Foster Stories

Anne’s foster kittensAnne’s Kitty Haven

Anne has been an ASPCA foster parent for a few years now, and she acknowledges that while it’s hard to say goodbye to her sweet foster kitties when it’s time for them to find forever homes, the process is one of the most rewarding things she’s ever experienced. We chatted with her about her tenure as a dedicated ASPCA foster parent.

ASPCA: What brought you to the ASPCA?

Anne: A desire to do something for someone else in need.

ASPCA: How long have you fostered with us?

Anne: Since February 2010.

ASPCA: Who was the most memorable foster? Why?

Anne: That would be impossible to answer. I remember my first beautiful calico kitten, Sophie, like it was yesterday. My most recent charge, Poplin, is rearranging my desk as I type this, while his brother, Peplum, sleeps in my lap. They all bring such joy, love, curiosity and endless snuggling. How could one choose?

ASPCA: Has the foster program enriched your life?

Anne: I wouldn’t know how to put it into words. ‘Enriched’ is certainly the right word, though. Foster animals are always happy and enthusiastic to see you when you walk through the door. It never gets old. I smile and laugh a lot more, as do my family and friends, whenever they are around.

ASPCA: Has fostering offered any other benefits to you?

Anne: The little creatures that have lived with me over the years have brought such love and affection. It’s overwhelming how simple it is and how fortunate I am to have been a small part of shaping their little lives. And beyond the animals are the people at the ASPCA. They are the finest, kindest people I’ve ever been associated with. It provides me with some hope for mankind in general.

ASPCA: What’s the most challenging aspect of fostering?

Anne: I’ve decided that little kittens are actually pigs in cat suits. I’ve have never seen such mess-makers, but they do it so beautifully. I marvel at their ingenuity in being little earth-movers of litter outside the box, and continually running into and knocking over the water bowl so my kitchen floor is always spotless. But really, it’s the end of my time with them that is the most challenging. I think I’ve gotten better at it. I don’t sob anymore or call my father after I’ve dropped them and am walking down 92nd Street, but it’s tough. When the time comes I just keep telling myself that my part of the work, though it’s not work at all, is over and you all will take it from here and find them the best forever home.

ASPCA: Anything else you’d like to tell potential foster parents?

Anne: It will be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make. You’ll wonder how you ever did without it in your life!

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Laurette with Coco and MeenoFoster Animal Turned Forever Pet

Laurette O. is one of many who have experienced a “foster failure”—deciding to adopt a foster animal that was only scheduled to be in her care for a short time. We chatted with her about her experience as a foster parent over the past two years.

ASPCA: What brought you to the ASPCA?

Laurette: I live nearby and have always adopted my pets from the ASPCA. Fostering allows me to help other animals in addition to my resident two dogs and one cat.

ASPCA: How long have you fostered with us?

Laurette: I believe it has been a little over two years.

ASPCA: Who was the most memorable foster? Why?

Laurette: I have two. First, there was Luna, a cat—my first foster animal. She was so sweet. She had part of her jaw remove due to cancer, and had to be fed with a feeding tube at first. She got along well with my dog and cat right away. She eventually ate on her own, and was soon adopted upon her arrival at the Adoption Center. The second memorable foster is Coco, who is the second dog that I fostered. I only fostered her for a short while, but instantly fell in love with her. I ended up adopting her. My friends and family think she’s the best dog.

ASPCA: Has the foster program enriched your life?

Laurette: It makes me feel good just to help out. It has brought me to closer to my family, friends and neighbors who like to visit and play with the latest foster.

ASPCA: Has fostering offered any other benefits to you?

Laurette: It is a very cost-effective (no cost!) way to allow me to enjoy taking care of other animals other than my own. All I have to do is love them, care for them, play with them and provide them temporary shelter until the ASPCA finds them their forever home.

kitten and two dogs sleeping

ASPCA: What’s the most challenging aspect of fostering?

