Fostering rescue cats
January 12, 2018 9:57 AM   Subscribe

I am considering volunteering at some point in the future to foster cats for a cat rescue organization in my NYC neighborhood, but am worried about being a "foster fail" (someone who adopts the first foster they take in).

I can't foster at the moment, because we have a cat who thinks that any other cat is the devil incarnate. But that cat belongs to our college-age daughter. At some point, our daughter will move out and take that cat with her. Once our daughter's cat is out of the apartment, I would like to foster rescue cats.

My one worry, though, is that I will be what they call a "foster fail," because I will fall in love with the first cat we take in, and decide to adopt it!

So I am here looking for MeFites who have fostered, or know someone who has done that. How do you deal with that issue? if you generally love cats, how do you give up a foster to someone else?

I'm thinking the answer is simply to think this through in advance, and focus on how much the rescue group does need people willing to foster. So I will just steel myself to give up a kitty when a forever home is ready for it, and try to honor my commitment to be a foster cat-parent.

But I would appreciate any insight from someone who has been there/done that, on whether it is difficult to be a foster cat-parent, and if so, tips on how to deal with it.
posted by merejane to Pets & Animals (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've fostered many cats. It requires a certain type of detachment that I found pretty easy: This cat is not mine to fall in love with. I will care about it and do everything I can to make this cat the best and most adoptable kitty it can be. But, it isn't my cat. This cat belongs to the adopter who will fall in love with it.

It also helps to remember why you are fostering and not adopting. Whatever that reason is, make that your mission.
posted by Pineapplicious at 10:07 AM on January 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

I've fostered kittens a few times for the local SPCA. It was a lot of fun. I viewed it like a kind of gentle kitten boot camp where my job was to turn feral kittens into purring lap beasts - so, lots of picking up, touching, talking to, playing with, belly rubs and chin scritching. I wanted my kittens to be the most adoptable ever.
posted by shoesietart at 10:25 AM on January 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

I've fostered many cats and kittens. There is no guarantee that you won't fail at some point, and that's OK. If you fail with your first foster, then you get another foster. Don't worry. You won't fail with the second one. We all know what our cat limits are (hoarders aside). I know this answer sounds facile, but unless you think you have hoarding tendencies, this is generally how it goes. You foster. Maybe you fall in love with the first cat/kitten, and keep it. You get another foster. You realize that your limit is two, and that if you keep *this* foster, then you can't foster again. That's motivation enough for me to keep giving kittens and cats up.

OTOH, if you fail again, what's the worst that happens? Two cats get a permanent, loving home. There are other ways to volunteer for rescues.

In my years of fostering I've failed a couple of times. Once it was because this cat had been through two permanent homes, three foster homes, and had been boarded for ten months. He had huge anxiety issues, and I could not stand the thought of him going into yet another uncertain situation. I didn't particularly love him at first, but I had compassion for him. (Don't worry, I fell in love with him later, and to make a long story longer, he fell in love with a fried of mine a few years later, and they lived happily ever after.) The second time I failed it was also a cat that had been returned. He was a petite orange boy, also with anxiety, and peeing issues. He was unbearably sweet, and I just couldn't give him up even though I already had two (planned) boys. I did take a break from fostering then, because three in a one-bedroom apartment really was the limit. When he died, 18 months later, from FIP, I salved my heart by fostering again.

Since he died, I've fostered and given up three incredibly sweet orange boys (among others), and each time, I was tempted. But in the end, the thing that motivates me to give them up for adoption is knowing that there is another kitten or cat out there who needs me.

I've kept in touch with most of my former fosters' owners, so I get to see them all the time on Facebook. One of my favorite fosters chose my nephew as his person, so I got to keep him in the family. It's incredibly satisfying to see the lives they are all leading.

Here's the bottom line: you can adopt one cat, or you can have an endless stream of new cats and kittens to meet. That is enough motivation for me to keep giving them up.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 10:28 AM on January 12, 2018 [7 favorites]

I foster dogs and am able to give them up because (a) I think of myself as a pet sitter for their future family, and (b) I have say in who is allowed to adopt them so I know they are going to a good home. Sometimes it DOES suck and there is one that I still regret giving up, but for the most part it feels good, and remembering how much the rescue group needs foster homes helps me a lot.

Also, being a foster failure is far from the worst thing in the world!

