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What You Should Know About Being a Feline Foster Parent

You don't have to commit to adoption -- and you can make some cats' lives a whole lot better.

 |  Jan 15th 2013  |   15 Contributions


Foster care is one of the most important aspects of pet adoption programs. Shelters and rescues depend on foster homes for many reasons – to increase their ability to help more cats and to socialize cats in their care so they have a better chance at finding their forever home, just to name a couple. 

But to many, foster cat parenting is daunting.  If you’re intrigued but have yet to take the plunge, here are five things you should know about being a foster cat parent. 

1. Fostering saves lives

Bringing a cat into your home from a shelter or rescue helps to socialize him and make him more adoptable. Plus, it makes room for another cat in that shelter or rescue to be saved!  

Cats who are scared in a shelter may blossom in a foster home. Woman and Siamese cat by Shutterstock

Some cats need to get out of the shelter environment in order to thrive. Celeste Lindell of Kansas City, KS, is fostering her first cat, a sweet shy girl named Tinkerbell, who was withdrawn and not showing well at adoption events. When Tinkerbell first came to live with her, she was withdrawn and unfriendly. But, Lindell is happy to report, “She’s really transformed and it has made a big, big difference.” Now Tinkerbell likes to spend time with Lindell and her husband and is a different cat now that she’s in a home. Will Tinkerbell be more adoptable now that she is more socialized? “Oh, absolutely,” Lindell says. “I think it does make a difference.  She has made noticeable progress.” 

2. You can find the perfect situation for you

Fostering a pet doesn’t mean an ambiguous, ongoing commitment. Many people fear that taking on a foster means there is no exit strategy. On the contrary: Organizations are interested in making each foster placement a success, which means ensuring everyone involved understands the expectations from the get-go. “There are many choices, and the key is to match the ideal candidate with the ideal foster cat,” says Layla Morgan Wilde, holistic cat behaviorist, rescuer and author of Cat Wisdom 101

Is there room in your home for a new, cute, fluffy visitor? Big cat in castle by Shutterstock

If all you can offer are short-term stays, great! There is always a need for “emergency” overnight foster homes. If you have more time on your hands and are able to commit to longer-term care, there are always cats who need someone to work with them on trust or socialization issues.

Do you just want mellow yellow? Plenty of lap cats need a safe place to crash while they’re waiting for their forever home. Got a thing about kittens? Oh boy, you are in luck! There are always plenty of fuzzy little bundles of sweetness who need to stay with someone who will cuddle and nurture them until they’re a little older and ready to adopt. 

3. It's a low-cost way to help -- and enjoy -- cats

Shelters and rescues pay for the food, supplies, and medical costs for a cat while she’s in your care. True, you are often limited to the products and vet care the organization uses, but there should be no need to outlay cash for your foster cat. Many foster parents do purchase additional supplies or different food, but the most important thing you bring as a foster home is your time, patience and love. 

All you need to foster is the willingness to lavish love on a homeless kitty. Happy orange cat by Shutterstock

4. It teaches you about your own home 

Fostering is a great way to test-drive certain scenarios. If you already have pets, how would they react to a new addition? You never know until the situation presents itself and bringing on a foster cat is a low-risk way of seeing whether the dynamics of your existing house change with a new member. You might find that your pets love having a new playmate, or the new addition may be unwelcome. Either way, your foster cat is temporary and will help you make long-term decisions with more information. 

You'll learn how to handle cat interactions -- and see how your cat likes the new playmate. Cats ignore each other by Shutterstock

Fostering can also teach you a lot about yourself and your preferences as a cat caretaker. Are you good with kittens? Do you prefer an older, mellower cat? Maybe you find you love the revolving door of cats who need your help. Or perhaps you realize fostering just isn’t for you. That’s a good thing to know as well. 

5. Don’t worry about getting too attached

A lot of would-be foster parents fear finding themselves with yet another permanent resident, or being heartbroken when they have to let the cat go to her new, forever home. While both of these scenarios are realistic -- and common -- they aren’t a given, and you shouldn’t fear them. “I have been hesitant to foster before,” says Lindell, who adds that she didn’t want to become too attached. “It just seems like a slippery slope although now that I have her I think it was an unfounded fear on my part.” 

Fostering kittens gets you lots of tiny adorableness. Kittens eating by Shutterstock

If you do end up adopting your foster cat, you are saving a life and adding a wonderful member to your family. As for being heartbroken when someone else adopts your furry charge, it will soon turn to joy and gratitude that your special foster cat has found a loving, happy home. And, really, what could be better?  

Finally, you might surprise yourself: Many foster parents report that they have developed an ability to love their fosters but not get too overly fond of them. They understand that by maintaining the status of foster parent, they can help many, many more cats than they could if they kept adopting every one. 

Fostering is truly one of the most important ways you can help save more cats in your area. If you’re considering it, why not give it a try?  Tell us some of your foster stories and tips below. 

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