It’s kitten season! Finally, the weather is warming up, and love is in the air… but not just for us humans! Cats around the world are feeling that spring fever that creates so many new babies too. Every year, from late spring to early fall, animal shelters have a massive influx of homeless kittens, and in an effort to save the lives of these sweet babies, they look to the community to find people who are willing to foster an animal (or three) and raise them into good pets.
What It Means To Be A Foster Parent
Baby cats need a lot of attention, whether or not they have the advantage of being around their mother. Kittens can’t properly see until they are 5 weeks old, so they need help with the very basics of life: eating, going to the litterbox, and keeping clean and warm. They also need to be socialized so that they know it’s okay to trust humans and other animals.
In some instances, the kittens are separated from their mother so early that they need to be bottle-fed. The experience of bottle-feeding a tiny kitten creates the strongest bond possible between a cat and a human. They actually come to think of you as their mother. But don’t think that it’s all cuteness and fun — bottle-feeding requires that you mix formula (KMR – kitten milk replacement) and clean bottles every 2-4 hours. In many ways, it’s like feeding a human baby. It’s important when bottle-feeding that you hold the kitten properly so that there is a smaller chance of the kitten contracting pneumonia by inhaling the milk instead of drinking it.
Working with kittens that have reached 4 weeks of age is significantly easier, because you just have to help them learn how to eat solid food. It is always best to start with wet food and then move to dry food once they have stronger and larger teeth.
Regardless of the age of the kitten, a foster parent will always need to bathe the animal, sometimes more than once a day. Kittens are messy, and they can’t clean themselves with their tongues yet! It is the responsibility of a foster parent to help keep the kitten healthy. This also means cleaning the litter box every day.
The most important thing that a foster parent does, however, is provide a loving home where the kitten can live and grow. They also provide fresh food and water and give medications to the animals when necessary.
Foster parents also are responsible for following shelter guidelines and taking the kittens to the veterinarian to be spayed or neutered when they are of a proper age. By making sure that the fostered kittens have been altered prior to adoption, foster parents help disrupt the cycle of breeding that leads to there being so many homeless kittens.
The Benefits of Fostering Kittens
My husband and I have been fostering kittens since 2007. We have raised over 50 kittens, and in that time, we learned a lot about ourselves as people and a lot about kittens themselves.
These animals are, in many ways, like us. They have distinct personalities, basic needs that must be fulfilled, and they can show appreciation and affection. They want attention, and they want to play.
For a couple who has not had children, it can help provide insight into how you might act towards each other when you have children. There are many chores that need to be done, and division of labor is an important thing to establish. Fostering kittens also gives you the opportunity to nurture and love a creature that is in real need of protecting and care, while at the same time knowing that eventually that animal will find its “forever” home because of you.
For many people who are disabled, fostering kittens provides an opportunity to care for an animal who needs more help than they do. It is empowering to be able to see a kitten grow and become playful and happy because of the things that you are doing to help it along. Also, there are many therapeutic benefits to simply taking the time to love on a kitten. It’s been scientifically proven that petting an animal lowers your blood pressure and stress levels.
For folks who are single, the animals provide companionship and hours of entertainment. Adam and I have countless videos of kittens playing. Those videos never cease to make me smile.
But there’s a hidden gem of a reason to foster kittens — and that is that volunteering for an animal shelter makes you a better employee and leader.
Volunteers Are Better Leaders and Employees
According to Forbes, “one of the greatest challenges in motivating employees to sustain strong business performance is to make them feel like there’s a larger purpose to their lives than just meeting financial goals… .” (http://www.forbes.com/sites/karlmoore/2011/12/21/volunteering-a-great-way-to-learn-real-executive-leadership/) When you are fostering an animal, there is no question that your life has meaning. All you need to do is look into the eyes of the animal that you have saved from extermination to know that you are doing good in this world.
Forbes goes on to say, “By volunteering for projects in nonprofit organizations, experienced executives can hone their supervisory and leadership skills, and aspiring executives can gain the experience and networking opportunities that could lead to plum positions in the company.” If your company sponsors a particular animal shelter, working with kittens could help your job prospects!
Whether you’re networking for business purposes or not, a foster parent can’t help but make friends with other foster parents in their organization. You see each other on a regular basis at regular animal shelter meetings and adoption fairs.
Fostering takes you outside of your comfort zone, and gives you an opportunity to work with new challenges, people, politics and interpersonal dynamics. In this way, working with kittens offers new perspective on priorities.
Fostering also helps you practice the skills of patience and compassion, and when your kitten gets adopted, there’s a feeling of pride. Many times, people who adopt kittens that were fostered decide to stay in touch with the foster parents. That’s a second opportunity for networking and friendship building.
Thousands of Kittens Need Homes
There’s no better time than now to begin working (and playing) with kittens. Every year, thousands are put down due to inadequate room at local shelters. You could be a hero to an animal and play an important role in its life. Pets change the lives of their owners in many positive ways. Giving your time to help a baby cat become a good pet is immeasurably rewarding.
If you’re ready to sign on and become a foster parent, check your local animal shelter’s website. Oftentimes, there are forms to fill out for prospective foster parents. They will also have more information about their program there. You can find your closest local shelter and tips about fostering by visiting http://www.petfinder.com/animal-shelters-and-rescues/ .