Some of my friends foster entire litters of kittens, and find them easier to adopt out because they are less invested in each individual one.
posted by metasarah at 10:35 AM on January 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

I have fostered one hundred and eleven animals, mostly kittens. I have kept zero.

First of all, as mentioned above, so what if you fail? They need to find a home for the foster eventually, and maybe you're that home. And you can still foster, if your resident cat is ok with it. (Well, we keep our fosters shut in a separate room and only sometimes let kittens engage with our adult cats, so you could continue fostering regardless if you had the right set-up for it.)

People always think it's hard to give up kittens because they're so cute, but that's actually easier than giving up adult cats. Kittens don't really have fully formed personalities yet, they're mostly going through the exact same spring-loaded stages of kittenhood, and I know I'll get another batch just like 'em in a month or three. Also the age at which they're ready to go get spayed/neutered and adopted is more or less the age when they turn into monsters, so I am always ready to pack them off, give the kitten room/office/TV room a good cleaning, and enjoy a peaceful kitten-free lifestyle for a while.

Mostly I try to remember that all that sense of attachment is on my side. The cat likes me fine, but it generally learned to like me in a day or two, and it will do the same with whomever adopts it. It will be freaked out at being in a new place, and then it will get over it. That feeling of oh no the cat is gone, we had a special bond, nothing will ever be the same -- is just your feeling. The cat doesn't share it. And your job is to help the cat, and those feelings don't help the cat -- or cats as a whole, since if you keep fosters moving through your house you can help more and more cats -- a bit.

And, as other folks have said, it's also nice if you can find friends/coworkers/acquaintances to take the cats so you can get updates.

Good luck!

(Obligatory picture of current batch)
posted by little cow make small moo at 11:14 AM on January 12, 2018 [10 favorites]

I volunteer at a local cat shelter because I was desperately ready to have ALL THE CATS. Physically going in once a week and cleaning has mellowed that out for me. I still love all of them. But when you're faced with dozens (or in my shelter's case, 160) of amazing animals at once, it's a lot harder to justify choosing one over another. My husband came to help out a few weeks ago and at dinner he was like so you've been there for months, if you had to bring one home which would it be? And it was like well I love Bob and his little bobbed tail. And Wayne, he's a big sweet boy. And Gypsy Rose. And Viola. And Edward and his chubby little cheeks. And when pressed, the idea of picking one above the others was just impossible for me. We have talked about fostering, and honestly that pull to keep all of them has mellowed. I guess what I'm saying is maybe go visit kitties at the shelter and see if you think you can handle fostering.
posted by Bistyfrass at 11:15 AM on January 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

I would recommend fostering for an organization who has their fosters be a part of the adoption process. I've fostered kittens, puppies and dogs for a larger humane society in my city. When they are ready to be adopted (big enough, or well socialized) I have just brought them back to the shelter and don't get much follow up other than a confirmation they were adopted. I am actually going to start fostering for another organization that does not have a shelter so I can be more involved by going to adoption events with my fosters and evaluating adoption applications for them. I think knowing that you can help send them to a good forever home helps with the temptation to adopt. I have definitely shed tears bringing fosters back to the shelters, but I don't regret not adopting any of them. Still, I think I am going to enjoy fostering more when I get to see their adoption through the end. I would look for smaller rescue organizations that rely solely on fosters- they need us!

I also agree that it is easier to not adopt kittens, especially when you have a litter!
posted by Katie8709 at 11:25 AM on January 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

Hi. I'm a serial foster fail. We fostered 2 batches of 2 kittens and ended up adopting 3 of them. For us, we did form very strong attachments to them and it absolutely was hard -- too hard! -- letting them go. I still often think of the 4th, William, a sweet little grey boy: the one that got away.

I do think there's a certain detachment required for fostering; to keep in mind that they're temporary guests that you're helping out on their way to their permanent home. We didn't manage to maintain that detachment.

What does help me now is remembering that although it was so hard giving William up, he got adopted a week later. So now I like to think of him in a home where he's loved and where he makes his owners happy; and that I helped him get there by socializing him from a scared hissy fuzzball into a friendly little cat.

Are you worried about failing because you don't actually want another permanent cat? Or because you're worried that failing would be letting down the rescue organization? It's jokingly called "failure" because it happens so often. It's pretty much built into the fostering system that a proportion of foster homes will end up adopting their animals. It's a good outcome for the animal, which gets a loving home that it's already used to; and a good outcome for the rescue, which gets to skip the work and resources of finding an adoptive home for the animal.

