This morning, I took my 18-year-old cat, Siouxsie, to the vet. Something had been "off" about her for the past few days, but late last night I realized what the problem was: She was quite dehydrated. At the clinic, they rehydrated her with subcutaneous fluids and got blood and urine samples, and soon I’ll know whether her kidney disease is advancing and if it’s time to start giving subQ fluids at home.
When you have an old cat, you know you’re going to have to deal with stuff like this. You also know you need to face the reality that you have a lot fewer tomorrows than yesterdays with your furry friend. Going through this process with a cat I’ve known since she was a kitten has given me a lot of time to think about death and dying, and to learn how to listen carefully and honestly to what Siouxsie is trying to tell me.
It’s also given me time to think about what I want to do to help cats the next time there’s a vacancy in my home.
I’d already decided that I’m going to make a point of adopting hard-to-adopt cats: old cats, cats with chronic illnesses, cats with disabilities and the like. But my desire to help these "broken" kitties is in direct conflict with my limited budget. While I have pet insurance for my younger kitties, certain cats might be too old to insure. Even if the cat were young enough to insure, the insurance wouldn’t cover costs related to pre-existing conditions, and neither could I.
So how can I fulfill my desire to provide compassionate care for the cats who need it the most and be able to afford their special needs? I can be a "fospice" volunteer!
Fospice is a word coined by the folks at Humane Society Silicon Valley in Milpitas, California, to describe their program, which provides a "permanent foster" home for elder, special-needs or dying pets. You provide a loving home for a cat in need and the shelter pays for the cat’s veterinary care. It just happens that a cat shelter in my area — Purrfect Pals in Arlington, Washington — also runs a permanent foster program.
I know there are people who’d look at me like I just sprouted another head if I announced that I want to make a vocation of caring for dying cats. But honestly, after losing my Dahlia to cancer and then six months later losing Kissy so suddenly, and after volunteering as a meds technician at a cat shelter — and after working through the emotions involved in the aging and coming death of a cat I’ve known since before she was weaned — I believe I have the strength to care for the medical and emotional needs of fospice cats.
I’ve never been scared of death. I don’t go chasing after it, mind you, but I know it’s inevitable and that doesn’t frighten me. My spiritual beliefs lead me to understand death as a transition, not an ending. I feel it’s a tremendous honor to walk through the dying process with any being — to be a "midwife at the other end of life," so to speak, and to help an individual prepare for their next “birth.”
Being a fospice volunteer is certainly not for everyone. Not every doctor is willing or able to work in oncology and not every nurse would rejoice in working with hospice patients, but they’re still good people. And so are you, even if you’re not into the idea of doing fospice care. But if you’re a cat lover who feels the calling to give old or special-needs cats a loving home, a warm lap and a human of their own to enjoy at the end of their lives, check with shelters in your area to see if they offer a fospice program.
What about you? Would you participate in a fospice program if you could find one? Why or why not? Do you know of a shelter in your area that offers a permanent foster program for elder and special-needs cats? Share your thoughts in the comments!
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About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.