When Suzanne Ware first came to the CAS 17 years ago, it was with the idea of looking for a kitten to adopt. When she left, she had been “suckered” into fostering orphan kittens.
“I was just going to take one kitten, but ended up taking her sister, too” said Ware.
She was hooked, and as her children grew up and moved out of the house, Ware moved foster kittens into their rooms. The Wares eventually built an additional climate-controlled garage, affectionately referred to as “Suzanne’s Cat House” and now all fosters are kept in 2 rooms there.
Ware now serves as the CAS’s volunteer Cat Care Coordinator, and has seen both sides of the fostering program - the rewards and the burnout. Taking care of baby cats is very similar to taking care of baby humans, with round the clock feedings and teaching bathroom habits. Ware said that in the case of kittens that have a feral mother, when possible the mom cat is caught and brought in to do the bulk of the work, but then released back to where she was found after being spayed and given vaccinations. Cases which involve large litters of true orphan kittens occasionally require a tag team approach from the volunteers, by splitting the litter and/or the weaning time between a couple of foster moms.
Volunteer Becky Crossnine has been fostering for 4 years. Like Ware, she has a kitten room in her home, and was caring for 9 kittens at one point this summer. Crossnine decided that 9 kittens at once was her limit, and limits her own household cats to three. One of those is a “foster failure” – when a volunteer gets so close to a kitten that she ends up adopting it. But Crossnine said she has no qualms about returning the kittens to the Collierville Animal Shelter once they are weaned, because as a regular shelter volunteer, she knows that they will receive the best care, attention and enrichment. Crossnine keeps a board with pictures of all her past fosters in her kitten room so she can remember each of them, their unique personalities and how they change during their foster care.
“Some kittens come to me very shy and then leave here more outgoing than I ever thought possible,” said Crossnine. “Fostering is a very rewarding and heart-warming job where we, as fosters to these precious pets, are allowed to change their attitudes towards us humans.”
Cheryl Yates (pictured above) is fairly new to the foster group, but she is absolutely sold on fostering as an excellent way to spend her time.
“After retiring 2 years ago, I decided that this is the way I want to spend my retirement - playing with kittens,” said Yates.
Though some feline foster parents segregate their own animals and their foster animals, Yates lets her kittens have the run of the house once they are mobile.
“I let my 6-year-old grandson play with them, and I also run the vacuum and all the other household machines so they will get used to the noise and not be afraid,” said Yates. “You can always tell a fostered kitten in the shelter because they will come to the front of the cage and interact with you. Non-fostered kittens often hide at the back of the cage.”
CAS Director Nina Wingfield fosters orphan kittens at her home as well.
“I have been fostering kittens for 35 years because it is so rewarding,” she said.
Wingfield said that even her dog, Tilly, got in on the act by bonding with some feral kittens that were slow in trusting any human.
Wingfield urges people to spay and neuter their pets and strays to cut down on the population of cats and dogs without homes. But while there is still an overflow of baby animals with no place to go, people at CAS like Ware, Crossnine, Yates, Wingfield and the small army of 9 additional dedicated “kitten ladies”: Beth Vornbrock, Val Tingley, Heather Prouty, Beth Jasper, Cathy Dawson, Mary Nulph, Annie Stout, Betty Ciesiolka, and Lori Barrick will happily step up and take the kittens from vulnerable newborns to adoptable kittens. Staff members Lucie Farris, Shirley Money, Megan Medlin and Sandy Kraemer are always ready to help in emergencies to care for the tiny rescues, until kitten fosters can be found.
“We foster to give these little guys an extra boost in life,” said volunteer Cheryl Yates. “They come in because they’ve been found with no mama; they’re little and they’re scared. So we take them home and love on them just like their mamas would do, and it’s the most wonderful, rewarding experience a person can have.”
If you’re interested in fostering kittens or puppies, please contact Nina Wingfield at Collierville Animal Shelter (901) 457-2670. You can also help the kittens by donating to the CAS Medical Fund which benefits the foster program.