I have a confession to make: I'm an animal lover and have four pets of my own, but if it was up to me, I'd adopt several more.
I'm not interested in becoming a cat lady, however, so I do the next closest thing: I'm a cat foster parent.
There are thousands of homeless animals across the United States, some that are too young to be put up for adoption and many others that are up for adoption but still haven't found a forever home. Rescue groups often seek volunteers willing to raise and socialize these animals, which is where I come in.
My job as a foster parent is to spend time with and care for cats (generally kittens) so that they are healthy and happy when they go up for adoption, but it's not as easy as it sounds.
If you would like to become a pet foster parent too, there are some things you should know before you commit. Though I foster cats, these guidelines can be adapted for those who want to foster dogs, rabbits and other critters as well.
1. If you have a tendency to adopt every animal that needs a home, this job is not for you. It can be emotionally draining to care for and love an animal, and then give it up. The rescue group I volunteer with provides me with updates on how my foster animals are doing after they've gone up for adoption and when they are adopted, but some programs ask the foster parents to help find forever homes.
2. Take down time between foster animals, especially if you have pets of your own. It's important for you to set aside time for your forever pets, clean thoroughly before you get new fosters and relax. Having foster animals takes a lot of energy!
3. Keep your forever pets up-to-date on their vaccinations. Puppies and kittens are often too young to be vaccinated themselves and may bring illnesses into the home. If there is a concern about ringworm or some other contagious illness, keep the sick animal separated from the others.
4. Learn the basics about health and wellness. Talk to the person supervising your foster program about symptoms of illnesses. Some things are common, and others are cause for concern. We keep a supply of liquid antibiotics, ringworm medication and eye cream on hand (given to us by the foster program), but we have someone we can contact 24 hours a day if there is a situation we don't know how to handle.
5. Animals will be stressed out when they first arrive in your home. Don't expect them to immediately crawl into your lap or play. Give them time to adjust. I've also found that, even though one of the first things I do is introduce kittens to their litter box, they usually have a few accidents in the first few days, and this is common for any animal.
6. Fostering is a time consuming process. You'll need to spend time playing and cuddling with the animals. Some may need to be trained. You'll most certainly have to spend some time cleaning up after them.
7. Socialize your foster pets, especially if you have young animals. Because I often care for kittens, I make sure that they'll be prepared regardless of the type or size of family they are adopted into. I introduce them to dogs and older cats, and I make sure they spend time playing with children.
Before committing your time, consider what kinds of animals you would like to foster and how many you can care for at a time. Get in touch with your rescue group and let them know how you can assist. Once you've received a foster pet, love it and train it just like it is your own.
Being a pet foster parent can be trying on the nerves, suck up precious time and break your heart, but there's nothing more rewarding than knowing you've loved an animal and prepared it for a long, happy and healthy life.