Laurette: Giving a pill to a cat! Also, occasionally having to keep the foster separate from my own pet(s) and allocating my time between the animals.

ASPCA: Anything else you’d like to tell potential foster parents?

Laurette: Fostering warms your heart and makes you feel good about helping an animal who needs help. It gives you the opportunity to love, enjoy and care for a temporary pet that can meet your schedule at no cost. It’s a win-win situation all around.

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It's A Family Affair

Andrea has been fostering ASPCA animals for more than six years. During her extraordinary tenure with us, she and her family have cared for more than 170 kittens, most of whom normally wouldn’t be given a shot at life in a forever home due to overcrowding in shelters. So how does she find the time to do it all? Andrea says it’s a family effort, and everyone enjoys pitching in. We chatted with her about why fostering for the ASPCA has been such a great experience for her family.

ASPCA: What sparked your interest in animal care?

Andrea: We got involved with the ASPCA as part of my son Spencer’s bar mitzvah project. He’s now 18 years old, but in the spring of 2005, when he was 11, he was studying for his bar mitzvah. Our synagogue requires the children to participate in community service as part of their preparation.

Spencer wanted to work with animals but was not old enough to volunteer at the shelter. We learned about the foster care program, and started to work with the ASPCA.

ASPCA: Who in the family, besides you, is responsible for kitten care?

Andrea: What started as Spencer’s bar mitzvah project six years ago became a full-on family project in which everyone participates. My husband pitches in, but primarily it is Spencer and his brother and sister, Charles and Penelope, who do most of the loving and playing with the kittens. They also share in feeding and giving medication.

The way we work it is that the cattery lives in the boys’ bedroom, which they share. When no one is home, the kittens remain in the cage. When someone is home, or particularly in the boys’ room, we let the kittens out. It is a gigantic playground for them. Tons of places to climb and play, plenty of toys, and certainly plenty of socializing and affection.

ASPCA: How have the children benefited from fostering animals and participating in animal rescue?

Andrea: Two things have been important for us: First of all, especially when the boys were younger, we would sit on the floor in their room in the evening before bedtime and let the kittens out. Everyone was relaxed and we would laugh and talk and play. It was a time to be together and away from the TV or the computer.

The second thing I think the children have gained is the ability and interest to be cuddly and affectionate and caring with something small and furry. The kittens are just so funny and cute and vulnerable that it brings out the compassionate and gentle side of just about everybody, including teenage boys.

ASPCA: Anything you’d like to say to potential foster parents and their children?

Andrea: Fostering kittens has brought hours and hours of laughter and joy to our house. There is no way to walk in the door at the end of the day in a bad mood and stay in that bad mood once you see the kittens. They are a constant draw for all of us, and we always want to be around them. We highly recommend becoming a foster family.

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Canine Kindergarten

Often, the ASPCA receives orphaned or abandoned Pit Bull puppies, and we know it’s important that they learn puppy manners and human socialization immediately. That’s why we sometimes send these canines off to Canine Kindergarten with very committed foster mom, Marisol. We chatted with Marisol, a pre-K teacher who is studying to join the animal welfare field, about her experience as a foster mom.

ASPCA: What brought you to the ASPCA?

Marisol: About seven years ago, I decided I wanted to volunteer with animals in a shelter. I searched around and up came the ASPCA. After all the necessary training, I started volunteering at the shelter, at off-site events and ultimately at Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital. My volunteer work became a full time position as an animal care technician for two years. I left to return to school, but my heart and passion always were with the ASPCA.

ASPCA: How long have you fostered with us?

Marisol: I have been fostering for the last three years, and this year has been my puppy year! I have also opened my home to cats, kittens and puppies, and mother cats and their litters.

ASPCA: Who was the most memorable foster? Why?

Marisol: During one of my shifts at the hospital, a batch of orphaned kittens came in for a health check in the early morning, just as I was about to leave. I immediately fell in love with them and wanted to help them personally. I asked if I could and before I knew it, I was taking home five three-week-old kittens.

