Foster families are often the unsung heroes in animal welfare. They open their homes and hearts to animals only to part with them weeks or months later. The willingness of foster families to love and let go brings about much good. For the animals they foster, these families are the pathway to a new life….the bridge between what was and what can be.
Each year, hundreds of animals that cross the Nova Scotia SPCA’s doorstep need temporary foster homes. They are either too young to be adopted, are recuperating from illness/surgery or need some extra ‘TLC’ before finding their new forever homes. During the summer months the number of kittens soars, dramatically increasing the need for foster homes where they can grow and play until they are old enough for adoption.
I caught up with one of the SPCA’s fantastic foster moms – Fiona McAllister – and asked her to share her experiences. Fiona’s family has been an integral part of the foster program for almost 3 years and have fostered an amazing 78 cats and kittens to-date! “Making the decision to become a foster family was a no-brainer,” says Fiona. “I learned about the program from a colleague who was caring for four precious two-week old bottle babies. It was hard to believe that I could help to save animals’ lives and be constantly surrounded by adorable kittens.”
The motto of the Nova Scotia SPCA’s foster program is “You supply the home and the love; we supply everything else.” Fiona says she’s surprised at how many people ask her if she has to buy supplies for her foster kitties. “I tell them that you don’t have to buy anything. The SPCA provides any required medical care and supplies all the food, dishes, bedding, litter and everything else to help the animals have a comfortable stay in your home. I emphasize that foster families provide things you can’t buy in a store – love, attention and nurturing.”
I asked Fiona what responsibilities her foster family has. “We need to ensure that the cats and kittens in our care are eating and drinking properly every day. We check for signs of illness such as crusty eyes or runny noses and bring any issues that may arise to the SPCA’s attention. We also take them to the shelter for check-ups and vaccinations as required.” She adds, “We make sure our foster kitties are socialized with a variety of people and ultimately, with our own cats, to build their confidence and adaptability. We also introduce kittens to different household noises like hair dryers and vacuums to ease their transition to a new forever home.”
The time commitment and length of stay vary with each foster animal’s situation. Fiona says “We spend an average of one hour a day tending to their basic needs (feeding, scooping litter, administering meds). We also spend as much time as possible cuddling and playing with them.” The average length of stay is 3-6 weeks for cats. “The SPCA can usually customize the foster animals you take home to what works best for your lifestyle and schedule.”
If you’ve never cared for kittens or administered medications, Fiona says “no problem – the SPCA will teach you.” As well, the SPCA’s foster team is just a phone call away for ongoing support. “I ask lots of questions and feel very comfortable asking SPCA staff anything. I learn something new each time I see them,” she relates.
I asked Fiona if it’s difficult to say goodbye to her foster kitties. “Many people have said to me that they’d love to foster, but they know they’d want to keep them all. It makes me sad when I hear those words. Every time I have to say goodbye, my heart breaks a little. But when I let my foster kitties go, I know that they will be adopted by amazing families who will pick up where I left off and cherish them forever.” And there’s always another kitty waiting in the wings for a chance to be saved. Fiona says, “I tell people that the best part of saying goodbye is saying hello to new adorable kitties who need me.”
Fiona’s family finds that fostering is a hugely rewarding experience and she encourages everyone to consider becoming a foster family. She sums it up purr-fectly: “It’s the greatest feeling in the world to know you played a role in changing an animal’s life for the better; in giving them a second chance at happiness. When babies come to us underweight, timid or sick and we return them happy, healthy and confident, we know we’ve done a really good job.”
Fiona’s most memorable fostering experience was last July. A heartless person had sealed 3 adult cats and 10 very young kittens in a cardboard box and thrown them in a dumpster. Thankfully, someone found them just in time and brought them to safety at the Nova Scotia SPCA. “I volunteered immediately, and we received the 2 nursing mama cats and the 10 kittens. It was the hardest and yet most rewarding experience ever. Both adults and all the kittens were in very bad shape and required significantly more care than the average group of foster kitties. But in the end, our family brought very happy, healthy and completely spoiled-rotten kitties back to the SPCA to be adopted. I smile every time I think of them.”
The Nova Scotia SPCA is always looking for more foster families and with kitten season upon us, we need your help now. Please don’t wait for ‘some day.’ You can make a difference today by signing up. Click here to learn more about fostering opportunities.
Judy is a dedicated volunteer with the Nova Scotia SPCA and proud adoptive fur-mama to Gracie. She is committed to speaking for animals who cannot speak for themselves.