She lives in a cozy town off the southern coast of Maine, famous for lighthouses and presidential summer homes. She’s a feline gourmand, feeding her own homemade mix of foods to her Crew of Seven.
She’s a lifelong Doctor Who fan and can quote passages to you from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. And while 42 might be the Hitchhiker’s “Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything,” that’s not Connie’s number. Hers is much larger. In fact, it’s almost exactly 10 times that number.
Meet Connie Smith, owner of the blog Tails from the Foster Kittens and the woman who has saved and nurtured the lives of 410 cats. And nine rabbits.
That’s an impressive number. A huge number, actually. During a decade and a half of fostering, Connie has socialized feral kittens, helped numerous diabetic cats manage their disease with healthier diets, and curated more cat health knowledge than anyone I know outside the veterinary profession.
In my circle of cat people when someone has a question, invariably the first response is, “ask Connie.” Because May is National Foster Care Month, it seemed a fitting time to ask Connie about what it’s like to be a cat foster mom.
So many cats — how did that come about?
It happens one — or six — at a time. I learned about fostering a few years before I started. I asked [staff members at a shelter] if they had heard about fostering, and it wasn’t something they were open to at the time. A few years later there was a different management team in place and fostering had become a bit more mainstream. The shelter started a program in 2002. I immediately volunteered.
How long did it take for you to learn how to foster?
I’m actually still learning. The shelter had a very thin manual with some very basic guidelines (it has expanded quite a bit over the years). It helped that my first few litters were “easy” ones. “Easy” litters are kind where you just need to provide food and scoop the box. They are older healthy kittens who just need to put on a little more weight, or mothers with healthy kittens who just need a safe space to raise them.
I then took home a litter that had no mother and was too young to test for FeLV/FIV. I cared for them for a few weeks and then had them tested and they came up positive. Back then a positive test was a death sentence, and the entire litter was put down. (Things have changed as people are starting to realize that simply being diagnosed with FeLV/FIV doesn’t mean the cat will be sickly.)
I went back home and sobbed the ugliest cry ever … the kind that physically hurts. I knew that if I didn’t get another set of kittens immediately I would never foster again. So I did, and I never looked back.
How did you feel about it at first?
I was super excited. When I was young, a neighbor’s cat had kittens and I spent so much time over there with them my mother had to tell me to stop being a pest. It was so much fun to have wee baby kittens in the house. I was pro spay/neuter from day one, so I wasn’t ever going to experience that joy of having a cat with kittens that I had as a child without fostering.
What is the biggest myth that should be busted regarding fostering?
“I don’t have enough time.”
I hear this a lot. What most people don’t realize is that kittens sleep a lot … like 20 hours a lot. I spend 10 to 15 minutes with the kittens in the morning, making sure they have food and a clean box, and that they haven’t destroyed the room, and about an hour at night — with more time in the weekend or whenever I have free time.
Is there a beginner’s level and an advanced level?
Yes. Beginners would be kittens who just need a little time to put on weight to be neutered. Intermediates would be a healthy mother with kittens. Advanced would be bottle babies, or sick kittens, or a sick mother and kittens, or a pregnant mother with issues in her past (like being vaccinated while pregnant).
Feral kitties fall in between intermediate and advanced, depending on how old the kittens are. But, oh, it’s so totally worth it! Winning over the trust of a scared cat? Priceless.
What do you consider the five most important things people should know about fostering?
Have you ever fostered a cat? What has the experience been like for you? Tell us in the comments. And tell us whether you recommend the experience as well.