The experience was so rewarding; I cared for them for three months and watched them grow. I knew from that experience that if I could help and give love to one animal at a time, I could make it possible for them to be loved the way they deserve to be in a forever home.

ASPCA: Has the foster program enriched your life?

Marisol: The program has made me more appreciative of the unconditional love these animals give us. I have become more attuned to the wants and needs of not only my own animals but those who come and stay with me. They need exercise, mental stimulation, obedience training, and above all love and to feel loved. I also take all that and apply those principles to the students in my classroom.

ASPCA: Has fostering offered any other benefits to you?

Marisol: I have gained a tremendous amount of knowledge by volunteering and working with animals. And because I continue to learn so much, fostering is my source of motivation to immerse myself in the veterinary field and work with animals full time.

ASPCA: What’s the most challenging aspect of fostering?

Marisol: Cat-proofing and puppy-proofing your home! Keep anything valuable safely guarded. You want to maintain a safe environment for your foster pet.

ASPCA: Anything else you’d like to tell potential foster parents?

Marisol: Enjoy the time you spend with your foster animal. You don’t get that time back so make it count! You should feel proud that you want to bring an animal you don’t really know into your home, into your life and into your heart and love them as if they were your own. When you give them back, a part of you goes with them and that time you put into them goes with them into their new home. Not every animal gets an opportunity to be loved, and as a foster parent, you get to give that love.

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Ruffian Rehab

Staten Island native Donna Marie is a fearless paramedic for the FDNY. She’s also a lifelong animal rescuer and one of the ASPCA’s hardest-working foster parents! Since 2009, she’s been helping prepare semi-feral and under-socialized cats for a lifetime of love and companionship in a forever home. We chatted with her about her experiences as a foster mom.

ASPCA: How did you decide to join the ASPCA’s foster program?

Donna: I love working with animals, and my fiancé, Ricky, and I thought we’d get our “kitten fix.” We already had adult cats and thought that fostering would be a great way to spend time with kittens without the long-term commitment.

But as we got more involved, we became more of a “last stop” for cats who needed an evaluation outside of the shelter environment, and by people who truly understood cats.

I think it’s important that we offer these animals a fair shot because shelter evaluations can’t always reflect the true personality of some shy cats and kittens who may thrive in a home environment. (Although we admittedly still love the kitten fixes.)

ASPCA: Who was your most memorable foster pet?

Donna: Probably Fonzie. He was a little Siamese mix with crossed eyes, a chronic sniffle, an absolute aversion to being picked up and an inability to stop chirping. He was such a weirdo, and yet so absolutely charming. After returning to the ASPCA Adoption Center, he eventually got adopted!

ASPCA: What would you say to potential foster parents?

Donna: You can’t adopt them all, even if you’d like to. (Trust me, we’ve thought about it.) But wherever you live, I guarantee that there’s an animal shelter that could use your help, and fostering can truly be one of the most rewarding experiences you’ll ever have in your life. OK, so maybe we can’t change the world. But maybe we can make it better, one animal at a time. Personally, I’d like to try. How about you? 

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Kitten Conundrum

During the spring and summer months, the ASPCA rescues untold numbers of kittens. Mothers accompany some, but many are orphans. Usually, these kittens are too young to be vaccinated, let alone spayed or neutered and placed available for adoption. Our solution is to place them in temporary foster care.

No one has been more enthusiastic to foster kitten families than volunteer Suki. Born in South Korea, Suki moved to New York when she was four, and currently works for a real estate firm.

"When I was younger, I was blessed with my very own adorable gray Tabby cat who stole my heart at first glance," says Suki. "I named him Precious because he had the most beautiful tear-shaped eyes that resembled the Precious Moments figurines. Having him in my life taught me the most valuable lessons I could learn about companionship, responsibility and unconditional love. Precious was my best friend and was there for me with unwavering loyalty. At ten years old, he was diagnosed with liver failure and passed away shortly after despite all the aggressive treatments we tried to save him. A part of my heart died that day."

