Looking to give back to your community? Considering fostering a shelter pet!


Sophia Pendergast

Fostering kittens can be a rewarding handful.

Sophia Pendergast, Staff Reporter

“I have some exciting news,” my mom said one spring afternoon last March. “The animal shelter called. They have a litter of six kittens for us to foster!

Fifteen minutes later we were sitting in our car with six scruffy, one-month-old kittens: three tabby cats and three Russian Blues. Over the three months that followed, we learned all about the tiring, messy, and fulfilling world of fostering animals. 

Each spring, thousands of kittens are born, many of which end up in animal shelters. This can lead to severe overcrowding and make it even harder for some of the older animals to get adopted. Fostering helps free up space in shelters, leaving open kennels for sick or injured animals that need care.

I should begin by saying that fostering animals is a lot of work. Depending on how small the animal is, you may have to bottle feed it every few hours throughout the day and night. Some animals may need to receive doses of medicine, while others may need special baths to get rid of fleas and other creatures. In the case of the litter that my family fostered, the kittens were old enough to eat out of a bowl and they didn’t need any special medicine; however, our kittens, like many others, were extremely messy. 

For the first few weeks they were with us, the kittens needed full baths every couple of days because they often got formula and wet food caught in their fur and did not always pay attention to where they were stepping in the litterbox. Between bath days, we wiped them down with a damp washcloth after every meal to prevent too much buildup. As they got older, they became much neater eaters. Though pellets of kitty litter never quite stayed off the floor while they were with us, the kittens learned over time how to keep themselves and their habitat clean. By the time they went back to the shelter to be adopted into their forever homes, we didn’t even have to wipe their mouths off between meals.

My family was initially worried that we would not have enough space for the kittens. We also have a dog, so we knew that we needed to keep them separated. This problem was quickly solved, though, once we realized that a bathroom had plenty of space for the kittens. It provided a confined space to easily keep track of all the animals, and it was completely separate from where my dog roamed. 

When we first brought the kittens home, they were too small to climb on anything, so they mainly played and slept in the empty bathtub. Once the kittens became more active and were able to climb, we simply opened the door and let them run around the adjoining room to burn some energy. Though you may be short on a bathroom like my family was, you don’t necessarily need a ton of space to foster a pet, just some flexibility.

One of my favorite parts of fostering was watching the kittens grow and change each week. When they first arrived at our house, they were clumsy with eyes just a little too big for their head, and paws that they were still learning how to use. By the time they left our home, the kittens were confident in jumping, climbing, and running anywhere that they could. 

I also loved watching each one develop their own personalities. Over the few months that they were with us, they went from being sleepy and slightly playful, to marching entirely to the beat of their own drums. We had some that were sassy and rowdy, while some were sweet and observant. I initially thought that it would be difficult to learn their different temperaments, but it became very clear to me one day when I had one kitten sitting on my shoulder, gently nuzzling my ear, while another simultaneously used my forehead as a springboard to launch himself from the toilet to the bathroom counter.

While I’m sure that the kittens benefited from spending the first few months of their lives in a home instead of an animal shelter, I benefited from them as well. Whenever I was feeling stressed, I was able to go sit with the kittens. I always felt more relaxed after spending just five minutes with them. Even if I wasn’t feeling stressed, I loved going in to see them because every kitten was so excited to see a person. Whether they were eating, playing, or taking a nap, each one stopped what they were doing and came to greet me whenever I walked in. There are few things greater than having a pile of kittens in your lap wanting nothing more than to be pet by you.

While fostering kittens was an overall amazing experience, there were some difficulties that came with it. My family fostered the kittens for about 10 weeks before we brought them back to the shelter. We kept them about three weeks longer than we had originally planned, but it was time for them to be adopted out. We were having no luck finding them homes before they had to go back, so we knew that they would have the best chance of finding their forever families through the shelter. I wasn’t sad that the kittens had to leave because I knew that it would ultimately lead them to their forever home; however, I did struggle with not knowing who the kittens went home with, and not knowing their every move. We dedicated so much love and energy to each kitten, so I was naturally worried that they wouldn’t get that from others; but, I am confident that they ended up with the people they were meant to be with. 

One of the hardest parts came after we brought the kittens back to the shelter. Since kittens are so small, they are often susceptible to catching many different viruses. Unfortunately, two of our smallest kittens caught one of these viruses and died just a few weeks after they left our house. For a long time, I felt like it was our fault since we were the ones who brought them back. While their lives were short, I’m glad they got to experience the love of a home with my family for a majority of it.

Don’t let the sad moments discourage you from fostering, though. By giving these animals a temporary home, you are freeing up space in a shelter, and helping the kittens become more adoptable. By fostering animals before they are adopted, you can help socialize them and get them used to experiences that they otherwise would not have in a shelter. This can help them to become more confident and outgoing around potential adopters. Homes can also be less stressful environments than animal shelters, so by fostering, you can help give a glimpse of hope to an animal that may have already had a difficult life before arriving at the shelter.

If you are looking for a way to give back to shelters, or simply want to help animals, I encourage you to consider fostering. While we fostered kittens, you can provide a temporary home to full-grown cats or dogs as well. Reaching out to your local shelter is a great way to start, but you can also look for shelters that may be a few hours away. If they really need space, they may be willing to foster outside of their local city. 

Fostering is a great way to give back to your community and help animals along the way!