What it’s Like to Foster Kittens
“You should foster kittens!”, They said. “It will be fun!”, They said. I waved Them off with demure smiles, but I knew resistance was futile – it is a universal Truth that there is no vaccine against the almost lethal cuteness of fuzzy, bumbling kitten-age and the deep urge to inconspicuously raid the baby animal buffet, slinking off with pockets stuffed with mewling flotsam. After all, this was half the reason I was eager to volunteer in the land of floof in the first place – like a sequin vendor to a Pride parade, I was lured by the softly purring promise of test driving tiny felines!
My biggest reservations were wrapped up in The Boyfriend: as a lifelong, card-carrying Dog Guy, he hovered between ambivalence and mild horror at the idea of bringing very NON-dog creatures into our cozy (translate: Very Small) apartment for any reason, let alone fostering them – whatever that meant. Okay, I admit, I may have been projecting – a little – as I had never raised a cat from scratch: my family had always adopted our furry soulmates as full-grown cats, after trolling shelters for the elderly, the isolated, and the hard-luck cases. Would we have the time, patience, and/or the resources to care for a rent-a-kitten (or two? Or SIX??) for several weeks? It seemed Herculean – we were stalwartly sensible in rationalizing all the reasons We Couldn’t Possibly, and we nearly believed it.
Nevertheless, the day came – a Thursday in August – when we were claimed by our first foster. Ella was all alone in the world – a tiny, 4-week-old fierceling with a beautiful coat of many colors and a bright, curious gaze that hooked me from six kennels down. As I found reasons to linger near her cage, the nursery staff lilted that we could foster her, and for once, I didn’t recite all the reasons We Shouldn’t. The fickle finger of fate crooked her bony digit my way, and the deal was done. My only warning to The Boyfriend – a text with a DeMille-worthy close-up picture that said, “Guess who’s coming for dinner?” I asked for one night before hosting our littlest camper to get our apartment ready, and raced home to confirm that our landlady was still cool with well-contained and transient fur-babies, and to make the joint presentable for kittendom.
It was after midnight before I stopped skulking about the apartment like a bear with cubs and OCD – on my hands and knees, checking for choking hazards and errant wires, muttering about teething and electrocution, wondering if we would be judged by the kitten for the suddenly lackluster quality of our carpets. I am not going to lie here – with visions of “A Griswold Family Christmas” in my head, I did more baby-proofing for this rental baby than I did while I was pregnant! Like a Hollywood art director, I obsessively planned strategic locations for litter boxes and food bowls, and artfully arranged sparkly toys, blankets, and blockades from the front door to the bathroom. At last, I sank into bed, certain that we needed to completely redecorate the entire place.
I brought Ella home in a princess-pink carrier we dubbed her Travelling Palace. She came to her spa vacation with her “luggage”, a Foster Starter Pack, containing a litter pan, non-clumping litter (so if she decided to snack on litter, it would not congeal in her belly and potentially kill her), wet food, dry food, bowls, and a toy. I sprung open her carrier door with great magnanimity, and set the wee tigress free to explore. It wasn’t long before Ella had a Class A case of the Zoomies – zipping at full, atomic-kitten speed under and over all of the upholstered furniture, sliding across the kitchen linoleum (and into cupboards, the fridge, and water bottles) when her tiny claws could not find purchase to help steer or slow her. She climbed our legs like a competition lumberjack, a quick-tempo tango with a saguaro cactus we managed to find adorable every time. She had the run of the place, and us wrapped giddily around her little, pink-padded paw. Oh, and The Boyfriend, card-carrying Dog Guy? He was totally and completely in love before suppertime. And then, we got our first reality check… Poop.
Miniature pools of putty-colored pudding began to appear at random intervals on the carpet. Some of it was not discovered right away, and had set in the fibers of hard to reach places, like behind the sofa and entertainment center. I felt betrayed – had I not calculated Litterbox Placement Zones meticulously enough? And I fretted that she had secretly been eating zombie leftovers – something smaller than a standard can of soup should not have been capable of generating that grade of industrial waste! For her part, Ella just tilted her downy head quizzically and returned to wrestling The Boyfriend’s flip-flops. Several hours in rubber gloves and dry heaves later, I took to the internet to find a solution, and found that we, the great and magnanimous liberators, were at fault! Like many rookie “parents”, we had given Ella way too much freedom way too soon, and the vast tundra of our 800 square feet had caused her stress and confusion: she couldn’t remember where her litter box was. Limiting her to the bathroom and the kitchen when we were not actively playing with her or cuddling her fixed the problem immediately. Gradually, we expanded her territory until she demonstrated that she could handle unlimited access to Camp Keetawn and still make her daily deposits exclusively in the Litter Zone.
Zero Day came way too soon – the day when Ella tipped the scales into adoptability, and we had to bring her back for her spaying surgery and graduation into the Big Kitty Condos on the Adopt & Shop showroom floor. It was the most bittersweet feeling – to be so proud of the delightful companion Ella had become, so certain she would be adopted quickly and by an adoring family, and yet so crestfallen to see her leaving us. We debated through many late nights, over countless meals, and over miles of L.A. freeway about adopting her ourselves, but there was uncertainty, so the question hung in the air, unanswered… should we? The day after Zero Day, The Boyfriend paused in mid-sentence during lunch, and blurted out: “Can we just go and adopt her, right now?” How was I going to say no? We dashed back to the store, giddy to tell Them we were taking Our Ella home, furrever! Only we didn’t find her in her condo – or any other condo! Instead, we were just in time to watch a beautiful, smiling couple fall in love with our multi-colored tigress, and whisk her off to their own, newly kitten-proofed home.
We did recover to foster again… and again, and then some more. It took four more litters of purry tumbleweeds before we were enchanted again – this time into actually adopting our fosters, but that’s a whole other Oprah! We’ve even fostered since the permanent additions, and will continue to do so as long as They will let us. If you have ever bandied about the idea of fostering, give in. Go for it. Your life will be enriched a thousand times over, even with occasionally poopy carpet. I promise you – if an OCD Mama Bear and a Dog Guy can do it, anyone can!