"When Precious passed away and I joined the ASPCA Foster Care Program, which gave me the opportunity to honor Precious' memory and show him that he brought the best out of me, and now I can share it with his fellow cats."

Joining our foster program in March 2008, Suki has personally provided foster homes and temporary shelter for more than 80 cats, many of whom have been bottle-fed, litter box-trained, socialized and given special medical care, all by Suki's own hands.

"Sunshine was one of my favorite kittens," Sukie says. "She was born with three legs, but her disability never inhibited her curiosity or her playfulness; I don't think she was even aware of her missing hind leg. Sunshine is a prime example of perseverance and utter joy."

"Cinco, Cecilia and Demille were three kittens I had the hardest time giving up," Suki muses. "Besides being so adorable, I just had a connection with them. Demille was the runt of the litter, so I had to supplement his feeding with bottles, and when you bottle-feed a kitten, he forms a strong bond with you. Cecilia was my girl with sass and lots of sweetness. She would purr when I pet her and never let me down when I wanted a hug. Cinco was always so gracious, a gentle big brother with the cutest little face that would melt your heart."

The ASPCA would not be as successful solving the "kitten conundrum" if it wasn't for the help of dedicated foster parents and volunteers like Suki, who adds: "The ASPCA always thanks me for taking foster families, but I should be the one thanking them. I feel privileged to have these kittens in my home, and I am truly grateful for having this amazing program in my life."

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Open for Business: Tarlan’s Kitten Bed and Breakfast

Tarlan is one of our superstar foster caretakers. Since November of 2007, she has fostered 61 animals in her home—including 11 at once—and has served as one of our most prolific “shelters outside a shelter.”

Born and raised in Nottingham, England, Tarlan moved to St. Louis, MO, for high school, and subsequently attended Princeton University to study economics. She now lives in Manhattan and works for a risk management company. In addition to volunteering with the ASPCA, Tarlan also contributes her time to the Audubon Society, Project Safe Flight and Tribute in Light, which monitors and prevents migrating birds from getting caught in the beams of light projected in honor of September 11.

“I grew up loving animals,” says Tarlan. “I had cats and a rabbit as a child, and loved playing with the neighborhood cats.”

Still, loving animals and opening your home to groups of them are a different matter entirely. “It’s a madhouse!” Tarlan laughs. “But one I’d never change. It’s such a wonderful and rewarding experience. The kittens adore you and look to you as an example. They want nothing more than food, warmth and love, and they return the affection tenfold. Plus, kittens provide hours of entertainment.”

She continues: “Bud was one of my favorite fosters. From an underweight runt who had to be force-fed, he grew into a gorgeous, loving kitten, who would jump up to greet you when you called his name. I think he thought he was a dog!”

Another character was Quagmire, a kitty with a head fetish. “He had a funny habit of sucking on my hair,” says Tarlan. “I’d fall asleep to the sound of him sucking away happily. Every day I woke up with chunks of hair standing up at funny angles—I knew exactly who to blame!”

Tarlan adds that the day-to-day fostering experience is rewarding, but the most fulfilling moment is when she reads the ASPCA’s monthly e-mail listing the animals who’ve been adopted. She says: “I feel that I’m being rewarded for my efforts—raising, socializing and teaching the kittens—by seeing them go to loving homes that are going to treasure them forever.”

The ASPCA is working on cloning Tarlan—or at least finding more dedicated fosters just like her to help with the program. She has done amazing work for the ASPCA, and we are so grateful for her dedication and commitment, and for being the hostess with the mostest of her very own kitten bed and breakfast!

