Once again, kitten season is almost upon us. Despite the growing number of spay/neuter clinics and the publicity of events like World Spay Day, there are still entirely too many families allowing their cats to have kittens. One of the reasons people use in trying to justify letting their kitties have babies is that they want their children to witness “the miracle of life.”
But there’s a better way. I’ve got an idea that will not only allow your children to see the birth and growth of kittens, but will also save feline lives and teach your kids the value of compassion and caring: Foster a pregnant cat and her kittens.
Many shelters try to get pregnant cats or cats with kittens into foster homes as soon as possible in hopes of preventing the babies from getting upper respiratory viral infections before their immune systems have developed enough to fight the illness. If you’ve got a spare room in your house, please consider temporarily housing a mom and her kittens.
You might think that having children would be a handicap when it comes to fostering a mother cat and newborn kittens — and if your kids are really young, you may be right. But once your children reach an age where they understand being gentle and quiet, participating in foster care and watching babies being born and raised until they’re old enough to leave their mom can be an amazing experience.
How old is old enough? It depends on the child, I guess. My country-raised nieces followed in their father’s and aunt’s footsteps and were bottle-feeding baby goats and delicately carrying day-old chicks around the house by the time they were in first grade, but your mileage may vary, so to speak. I think most kids respond really well to gentle instructions to handle kittens carefully and watch mama-cat for any signs of unease.
Fostering is a wonderful opportunity to teach children important lessons about compassion and respect for life. I don’t know about you, but my childhood experiences with animals instilled in me a deep reverence for all living beings. Animals also teach us how to listen: not just with our ears but with our eyes and our hearts, too. Fostering a cat can help a child learn how cats (and all animals, including humans) communicate with their bodies and their eyes, as well as their mouths.
Fostering can provide hard lessons, too. I know many foster parents who sometimes have difficulty saying goodbye to the cats they’ve cared for. When it’s time for the foster kittens to go to their forever homes, the kids will probably be sad. That’s totally normal. It’s a great time to acknowledge their sadness, let them talk about it, and tell them they did a wonderful thing and that their help has made a huge difference in those cats’ lives.
Occasionally, kittens get sick and die. Most children’s first experience with death comes in the form of losing an animal companion, and the way we react to our children’s grief (and our own) can color their whole outlook concerning the end of life.
The greatest thing about being a parent and fostering cats with your children is that not only are you giving mom cats and their kittens a safe place to be born and grow, you’re showing your kids the importance of helping others. Community service isn’t just something you do because it looks good on a resume or college application. When you compassionately help others, whether those others walk on two legs or four, you’re making the world a better place for all of us.
Now that’s a lesson worth teaching your kids. And when you’re fostering kittens, the lesson is super cute, too!
Do you have children? Have they ever helped you to foster cats? Please share your stories in the comments!