May is National Foster Care Month, which brings attention to the American system for fostering children who do not have or cannot live with their own family or guardians. Care2 Causes writers will be writing about the foster care system for minors.
There is also another kind of foster care — for homeless animals.
The Humane Society of the United States reports that approximately 6-8 million cats and dogs enter the nation’s 3,500 shelters each year. Out of those who are healthy and “adoptable,” 2.7 million are killed for lack of adopters and a shortage of cage space.
ASPCA Volunteer Manager Diane Wilkerson explains, “the more cats and kittens that we get out and into foster homes until they are ready for adoption, the more space we have here at the shelter.”
If it weren’t for people who foster homeless animals, that 2.7 million figure would be higher.
Fostering helps keep animals safely off the street and out of the pound where they may be put down. These arrangements “are the lifeline for these animals. I can’t say enough good things about people who foster,” says Jane Hoffman, President of the Mayor’s Alliance for New York City’s Animals.
Kittens and puppies too young to be adopted can get care and socialization in a foster home. Often the alternative is death, because shelters want their cage space to go to animals who are immediately adoptable.
Animals recovering from illness or injury are in a similar situation. They are not ready for adoption, and if they are contagious they shouldn’t be in an animal shelter with other animals who could fall ill. These needy souls may find temporary refuge with families who care for them until they have recovered and are ready for adoption.
While fostering is a very good deed, it isn’t all about self-sacrifice and drudgery. It’s fun!
I have fostered cats and kittens. The first time, I took in six kittens and their mother. One morning when I opened the door to their room a tiny phalanx bounded towards me, six abreast, all fluff and stubby legs and joy. They were all over me when I sat down, rubbing their faces against mine and wrestling with each other in my lap.
Lately animal lovers have been making up new words to express extreme, squeal-inducing levels of cute, having found that English is not yet up to the task. I must resort to one of those inventions to describe my feelings that day: Squeee!!! (Yes, three exclamation points are called for.)
Happily, playing with kittens and puppies is part of the job description. So is deluging them with love. I hold them, kiss their tiny noses, and carry them around with me. It makes cleaning the litter boxes entirely worthwhile.
The hardest part is letting them go. When that first feline family left me I cried on and off for three days, but it gets easier to say goodbye each time. To avoid falling in love with and torturing myself over whether to keep every furry bundle, I instituted a rule against keeping any foster, no matter how [new word alert] ridonculously cute she or he was.
The ASPCA has tales from people who foster companion animals in its Foster Diaries. It is inspiring reading and may inspire you to open your own home to some little bundles of joy who would otherwise lose their lives.
To find a shelter near you that needs foster homes, use the ASPCA’s database.
Photo credit: iStockphoto