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The Missy Chronicles

By Leslie

Update—On August 13, Missy along with her kittens, Uno, Mowgli, Tarzan, Aladdin and Annie, returned to the ASPCA. Leslie, our wonderful foster, completed her tour of duty as a foster mom and higher education was calling. Leslie relocated to Atlanta, GA, to pursue her PsyD in Clinical Psychology at Argosy University. She can’t wait for next summer when she will foster another family of felines.

Missy and her clan are now awaiting medical clearance and spay/neuter surgery before they become available for adoption at our Adoption Center. Mom and kittens’ hearts ache for their foster mom and her caring ways, but they will soon find their forever homes. Like the kitties, the ASPCA also misses Leslie and wishes her the best with her academic endeavors!

July 27, 2009—The kittens' eyes have now opened. It took about four days when all was said and done—with just the inside corners opening first and gradually spreading outward—but now I am greeted by five little heads and five little pairs of eyes looking up at me. They recognize sounds now, too, and will orient their heads toward the source of disruption. Personalities are beginning to emerge, and it's clear which kittens are more independent. All, however, are sweet and content to curl up in my hands.

Uno looks like a little bear with his round face and puffy, soft fur, and my guess is that he will be a joyous handful when he grows up. Aladdin is a little slower to stray from the nest than the others. His eyes were the last to open, and he can usually be found on his back playing with paws up in the air. Tarzan and Mowgli look nearly identical. Mowgli is the wanderer—often straying from Missy and his siblings to strike out on his own—and he has a bit of white on his nose. Tarzan is emerging as the quiet, confident type. He doesn't move around much, but he still seems like he would be the leader of the gang. And finally there is the only girl in the bunch: Annie Warbucks. Annie is the smallest kitten and the chattiest. She often walks around and mews as if commenting on everything, and she has eyes that will melt your heart.

In the two weeks since the kittens have arrived, I've had many visitors come to meet them. Missy has greeted all with open enthusiasm, wanting as much attention for herself as she can soak up. While other mothers might be protective of their kittens, Missy has allowed me to hold them from day one. She is inherently trusting. And now, when my friends and family pick up the kittens, Missy just makes sure to keep them all within sight, sometimes wandering over to offer a gentle lick.

July 16, 2009—Childbirth wasn't easy for Missy. She had been in my house nearly six weeks when she finally went into labor. All I could do was hope for luck and healthy kittens, and keep my fingers crossed. Unfortunately, only one of Missy's three kittens survived—a tiny little Tabby who I promptly named Uno. Right away Missy set to work being a mother, and when Uno began to nurse, I knew we were out of the critical stage. Many things can go wrong in the lives of kittens, but at least Uno had a chance.

Two days later, I brought Missy and Uno in for a check-up with Dr. Jennifer Lander, Director of Medicine at the ASPCA Adoption Center. She said Missy was in good health and that Uno seemed okay—for now. As I was leaving, Dr. Lander asked if we could try giving Missy another little kitten—one who'd been born premature and whose mother had no milk. Most mother cats hiss when you introduce a new kitten into the litter—even if they eventually settle down—but Missy didn't make a sound. When the little orange kitten was added to her litter, she set to work licking him and rubbing her head against him. It was as almost as if he had always been there. I named the orange kitten Oliver Twist and went home with Missy and two kittens.

But I didn't have two kittens for long. The next day, I got a call from Cindy Tomm, who said that someone had dropped motherless kittens at the ASPCA—they were about the same age as the two I already had. The kittens were in the ICU, being bottle-fed every two hours and in desperate need of a mom. As Missy was slowly introduced to each one, we all held our breath, but she never hissed or rejected any of them. She simply licked the kittens and rolled over so they could nurse. The staff applauded, and shortly thereafter, I left the ASPCA with six kittens and Missy in tow.

The saga didn't end there, though. Oliver Twist didn't survive the weekend. He was too premature and underdeveloped—in the end, he had had trouble swallowing, but Missy continued to nurse the others.

