Thursday, June 13, 2024
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Safely Fostering Rescued Cats and Kittens

Mimi nursing in the newly arranged foster room.
Mimi nursing in the newly arranged foster room.

This introduces a two-part article about safely in your home fostering cats and kittens who you or another have rescued from the street, who are unknown to you and have no veterinary history.

. . . . . . .

On a cold and miserable afternoon in November 1986, I looked out my kitchen door at the friendly and affectionate tabby cat with round white paws who’d taken up residence on my porch, in my yard, and in the alley by my car. He’d been around for two weeks, waiting outside the door, helping me in the garden, following me to my car, talking and rubbing himself up against me, while I was playing hard to get. On this day he had stationed himself out on the walk in my garden and was collecting ice crystals on his fur in the sleeting rain. No one had answered any signs or ads for a missing cat. I gave in to his histrionics and opened the door. He ran up on the porch, sniffed the door, looked inside, and walked in. I closed the door.

That was the last time I let an unknown cat just walk in the door without any veterinary records, and I was lucky. Stanley was clean and healthy. FIV and FeLV were just becoming an epidemic among cats and as yet there was no vaccine or cure, nor regular testing protocol that I knew of, and I didn’t even think about the importance of vaccinations. That was near the beginning of my rescuing career and I was glad that the veterinarian I saw on a regular basis, knowing I had other cats and was likely to take in more cats, let me know about FIV and FeLV and all the other things Stanley could be carrying in with him, and what to do the next time a cat asked to join my household. Actually, the lecture terrified me and I never forgot the sick feeling I got when I thought of possibly killing one or more of my beloved cats with a tortuous and painful fatal disease—and I’m glad for it. In all the years I’ve rescued and fostered cats, I’ve never had anything but fleas spread to the rest of my household.

Something very interesting in the spruce; for some reason I've always loved this photo.
Something very interesting in the spruce; for some reason I’ve always loved this photo.

Fostering cats saves lives, whether you bring them in yourself or foster for a rescue or shelter, whether it’s kittens, adult cats, cats who need a cage break or a level of care they can’t get elsewhere. In spring when litters of homeless kittens show up under every porch, bringing them and their mom indoors, socializing them and spaying or neutering and vaccinating them to prepare them for an adoptive home is not only kind but saves the lives of those cats and prevents the lives of other kittens that will be born to those kittens and their mother if left outdoors.

two cats.
Warm sunshine.

Adult cats in shelters often lose their lives at this time of year to make space the number of kittens with or without mothers entering the shelter, which is finite and has regulations about how many animals it can handle, and taking them into your home for a period of time saves their lives on the spot. Taking in cats to foster from someone whose life is in transition and temporarily or permanently can’t care for them such as divorce or separation, illness, or permanent disability or incapacity, helps a cat transition from a life it’s known to a new reality that may have many changes that often turn a cat defensive and even violent if it doesn’t feel safe.

This two-part article is written from my own experience and a lot of advice from my veterinarians and other animal professionals over the years. I hope I can encourage you to foster and help save lives, safely and happily.

Fostering Rescued Cats and Kittens

Why to foster and an overview of things to consider.


Fostering Rescued Cats and Kittens, Part 2

What to prepare for, and preparing your home and yourself.

two black cats on windowsill
Bella imparts some “older kitty” wisdom to Smokie.

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5 thoughts on “Safely Fostering Rescued Cats and Kittens

  • I have 3 cats and brought a 4th in on July 3rd. He was in isolation while I waited for someone to respond to my “Found Cat” notices. After 2 weeks and no responses, I took him to the vet for FeLV and FIV testing and other vaccinations. His interaction with the other 3 has been limited, in part, because he needs an additional vaccination. Thanks to articles like this one, I learned that isolation was the smart and safe approach.

    • Mike, your intuition was right, and I’m glad I could reinforce that. With cats in general and rescues in particular you can never take too much time to observe and let them settle in and get accustomed to each other. Thank you for rescuing him and providing excellent veterinary care! I hope your set of felines are all napping together on the first cold days of autumn.

  • We all have to start somewhere, like me 40 years ago when I just opened the door and let Stanley walk right in, and I also took kittens away from their mothers thinking it was the right thing to do. The important thing is, we start, and we keep getting better!

  • The photo with the three cats at different levels is classic! It reminds me of an old painting that I studied in Art History, but right now I cannot think of the name or artist. It’s the Up-down-up, and your photo is delightful!
    The reason why we didn’t scoop up Sweetie’s two kittens and bring them inside, was because at the time we didn’t have a separate area. Now, it seems so silly, ’cause just putting them in a bathroom or bedroom would have worked, but at the time, we had no experience with keeping cats separated. Now, it’s old hat, and we have four locales that can be easily closed off, but in 2010, we didn’t know.

    • I think I know which one you mean!I liked the way they were composed too. But how that tabby and white mom produced a lynx point Siamese and a snowshoe kitten, I guess it’s just a trick of genetics.


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