Joys and sorrows of fostering

Photo by Casey Gomez

If you walked into my bedroom right now, you might be overwhelmed by the smell of baking soda and bleach. My bathroom and walk-in closet are attached to each other at the east end of my room, meaning the scents from within waft through to my half of the apartment. While not unpleasant, the smell is an uncomfortable reminder of the long and painstaking process of sterilizing a space that once held a batch of sickly kittens. 

I have two personality traits: I’m the Editor of the Technique, and I love cats. My home is a transitional space for kittens between the ages of zero days and 18 weeks, my adjoined bathroom and closet are a revolving door cranking litters and single orphans in and out like clockwork. I am a foster, and the reason it has become such an integral part of my identity is because the work it involves fulfills me more than anything else I have ever done. 

Being a foster means that my mornings start with insessant ‘meowing.’ This isn’t just the typical complaints from my own three adult cats, but a chorus of yowls straight from the jaws of tiny kittens falling over each other to get to the plate of wet-food-formula-mush. I have bathed, fed, cleaned up after, played with, cuddled, worried about, cried over, cared for and mourned kittens month after month for the past two years. 

The fostering game is mostly fun. How could it not be? I get to come home to a literal basket of fluffy kittens who headbutt me with love and purr at the sound of my voice. I get to watch the cutest creatures in the world grow up into beautiful animals and I get to help them find a place in the world where they’ll experience comfort and love. 

The way I have experienced and given love has radically changed over time. The saying that “if you love something you let it go,” is accutely true in the world of foster parents. Physically handing over my favorite fosters to their new parents is equally heartbreaking and inspiring. The love and effort I have poured into these cats is reflected in the eyes of those who choose to adopt them.

But it is not all fun and games. Sometimes, it is really, really hard. Last summer I fell hard for a sickly foster we named Jiji. He was a frail black kitten with big yellow eyes. He was demure, cuddly and loved his littermates more than anything. Once he stepped foot into my home, I was in love. He was on the road to what we call a “foster fail.” 

Things didn’t work out with Jiji. When he showed symptoms of illness, he was immediately rushed to the vet. Despite all the hard work, we lost him due to congenital issues. I felt him slip between my fingers, and it is an event I will never forget. 

The event of his death impacted me in many ways. My stance against unecessary breeding has strengthened; even now I have a foster with severe congenital issues that cause her severe discomfort that would have been prevented if her parents’ owners had spayed or neutered their animals. I am more passionate every day about fostering and its impact. Fostering saves lives, which I know to be true when I pull  a kitten condemned to euthanasia out of her kennel at the local municipal shelter. I understand loss in ways I didn’t ever imagine I would, and I value every moment I have with the people and the animals that I love. 

I get scared that a new foster might catch what Jiji had. Or something a previous foster had. Or that a current foster will come in with a virus and infect my foster space. So sometimes I have to bleach my bathroom. And scrub the floor in the closet. And sit and cry a while because I wish I could help every lost creature in the world. 

But most of the time I look forward to creeping into my apartment and scooping up a little bundle of fur — no matter how much of a genetic mess she is, no matter how long she’ll live or be with me — and remembering that the work I do is worth it because of the success stories. And there are plenty of those.