How to Successfully Foster "Fail"

One brownish tabby and two turkish angoras posing for a picture
The whole cat family! From left to right - Tibrin, Fanny and Alice

My Fostering Story

Just over a year ago, I decided to start fostering. My partner and I had just enjoyed some bubble tea at an outdoor shopping centre in Toronto. As was our routine, every time we visited, we'd check the local pet store to see the adorable cats in the window.

Usually, we resisted the temptation to purchase one. We understood that cats come with many expenses, and it's essential to be prepared for them. Our cat, Tibrin, had recently undergone costly dental surgery, so we knew the responsibilities firsthand.

On this particular day, we approached the pet store. Through the glass, we spotted a beautiful senior tabby named Pat. She had markings similar to Tibrin's, and her green, slightly sad eyes captivated us. I was in love. Throughout my life, I've had several pets, and they've mostly been seniors. I've always had a soft spot for older animals, feeling they often get overshadowed by the younger ones. To me, older cats are amazing. They're typically litter-trained, easy-going and well... just plain cute.

After some deliberation with my partner, we discovered that the store's cats were from the AVA - Action Volunteers for Animals. AVA is a volunteer-run charitable animal rescue dedicated to helping stray and feral animals. Realizing this, we were inspired to volunteer. We immediately emailed the AVA when we got home. The next day, an AVA volunteer reached out, discussing our interest in fostering. They emphasized their commitment to ensuring every animal is placed in a caring environment. During our conversation, they inquired about our home, our potential response to a sick cat, our comfort level with administering medication, and more. Although slightly nervous, I felt ready to take on these responsibilities for the sake of little kitties like Pat.

Due to COVID, many people adopted cats while working from home during lockdowns. However, as things began to open up, some abandoned their new pets, leaving organizations like AVA in desperate need of foster homes.

Within two days, AVA sent us a list of cats in need. My partner and I were drawn to two kittens named Bert and Ernie (yes, inspired by the children's show characters). You might be thinking, didn't I go on-and-on about senior cats needing homes? You're right. But we figured starting with kittens might help us get used to fostering since they'd likely find permanent homes quickly. However, as it turned out, these kittens were already taken. With most of the cats on the list already placed, we were left with one option: two middle-aged cats rescued from a hoarding situation in Western Ontario. We were a little worried about how they'd adjust to our home and how they'd get along with Tibrin. But, recognizing their awful past circumstances, we knew we needed to help them out.

Two days later, two white Turkish Angora cats arrived at our home, and it was clear they had quite the story to tell. Sporting shaved bellies and eyes a tad dilated from recent dental procedures, these sisters had seen better days. As we got to know them, we learned they had come from a larger family — a whopping 90 cats in a hoarding situation! They had faced challenges like dehydration, tapeworms and were very depressed. But here's the silver lining: officials stepped in just in time, and thanks to some amazing donors, all their medical bills were taken care of.

Yet, seeing their health record was heartbreaking. Surprisingly, Alice, one of the cats, seemed pretty upbeat. She eagerly sought out affection and playtime. I vividly remember petting her for the first time: her tail wagged with such enthusiasm that it felt as if she had never been pet in her life, and she was overjoyed with this new found attention.

Tibrin the tabby checking out his new friend Alice the white cat

Left - Tibrin meeting his new roommate Alice. Right - Alice ready to be pet and played with.

Fanny, on the other hand, was an entirely different story. Smaller than Alice, she was timid and seemed out of place. Clearly traumatized by her previous life, she had stopped grooming herself, a common sign of depression in cats. This deeply saddened me, but I was determined to help her come out of her shell and stop hiding.

Every day, I'd take her meals to her hiding spots, gently coaxing her with a string toy. It was during this time that I realized how strong the bond was between these two sisters. Alice, sensing Fanny's distress, would frequently seek her out to groom her. It was such a heartwarming sight. The AVA had informed us of their policy: cats like Fanny and Alice, especially closely bonded ones, were to be adopted as pairs. Many don't realize this, but cats are indeed very social creatures and thrive on companionship.

As weeks passed, Fanny slowly grew more curious about her surroundings. My persistent efforts, offering food and engaging in play while she hid beneath the bed, began to earn her trust. Soon, she'd peek at me while I worked at my desk, her gaze seemingly beckoning, "Hey, follow me!" I happily obliged. She led me to our bedroom, "Just a little further” her face insisted. She then made her way to the crate she arrived in on her first day with us, rolling onto her back to reveal her belly, which was sprouting new fur. Most cats consider their belly a vulnerable area and only expose it to those they deeply trust. As I began to gently scratch her, she purred louder than any cat I'd ever heard, filling my heart with joy. It was then that I knew I was falling in love with these cats...

Two white cats cuddling in a crate

Shy fanny inviting me to pet her in their crate

I could talk endlessly about this journey; it was genuinely one of the most rewarding experiences of my life! Months flew by, and, as you might have guessed, most people only wanted kittens. But they were truly missing out on the wonders of mature cats. My birthday arrived nearly six months later, and still, no one had expressed interest in adopting these cats. By then, their soft Angora coats had fully grown, graced with magnificent, flowing manes. Alice was always up for a game of fetch and loved being petted, but the most astonishing transformation was seen in Fanny. Whenever we had visitors, she'd be the first to greet them at the door, as if inviting, "Come in, stay awhile!" She had evolved so much from the timid cat I met months ago.

Now, about my birthday... That was the day I discovered that these cats were officially ours. My wonderful wife, Claudia, had adopted them for us. It remains one of the most cherished gifts I've ever received. Let's just say, like Alice and Fanny, I too became deeply bonded. In fact Tibrin had become their new brother from another cat mother.

All this is to say, if there's one thing you can "fail" at in life, let it be fostering. You won't regret it for a moment.

A heartfelt thank you to those who ventured this far into my tale of becoming a "foster failure." Interestingly enough, Tibrin too was a fostering "mishap" from Montreal, adopted when my partner lived there before we met. My cats are truly the highlight of my work-from-home experience.

I urge all of you to consider fostering if you believe it's something you can undertake. And if that's not feasible, please think about supporting foundations like AVA with your generosity.

With love,
Alan, Claudia, Tibrin, Alice, and brave little Fanny ❤️

Click here to donate to the AVA.

Authored by Alan Martin on July 23, 2023

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