FWIW, I'm not sure about "it's easier not to adopt kittens"; it certainly didn't work out that way for us, because oh my god you get to watch their personalities starting to form. But attachment aside, we also found the mechanics of kitten fostering to be hard work. They're demanding little critters that need to be fed and entertained often; both our pairs went through phases of crying for attention in the middle of the night. And little kittens are fragile; our rescue's foster training was basically "kittens die easily and fast, here's all the things you have to do and watch for to avoid that, but it might happen anyway." Gulp. Our second pair were sickly when they arrived -- so much poop! such failure to thrive! --which made them extra stressful. It's rewarding and fun watching kittens grow up and blossom, but it's a lot of work.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 2:22 PM on January 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

We fostered.... shit, something like thirty or forty animals in the two years we were doing it, and failed on two. (We fostered mostly adult cats, with a smattering of kittens; the two failures were a five-year-old weird little inbred cat and a blind kitten we were asked to foster by our rescue coordinator because "he's so sweet I'm afraid I'll keep him if he stays here and I have too many cats," which was a sentiment echoed by about four other people in rescue. And we were semi-seriously keeping an eye out for a good cat to fill a vacancy when the kitten came to visit.)

I had only ever been even mildly tempted to keep three, including the two we did keep, and I was pleased and thrilled when the third--a very sweet little torbie cat--found herself a better home. I mostly fostered adults, who are typically a little longer term fosters than kittens are. My experience was that kittens are in rescue pretty much just long enough to be old enough to spay or neuter, and then they quickly find homes; adult cats take some time to find the best fit and get noticed. Because my partner hates kittens and because our household is a good mixture of chaotic and ordered to let cats feel safe while still experiencing a busy place, we got a lot of shyer ex-mommas coming through the house and generally took on some behavioral special needs.

Things that were helpful: We had our own cats the whole time. It is easier not to get attached when you have an animal that genuinely is a very good fit for you in your life, and when your foster animal fits okay in your household but would really shine somewhere else. Tina, the sweet kitty I really loved, was just a bit too shy to stand up to my partner's bossy cat Peter (and in retrospect, would have hated the busy tomcat that my roommate found in our yard and promptly adopted). She went to a quieter house and I hear she's doing well there.

Most of our fosters were even less impressed with the mixture of other cats, a dog who wanted to be left alone, the odd visiting friends' dogs, and the regimented feeding schedule--we don't feed dry to any of our cats--and so their desire to hang out with us was limited. Ishka was a fail basically because we have a weakness for weird little mildly defective cats and our rescue coordinator correctly realized that we would fall in love; Dent failed because he's a little monster who demands cuddles at all times, my kitten Janet had recently died, and I love snuggly cats. They were exceptions to the general rule: animals who were perfectly nice animals... for someone else. Our job was to look after them until someone else noticed that.

It helped that many of them were just not the personality types my partner and I like in cats--we're partial to bossy friendly in your face types, and we didn't get many of them in those ex-momma cats. When we did kittens a few times, well, my partner hates kittens, and they really don't have so much personality especially when they're in a great big swarm. If you have kitten swarms--three kittens or more will about do it--then you can avoid forming individual attachments to them much more easily.

Foster cats went into their own room at night in the form of my office, partly so they had a chance to eat dry food without giving our guys access and partly so they felt they owned the space. This also curbs attachment--it's easier to maintain that distance if you don't treat your foster animals like your personal pets. (I also like to think of this in terms of a smart thing I once read on a dog blog: fosters are held to stricter requirements than personal animals, because I want my fosters to walk into their new, real home and feel like they just wound up in kitty heaven. I want them to think the new place and the new people are better than sliced bread, so in my house they put up with restrictions and rules I wouldn't enforce for the permanent residents.)

We also fostered cats right up until they adopted, which was nice: they were either in our home, sitting in a local Petco's cages to catch someone's eye, or in their forever homes. And cats only went to the Petco for a week at a time before they went back to their foster. I think I would have been a little sadder if I was passing cats up to a permanent kennel kind of situation, but then again it would have been even easier not to get attached if I was fostering as a respite from kennels for a shelter-based rescue. I dunno; I haven't done that.
posted by sciatrix at 8:14 PM on January 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

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