It’s no secret that I have a bleeding heart. So when the shelter I volunteer at put an emergency call out for folks to foster kittens, how could I say no? Foster homes are crucial for kittens, who need more individualized attention than they could receive at the shelter, and to protect their delicate baby immune systems from the viruses and infections that are inherent in a space that houses 130 cats.
To prepare for their arrival, I turned a spare bedroom into a kitten room. I removed the furniture to create ample space for playing, and stocked up on litter, kitten food, scratching boards, and toys. In the morning, before the kittens arrived, my two resident cats sat outside the gate, staring curiously into the empty room. They knew something was up.
When the shelter takes in a litter of kittens, or rescues a group of cats together (from a hoarding situation, for instance), the cats are given names that are either similar or begin with the same letter. This not only helps with record keeping, but also helps volunteers understand and easily identify the quirks, health problems, and behavioral issues of a specific group, helping to provide better care. When my foster kittens arrived, they all had V names: Vincent, Violet, Viggo, Vanillope, and Vada. They all have orange markings, either full-body or just a hint– an endearing family cohesion.
The kittens match every ounce of cuteness with two ounces of mischief, a trait I find either charming or maddening, depending on the moment. Despite its futility, I keep a baby gate in the doorway, if for nothing more than a tool that gives me a 5 second start on my efforts to keep them confined to the room once I open the door. Several times a day, still, they jump the gate before I am able to grab them, and run wildly around my apartment. Have you ever tried to catch five squirmy kittens? It’s near impossible. The good news is that they have been providing me with great daily cardio routines.
Last week, the shelter’s foster coordinator stopped by with a delivery of more kitten food and litter– a very welcomed perk. As I was pouring the new litter into a freshly cleaned box, I noticed that it was a much finer grain than the litter I had been using. I shrugged it off and left them to do their business. Twenty minutes later, I passed by the door and was confused to find litter on the floor outside. I opened the door, of course, to find litter from one end of the room to the other, and five tiny kittens frolicking and wrestling in it. Luckily, the litter was fresh.
My goal all along has been to not end up a “foster failure.” I imagined welcoming the kittens into my home, showering them with love and treats, then feeling good about releasing them into Forever Homes, no heartstrings attached. The longer the kittens stay with me, though, the more clearly I see why folks who foster often “fail.” In the past two weeks, I’ve seen their personalities come out. I know Vincent as an incredibly affectionate guy who would be thrilled to cuddle for hours; Vada and Violet are the playful ones, always chasing and tackling each other to the ground; Viggo is sweet and kind of a loner; Vanillope, the smallest at just over 3.5 pounds, is a lover and a fighter, often pushing her way through the pack to dominate the food bowl. The more I learn about them, the more I love them. The more I love them, the less I want them to leave. The less I want them to leave, the more I want them to stay.
The kittens will be going to the adoption clinic at the end of this week, and I have no doubt they’ll find homes quickly. It’s hard to imagine what I’ll feel when they don’t return. Relief that I no longer have to clean that room three times a day? Sad that Vincent won’t be there to curl up in my lap? Probably both. As the end of this week approaches, I’m hoping that my experience volunteering at the shelter– where cats I have bonded with get adopted all the time– will come in handy. The job is a constant lesson in saying goodbye and trusting in the system. Whether I will be a “foster failure” is yet to be seen. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that, as next week begins, my two resident cats won’t have five tiny, permanent roommates.