Have you ever considered fostering cats? Find out what it takes before before you bring home a foster from your local shelter.

 Most animal shelters and rescues are full to the brim with homeless cats and kittens. Providing food, veterinary care, and socialization can be overwhelming to even the most well-funded and well-staffed facilities. In order to save as many lives as possible, many organizations rely on a network of foster homes to take in and care for some of these kitties until they can be adopted out.

Fostering cats is a great way of volunteering to help local shelters and rescues. Just ask Pat Cotton, shelter director at the Branford Compassion Club (BCC) in Branford, Connecticut. When BCC first started out, it relied on a network of in-home caregivers; even today, with a brick and mortar facility to house animals, the organization still needs its foster caregivers. “We have 25 cats being fostered out of the shelter,” Pat says. “We make sure [the caregivers] live within driving distance so they can have contact with our vet.”

Fostering felines requires commitment

Those who foster are a unique breed. They provide a warm home environment, love, and supportive care to their foster kitties — and then they let them go, which is one of the hardest parts. Caregivers may also become responsible for the most difficult phases of a cat’s life. They are often called on to foster newborns and feed “bottle babies” — a round-the-clock job. In a shelter environment, very young kittens are vulnerable to infectious disease, which is why foster homes are the best option for them. Foster “parents” also provide a calm, nurturing environment for shy cats who also would not do well in a busy shelter.

Robin Olson of Kitten Associates, a non-profit rescue based in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, has been fostering for 15 years. Among her current charges are four kittens who were rescued with their mom from under a house.

What you need to be a feline foster “parent”

For kittens, Robin recommends the following:

  • Baby scale to monitor their weight.
  • Paint roller pan for a litter box (it fits kittens really well).
  • Covered space with towels and puppy training pads if a mom cat is nursing kittens; a bathtub can work well.
  • Syringes and bottles, goat’s milk (which Robin prefers to commercial formulas) and chicken baby food; the rescue organization you are working with should be able to help you source these items.

For adult cats, you’ll need:

  • High-backed litter pan combined with a short-sided, under-bed storage container to keep litter from going all over the place.
  • Cat tree, ideally with a cubby where the cat can hide, placed near the window in the foster room.
  • Vertical and horizontal scratching pads and posts, and bedding.
  • Food dishes, water bowls and toys.
  • A large folding dog crate comes in very handy, but it’s not necessary right away.

“Foster failures”

When Pat first began fostering in 1999, she ended up keeping her first foster cat. She says this often happens when people are starting out – and it’s not surprising, since it can be very hard to give up your foster kitty to adoption. “Foster failures” are often unable to keep fostering, so it’s important to think about whether or not you’ll be able to say goodbye to a cat you’ve loved and cared for when the rescue finds a permanent home for him.

For those who discover that fostering works well for them, it can be very rewarding. “When you start fostering, it’s hard to let them go,” Robin says. “Then you keep getting new cats and all of a sudden you realize you have this yearning to keep on doing it, because fostering saves lives.”