After only a few days, I could tell they were all growing. The adopted kittens were growing at the same rate as little Uno, so I knew that Missy was treating the new kittens as if they were her own. All the kittens nursed together and slept together, and Missy very rarely left their sides. Now the kittens no longer look like little, wet, squirmy blobs with legs, but are, instead, small balls of fluff. Missy keeps them clean and loves them. I, in turn, get to watch the way her instincts tell her exactly what to do at just the right moment. It really is amazing!

June 2009—Over the past five summers, I've fostered sixty-one cats and kittens from the ASPCA, and loved each of them as though they were my own. I've medicated and held sick ones, laughed at the antics of the healthy and dangled more "cat-dancers" than I care to count. I would foster year-round if I could, but I'm a student and my school schedule would interfere with raising kittens. So I look forward to the summertime when I can enjoy the beach, pool, sun and cats!

Sometimes my fosters stay for a few days, weeks or months. Missy will be one cat who stays for awhile. She is pregnant and will live with me until she gives birth and weans her kittens. Missy is a gorgeous Tabby, who's mostly black and gray with a smattering of orange that makes her look exotic. Her hair is long and soft, creating a softness around her long-whiskered face. Her tail poofs out in a way that says, "Yes, I know I'm beautiful." The only thing that matches her beauty is her sweetness. She sits in our laps, purrs in a low, soft rumble, and rubs her face against my own or presses her head into my hand. She lays on her back or draped across my back, perfectly content and trusting.

I loved Missy instantly and can't wait to love her kittens, too.

Leslie has been a volunteer at the ASPCA since she was 16 years old. This fall, she will begin working towards her doctorate in psychology (PsyD) at Argosy University. She plans to use animals in her future work as a clinical psychologist. Leslie has published a novel titled "Unwell," which is loosely based on her life experiences.

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 Foster Care Volunteer Turns Proud Adopter

Amish, an assistant professor and attending physician at New York City's Mount Sinai Hospital, is the quintessential busy New Yorker. When not treating emergency patients, he teaches medical students and residents at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and provides emergency care for the New York Jets when the team plays home games. In his spare time, Amish enjoys acting, piano playing, photography and travel. Having always been an animal lover, in 2008, he decided to pursue his philanthropic bent by volunteering with the ASPCA.

Amish felt that our organization was a great place for him to make a difference, partly because our volunteer program doesn't require previous experience with animals. He started out as an adoptions counselor and cat socializer. "I watched many people pass over certain cats because they were a little older or weren't immediately friendly," Amish recalls. His determination to change this led him to the ASPCA Foster Care Program. Amish decided that he wanted to foster older, less visible shelter cats who needed a little extra TLC in order to get adopted. Although a dog lover as well, Amish felt his schedule was more conducive to fostering a cat who could be left alone for 8 to 10 hours a day.

After meeting a few different kitty candidates, Amish finally met Taylor, who had been in the shelter for a year and a half. Here is his account of how it all unfolded:

When I found her, she was pacing about and clearly wanted space to explore—she is naturally very curious. When I opened the cage door to play with her, she seemed really shy and afraid. After a few minutes, she looked up at me and bravely stepped forward, head-butting my hand and offering a gracious purr. She seemed genuinely happy to introduce herself, play with me and respond to my voice. She also explored everything around, which told me that a dose of independence was going to make her happy, too.

After spending a month with Taylor, Shah knew he would never bring her back to the shelter. The two bonded instantly through piano duets, joint computer projects and neck scratches for Taylor.

As their year anniversary approaches, the two are happy as can be. Taylor enjoys chasing after string/laser pointers, stalking Shah's computer screen and most of all, dining in. In order to keep her girlish figure, she is on a prescription weight diet, but hasn't solved her hankering for cheese and spanakopita, which she occasionally nabs from her dad's plate. According to Amish, she dances hip hop with a laser pointer, and her favorite song is Flo Rida's "Shorty Get Low," or in her case "Kitty Get Low." She's also learned to meow on command, as long as there's a yummy reward!