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Rescue Story: A Long-ago Foster

sketch of two cats on stool
Loafing, charcoal and conte © B.E. Kazmarski

AS WE ENCOUNTER cats who need homes, we find some of them only need a little help—or, technically, their human does. People’s lives change, sometimes beyond their control, and sometimes in ways they can control more easily if someone were to lend them a hand. A number of the cats I’ve fostered were really not rescues at all, but cats I took in temporarily for friends or others whose life was in transition in some way.

. . . . . . .

In the late 1980s I began studying optimum feline diets and along with cooking for my cats and preparing raw diets, I regularly ordered a few different high-quality canned foods through a groomer near me. The foods weren’t available in stores, and ordering enough canned food for six or seven cats for a month suited both their supplier and my budget.

In March 1991, a few months after I’d moved here, one of the owners told me of a young woman with a daughter and two cats who they had hired from a grooming school in Pittsburgh to work in the shop. She needed to move closer because she had no car nor the means to purchase one, and she would be living in public housing, which in Pennsylvania did not permit pets.

They knew she would work well at the shop because she’d done a one-month internship and they looked forward to working with her and helping her with her new start, but she had no alternatives for her two cats other than to surrender them to a shelter. However, she lived in a rural area in West Virginia that didn’t even have a shelter, so she’d be surrendering them to animal control or…just letting them go. The requirements of her job training program required that she follow through with any viable job offer or lose her benefits, and she really wanted this position, but just could not leave her cats behind. They could stay at the groomer temporarily, and that would buy some time, but it was a very small shop and focused on dogs, and the cats would have to stay in cages. Still, that was better than…the alternative.

Could I help find a foster home? If not, could I foster the cats?

My goodness, that would be nine cats in my house. Could I do that? Should I do that? In just five months I’d go from six cats to nine. Was I becoming a crazy cat lady? Was I going to fill my new house with cats?

In about the time it took you to read that list of questions to myself, I decided there was no question I’d help this young woman, and the groomer who had been so helpful to me. Sophie would be going to live with my mother after Sophie’s spay in a few weeks, and the cats could come here to the spare cat room when she left, so I would “only” have eight cats. The woman seemed very responsible and had taken good care of the cats so far, getting them neutered and giving them proper veterinary care on a limited budget with no vehicle. And I knew how things worked with job requirements when receiving public assistance and living in public housing because I was also involved in hiring people where I worked. This opportunity would change her life and it was worth the chance. I let my intuition tell me it was the right thing to do.

And so they did, two orange and white boys, Frederick who she called Frederico, a bolder, more affectionate boy who was the woman’s best friend, and the somewhat timid boy Russell who was his brother. The boys initially stayed in the spare cat room for a month or so, but when it became hot in the summer I began to let them out. I was aware of how small my house was (and still is, with a total of 990 sq. ft. on three floors), and didn’t want to stress the six who were a tight group by adding two strangers. The previous house had been twice as large, and the rooms were larger too.

But they were friendly and their ages mixed right in with the rest of mine, and my cats were already accustomed to fosters. I had learned that introducing one new cat gradually was a good idea, so I let Frederico out first, briefly and then longer, then let Russell out as well, and over the course of a few months they enjoyed their time with the gang.

 Russell, left, and Frederico
Russell, left, and Frederico

The woman and her daughter took the bus here to visit about once per month, and brought food and toys for the boys, spending time to play with them. She eventually found a job that offered more hours and a chance to find an apartment outside of public housing where she could have her cats and continue building her life. In time she did find that apartment, and in March 1992, a little shy of a year from the time they’d first joined us, I drove Frederico and Russell to her new apartment, to the joy of her daughter, especially.

I kept in touch with her for several years after the boys had rejoined her and her daughter, and received a studio portrait of her daughter with the boys in a Christmas card one year not long after. They are sitting on her daughter’s lap though I haven’t included her in the photo above for privacy. But I thought of those two wonderful boys with their little girl who they loved so much, and taking them to a photo studio to have a memory made of that time in their lives and I knew I’d done the right thing. More than 20 years later I still get teary when I look at the photo.

She worked for a while longer in Pennsylvania but was actually able to move back to her home town in West Virginia after a while and continue to support herself. We lost track of each other in time but she and her daughter and Frederico and Russell seemed to be on their way to a good life. I’ll always be glad I could help them, all of them, especially the boys.

A little help can mean the difference between a home and a shelter

I’ve fostered cats for women in transition a number of other times in the years I’ve been fostering, either for a friend of a friend, or for friends who worked at shelters or in a position to refer. I don’t discuss a few of them to protect the parties concerned, even years later. These people initially thought they’d have to give up their cats to move to public housing where pets weren’t permitted, or through divorce, or even to escape an abusive situation and spend some time in a shelter. After some conversation it turns out they didn’t want to give up their cats at all, in fact for someone giving up nearly everything giving up their pets along with it was heartbreaking. Others even offered to support their cats and take them back after they’d moved because it would give them more flexibility in getting their life and finances to a stable point.

Though others told me I’d “get stuck with those cats,” 1n all the times I’d done this for others, mostly women in transition, they always followed through and took their cats back when they found their new, stable place—even came and visited while they were here. I knew I might end up keeping them, just as I might end up keeping any cat who I decided to take in, and if that was how it worked out that would be okay.

Now there are programs for this sort of thing and I’m so glad for it, because I saw first hand how important it was to the adults and to the children whose lives were being taken apart. Of all the material possessions you might lose and even threats to self, pets are often most important, especially to children, and last considered in a system that is set up for people and not pets.

I’ve also known people who’ve fostered pets for those who served jail time, or who unfortunately have to move in and out of psychiatric care, and even personal or nursing care. If there’s ever a chance to help a person in this way, give yourself a minute or two to discuss it with yourself, then just go ahead and do it. The impact on the people and the animals might be one of the best things you’ve ever done.

There were cats who stayed with me out of all those, and they were the ones we knew would likely end up staying here, Namir and Kelly, as the woman pursued graduate studies at several different colleges and decided they were happier here once they’d settled in, and I think they were meant to be here anyway.

. . . . . . .

The sketch at the top isn’t the two cats in the story, of course, but a sketch of two of my boys called “Loafing”. I originally published a briefer version of this in March 2013 one day when the weather reminded me of that day in 1991 that I’d decided to foster the two orange boys, but I couldn’t remember the names of anyone in the story, the cats or the people. Since then I’ve found the photos I’d collected from others over the years and there were their names. It’s a wallet-sized photo and even with a high-resolution scan the two cats were a little blurry, and in part for the circumstances I wasn’t sure about featuring them at the top. The photo also brought to mind the rest of the details.

Read other stories in my Rescue Stories series.

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Each book includes also 10 sheets of my “22 Cats” decorative notepaper with a collage of all the portraits in black and white so you can make your own notes or write special notes to friends.

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From health and welfare to rescue and adoption stories, advocacy and art, factual articles and fictional stories, "The Creative Cat" offers both visual and verbal education and entertainment about cats for people who love cats, pets and animals of all species.

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