Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Rewards of Fostering a Shelter Pet

Guest Blogger Terry Kuehner, Animal Friends' Cat Behavior Team

The first time I saw the little cat Marie, she was terrified.

The last time I saw Marie, she was going home with a young couple who were grinning from ear to ear.

Marie came to the animal shelter as a stray. When we brought her off the streets and put her into one of our condos, everything was new to her and she was petrified. She was approximately 8 months old, and her short life had already been filled with turmoil.

When I met Marie, she melted my heart. I peered into her cage and a little black ball of fur peered back at me. Her face was round and her eyes were so huge and yellow that she looked like she should hoot instead of meow. Her ears were pressed flat to her head and she took one look at me...and hissed. If she was ever going to learn how to become a loving companion, someone had to help sweet Marie. I agreed to take her to my home for foster care.

I began to socialize her. I bribed her with treats, spoke softly, pleaded, begged and cajoled. On her tenth day with me we had "the breakthrough." I sat on the bed in my spare room, patted the space beside me and Marie jumped up for some attention. From that moment on we were pals.

After that, I found that Marie loved to have her fur stroked. She wanted to be petted from top to bottom, back to front, anywhere and everywhere. She played endlessly, like the Energizer Bunny. We had a great time! I introduced her to my cats and she liked them. I introduced her to my dogs and she loved them! About a month later, I knew it was time for Marie to return to the shelter to await her people.

They arrived only four days later. Sweet Marie flirted shamelessly and they fell in love.

So often, it’s the “difficult” cats who offer the most rewarding foster experiences. Before Marie there was Ziggy, pictured above. He was so stressed in the shelter that he would hide behind his litterbox and soil himself rather than expose himself anybody. Ziggy came home to live with me for approximately 6 weeks, so he could feel safe and gather his courage to face the world again. When he returned to Animal Friends, he went into the free roam cat room and did so well that he was adopted very quickly. His new Mom and Dad say he's the silliest, funniest, most playful and lovable little guy they've ever had.

Then there was Moonlight. She was so depressed in the shelter setting that all she did was sleep and eat. She wouldn't groom herself and her long, beautiful hair became very matted. That was painful for her and she began to nip at anybody who tried to pet her.

It turned out that all she needed was a break away from the shelter. In my spare room, she could move around, look out windows to watch birds and squirrels and just relax in the sun. Moonie began to groom and I began to brush her. Three weeks later, she came back as a beautiful, relaxed girl who was adopted in just a few weeks.

Cats, dogs and bunnies need to be fostered for many different reasons, but it all leads to helping the animal find his forever home. People always ask foster parents if it’s hard to return the pets we’ve come to love. Sure, I cry when "my" cats leave me, but rest assured they are happy tears! There is nothing more rewarding that watching your foster pet find a permanent, loving home.

I like to think about sweet Marie and her new Mom and Dad. She also has a dog and another cat to play with. She's where she belongs. I'll never forget Marie, but I've got work to do. There are three unsocialized kittens in my spare room. Just one hiss and my heart melted....

Animal Friends seeks and trains foster families for a broad range of needs. Click here to learn more about becoming a foster parent for Animal Friends!

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