The last time I saw Gigi, she stared back at me through the bars of a cage at Operation Kindness, a Dallas-area no-kill shelter.
After Hurricane Katrina, Gigi lived for weeks in the rubble of a collapsed home in Jefferson Parish, La. When she came to Operation Kindness, she was traumatized and suffering from coccidia (internal parasites). Shelter workers called me because they wanted an experienced foster home to medicate her and socialize her.
Gigi was fearful of everything. After months of work, she finally learned to enjoy human affection. I was tempted — so tempted — to adopt her myself. But, my husband and I can only handle so many cats. If we kept her, tomorrow when the city shelter called to beg us to take a litter of orphaned kittens that otherwise would be euthanized, I would have to say no. What a horrible choice. Keep the charming kitten who found it so hard to trust or save an endless line of kittens in the future.
Gigi has so much spirit and such a desire to not only survive, but be happy. When the time came, through tear-filled eyes, I left her in the safety of Operation Kindness. Soon, something magical happened. Gigi found the perfect home: a single work-at-home woman with a teenage daughter. The woman wanted an affectionate cat that would follow her around and sit in her lap. That’s exactly what she got with Gigi, a charming tuxedo with an upside-down teardrop on her nose who just wanted to be loved.
Without foster homes, Gigi’s story would have ended shortly after she was plucked from the ruins of her home.
Immediately following a Minneapolis purebred seizure/rescue, Linda Gorsuch (of Desert Jewel Turkish Vans in Maryland), other Turkish Van breeders and a network of purebred rescue fosters, offered temporary homes, as well as permanent homes, to more than 110 seized cats. Their quick action freed cage space in a shelter that was already overflowing. Without the foster homes, animal control officers would have been forced to immediately put down adoptable local strays, and within a few days, the seized cats would have followed.
“By fostering you take some of the pressure off the kill-shelters,” Gorsuch says. “Purebred rescues have resources to find homes that are specifically interested in those particular cats. By using all available fostering assets, it prevents more cats, purebred and not, from being put to sleep.”
No figures are available on how many cats are in foster homes, but PetSmart works with more than 3,400 rescue organizations in the United States and Canada. As of December 15, 2006, 2,850,216 animals have been adopted through PetSmart’s onsite adoptions. A website dedicated to pet adoption, www.petfinder.com, has more than 10,000 animal welfare members. Of those, one-third have shelters, one-third use strictly foster homes and the other third use both, says Kim Saunders of Petfinders shelter outreach.
Small organizations depend entirely on foster homes and adopt-a-pet events to rescue cats. Bev Freed, with Kitty Save out of Lewisville, Texas, says that foster homes enabled her group to rescue about 200 cats in the last year.
Like most organizations, Kitty Save covers all veterinary expenses including spay/neuter, shots, feline leukemia/feline immunodeficiency virus testing, worming and miscellaneous medical expenses. Foster parents pay for food, litter and everyday expenses. The foster parents are expected to take cats to the vet as needed and take them to adopt-a-pets at PetSmart.
“What happens after your foster cat gets adopted? You get a new one and a big hug. Congratulations. You saved a life. Now, let’s save another one,” Freed says.
Mary Anne Miller
Unlike Freed, Mary Anne Miller operates independently, working with local shelters and humane societies and finding homes for needy cats on her own. She constantly opens her Oregon home temporarily to cats in need. Her most memorable foster cat, Starlight, a van patterned Persian, was abandoned in the middle of nowhere. His claws had grown into his pads and his hipbones and ribs protruded. Ill equipped to live as a stray, he was starving to death. The mats that encased his body wouldn’t permit him to defecate freely. Miller removed the mats, cleaned him up, and returned him to a reasonable weight. Despite searching, Miller never found Starlight’s owners, but she located the perfect home in northern California. Three years later Starlight and his owner are a happy family.