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Anyone who adopts or fosters a rescue animal eventually gets to the point where the script flips. Instead of feeling like they saved a cat or a dog, most people feel like the loving pet, in some way, saved them. Animals give so much and ask so little. And right now—when we’re all spending unprecedented amounts of time at home—is possibly the best time in history to invite an animal into your home. Shelters are teeming, so it can mean saving a life—and what you get back in joy, smiles and family unity is immeasurable.
Fostering is a good way to dip your toe in the water. It’s a service you can provide to a kitten, a puppy or older animal while their forever home is being found. Fostering frees up valuable space in shelters, allowing more lives to be saved.
It’s a chance to “provide a temporary home to an animal in need until the animal is ready for permanent placement,” explains animal-rights activist Beth Stern. “It also gives a potential adopter the opportunity to ensure a good fit for them. A real win-win.”
The commitment is short term, but the happiness factor is high. And many fostering situations lead to adoption.
There’s always been a need for fostering, but currently the situation is especially dire. With the state of the world, many shelters are not able to hold adoption events. That means more and more animals who could be in happy homes are stuck in a system that can become overloaded. When you foster, you relieve some of the pressure on your local shelter.
More than that, though, you light up your own world. Pets bring purpose and energy. They enliven a space. They create a sense of routine, giving shape to your day. They cheer up an environment. And who among us could not use some distraction and cheer right now?
“During this difficult time, cats and dogs give people something positive to focus on,” adds Stern, who has been fostering for seven years, since her bulldog, Bianca, passed away. “I’ve always been an animal lover and have no human children, so my heart has been with helping animals.”
Stern gets tremendous satisfaction from fostering. “If you’ve been thinking about adopting or fostering, now is the time to do it!”
Not sure where to begin? Simply connect with your local shelter (Stern’s is the North Shore Animal League) and ask about fostering opportunities. Let them know if you’re interested in fostering a dog or a cat, and they’ll match you with one who’s right for you; they’ll also provide you with all the supplies you’ll need.
While puppies and kittens are bundles of joy, Stern is drawn to slightly more grown-up felines.
“The easiest, in my opinion, are older cats,” she says. “Kittens are so messy and sometimes require several feedings a day.” Cats between the ages of one and two are still kittens at heart, Stern explains, and love to play. Pregnant mothers are easy, too. Once they deliver, they take care of the needs of their kittens until the little ones are about four weeks old. That’s when the kittens are ready to be introduced to solid food and litter boxes.“Then the mess and work begin for a foster parent!” Stern says.
Stern recommends creating a space where your foster cat can feel like the king of his or her castle. “Even a bathroom is better than a cage at a shelter,” she says. At night, you can close the door and be secure that your foster cats—and the rest of your home—are safe.
Stern’s biggest tip for new fosters? “Don’t be afraid. Once you start, you won’t want to stop. It’s so rewarding.”
Stern admits that it’s hard to say goodbye when it’s time for her foster pets to go to their forever homes—but she has a cure for that: “When my heart feels empty on the day I hand them to their new families, I pick up more cats who need me and start all over again.”
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