This month’s blog has been contributed by our lovely friend Kris Reed, who is based in Washington State, USA. Kris is a lover of all creatures great and small and here she talks about the emotional and fulfilling journey of being a foster parent!
I’ve been a foster Mom here in the United States for our local Humane Society for 13 years. I sort of fell into fostering. It wasn’t my original plan. I’d wanted to be a shelter volunteer – cleaning, walking dogs, playing with the cats, etc. I attended one of their monthly Volunteer orientations, but the days and times required didn’t fit with my work schedule at all. Waah!
Then they talked about fostering. It was flexible and I could take animals (or not) as I wished (and for as long as I wished). From the very first animal, I’ve loved it. I’ve fostered everything from day old kittens to puppies to blind and deaf elderly dogs. I’ve adored all my foster kids, but Mimsy is a stand out. Mimsy came to me along with her brother and sister. A litter of approximately 2-day old kittens who’d been abandoned. They were in rough shape.
Fostering nursing kittens is a commitment. You need to feed them regularly (including all through the night). They don’t all take to the bottle, so at times you’re stuck with a version of force feeding with an eye dropper. You are Mama. And that means ‘licking’ their neither regions (with a warm, damp cotton ball, not your tongue, thank God) to help them eliminate. And teaching them cat stuff, like how to clean themselves.
This little troop had gone at least 2 days (as close as we could tell) without Mama – which meant no milk. They were underweight, had goopy eyes and I figured likely worms as well.
As soon as I got them home, it was straight to a bottle of warm kitten milk substitute (sounds, yummy right?) I fed them every 2 hours round the clock for the next 5 days. Gordito and Layla were gaining weight and becoming little fluff balls…but not Mimsy. She didn’t take the bottle well, so stuffing enough milk down her gullet was always a challenge. Her eyes were now infected but being so young and underweight, she couldn’t tolerate the antibiotics to clear them up.
We finally turned a corner about 8 days in, Mimsy got the hang of the bottle nipple and started eating in earnest. Now Layla was struggling. She couldn’t keep food down no matter what I tried. One of the hard realities of fostering, not every fur-baby makes it. She died in my arms on day 10. Gordito was suffering as well. He, like Layla, couldn’t seem to tolerate the milk-substitute. Cat milk is hard to duplicate and not all kittens can thrive on the man-made version. On day 12, Gordito joined his sister.
This was such a low point for me. I’d successfully bottle fed so many wee ones. It just killed me that I couldn’t save Layla and Gordito. I cried while feeding Mimsy, my one remaining baby. I swore she was going to make it. But now she was starting to fail as well. She was resisting the bottle and getting dehydrated. She was so weak, she couldn’t nurse.
It was the weekend, and the shelter was closed. I knew if I didn’t do something, she was going to die too. I called my vet at 4 am on a Sunday morning (even though the foster agreement says to use only them for any medical emergencies). I didn’t care. Mimsy was going to make it! My vet agreed to meet at his office at 5 am. I wasn’t sure Mimsy would last that long. He treated her with fluids and a dose of antibiotics and de-wormer, (we decided to risk it since her chances were slim anyway). He kindly tolerated me crying like a baby the entire time.
I wrote him a check for $120 and took Mimsy home and watched her every breath for the next 3 hours. She seemed a little perkier and drank about ½ an ounce of formula. Then fell back asleep. I’d wake her every hour and use an eye dropper to get another bit of formula down.
After two days, she was back on track. She was eating again but still weak and got cold easily. She was so tiny, I realized she fit perfectly into the space between my breasts, held in place by my bra. She went with me everywhere, tucked next to my heart, all comfy and cozy. I remember going grocery shopping with her napping happily between my boobs. She woke up and popped her head out of my shirt while I was checking out and just about gave the cashier a heart attack.
We had our own cat, Moses. A big old male, Moe hated other adult cats. Yet he tolerated the kittens I’d bring home…barely. He’d mostly ignore them or give them a firm swipe with his paw when they started to bother him. But Mimsy was different. She wouldn’t take no for an answer. She insisted on snuggling up to Moe, attempted to nurse on him (which he hated) and watched every move he made. Moe resisted at first, but finally even he succumbed to Mimsy’s charms.
She was adorable. Tiny, with huge blue eyes, lovely black and gray tiger stripes, and the biggest ears I’ve ever seen. She followed me everywhere and climbed me when she wanted something (not so great since it was summer, and I was wearing shorts). She loved to play and getting a rise out of Moe was a favorite game. Then when she was tired, she’d curl up against Moe’s belly and nap. Moe would put his paw over her, protecting his miniature friend.
It’s always hard to part with my foster babies. I realize its part of the process but letting go is tough. Will their new family be a good one? Will they get the right food, lots of cuddles and a loving environment? I simply must trust that they will (either that or buy acreage to house my horde). And while Mr. Adorable tolerates my fostering jones with good grace, I think 100 cats would be too much, even for him.
I almost kept Mimsy though. After all we’d been through, I wasn’t sure I could part with her. I still wonder how she’s doing and hope that her new family appreciates what a tough little survivor they got when they picked Mimsy to be part of their family.
Whatever you do to support animals in need, I thank you. There are so many, I know it can feel daunting. But please don’t ever think that donating a few dollars, dropping some food at a shelter, fostering or volunteering isn’t enough. EVERY little bit helps. I know the animals and our planet are grateful.