have to worry about an open-ended commitment.

People don't think of this aspect of fostering, but there's a real need for vacation or respite care. See if a local rescue organization has a way of doing this.

They really need this over Christmas and Thanksgiving (if you're in the US) and in the summer.
posted by amtho at 9:24 AM on September 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I am a an animal shelter volunteer and kitten fosterer. My current house guests are a pair of 4 week old kittens that were recently weaned and are learning to eat wet food. This is not a neat and clean process and I would not want to do it on carpet! Having a dedicated room is a good idea and the one I have has a linoleum floor, which is easily cleaned from food and litterbox mishaps.

They are a ton of fun to snuggle and play with, but also cry for attention if I am not in the room. They get into and under everything - including underfoot (yikes - have to be careful where you step). Kitten-proofing their space is really important - including keeping electrical cords out of reach.

These two came to me as healthy as I have ever seen shelter kittens look, but one week in, one of them has started to sneeze . . . which may develop into a situation where I will need to give antibiotics. This is not uncommon with shelter kittens. I also have to weigh them every three days to make sure they are gaining weight appropriately. The shelter covers vet care and meds, but I buy their food and litter . . . and beds and toys and all the other little things that come up.

It is absolutely worth it! But if you have never done it before, I would definitely recommend volunteering at the shelter first. You will have an opportunity to visit the kitten area and get an idea of what it takes and also network with other volunteers who can be great resources and support for you if you decide to continue on this venture.
posted by ainsley at 9:36 AM on September 24, 2016 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I loved my foster kittens, but they will poop on everything you love. A lot of the minor medical issues kittens suffer result in diarrhea. Cleaning up after them constantly is part of the job. They also broke stuff and left tooth marks on our plants. It's best to keep them confined to the bathroom and keep them semi-supervised when they're in the rest of the house.

Two other things about them: you may have to give them shots or medicine and they will fight you all the way on that; there may be situations where you're stuck with monitoring and medicating while the vet is out of town on a weekend. And finally, your rescue may pressure you to take more than a few-- try not to have more than four kittens at once, it's too difficult.

The best solution is to have a mama cat with kittens because the mama will feed them, keep track of them, and clean up after them nearly completely, and if they're with their mom they'll be pretty healthy. This is the only situation where I'd take more than four.
posted by blnkfrnk at 9:46 AM on September 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: When I fostered some kittens that my friend found in the basement of her building, they stayed in my bathroom (which I continued to use). I think bathrooms are a pretty standard suggestion because the smaller space makes them feel more secure and gives them fewer places to hide. Also bathrooms are easier to clean, important because kittens are slobs. It was a lot of work but omggggggtheyweresofuuuuuuuuckingadorable. I only kept them for two or three weeks, just until they weren't afraid of humans and could go to the shelter. It was a lot of fun but by the end I was also happy to send them off (and my friend actually found forever homes for most of them!)

I think you could still consider fostering, if you can find the right situation and setup. Maybe consider kittens as an occasional high-energy project you take on every once in a while, rather than ongoing thing, or look into older cats. If you're still thinking kittens, a bathroom would be better than a room with carpet, or get a large kennel/crate with a solid floor to keep things kinda contained when they're not supervised.
posted by yeahlikethat at 11:29 AM on September 24, 2016

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