Meet our new foster cat Harvey, a.k.a. Couscous. Harvey is not shy, almost never sits still and has a serious sock fetish. He’s about the same size as Ruby and sometimes acts more dog like than she does. Although he’s a great cat, he’s already been surrendered to the city shelter twice in fifteen months – once because he had fleas and the second time because his family was moving.
My track record with fostering cats (not to mention dogs and rabbits) is not great. Pip, Rosie, Lulu, Cleo and Elsie were all foster fails. We actually adopted Ruby and the mice, but otherwise we are a family of fosters gone wrong, or right depending on your perspective. Some cats I planned to re-home or admit to a shelter, others just kind of stayed because I didn’t make a plan for them to leave. In my defense, I have fostered many cats and dogs that I didn’t keep (but only because there was literally no room at the inn. And by inn, I mean our house).
I’m hardwired for foster failure; I pretty much fall in love with any animal that is in my house for more than five minutes and if they stay overnight, forget about it. Sleepovers are hard for me – I get attached. Even though I always tell myself (and promise my husband) that it will be different this time, I will be a grown up, – it never works out. I want to keep ALL of them. But time, space, and resources don’t allow me to do so, which is probably a good thing.
Fostering a cat or dog is a really BIG deal and one of the most important things you can do to help homeless pets in your community. When you foster a cat or dog from a shelter, you literally make room for another one to be saved. And while there are worse things than failing at fostering, keeping every foster pet kind of defeats the purpose. You eventually, and probably pretty quickly, run out of space. It’s a glass half-empty or half-full thing. You are giving an animal a home BUT you might not have room to foster another one. We haven’t fostered in awhile because I failed too many times and we ran out of space. I know this on a rational level but I’m not always (ever) rational when it comes to animals. It’s my strength and weakness all wrapped up in one.
We may very well “foster fail” with Harvey. Here’s where we are: he met Rosie briefly; she hissed at him and he backed down (she’s half his size, which made this exchange hilarious). Unfortunately he doesn’t seem to like Ruby much and this may be a deal breaker. We are in a wait-and-see phase.
If we adopt Harvey we will be able to take another foster cat, but if we fail at the next one, we are out of room. It’s a big deal with consequences; no right or wrong, black or white answers just lots of grey. This is probably the most rational I have ever been about fostering and in full disclosure, it won’t last.
How Not To Fail At Fostering A Cat
- Do not give your foster dog or cat a nickname – not even one. Nicknames are like a road map to foster failure. You don’t give someone a nickname unless you really like them a whole lot. Harvey currently has five nicknames: Couscous, Doggie (because I keep forgetting he’s a cat), Dribbles, Teddy, and Hot Pocket.
- Don’t keep your foster cat or dog in your bedroom. If they are sleeping on your bed, all bets are off, just sign those adoption papers now and be done with it. Harvey is currently staying in our bedroom and my connecting office. He was originally sequestered in my office, but somehow the door magically opened and now he’s in the bedroom.
- Don’t buy your foster cat or dog a bunch of new stuff. We bought Teddy a fluffy bed (which he promptly rejected). Fortunately, Rosie likes the new bed and Teddy likes Pip’s old bed so problem solved.
- Pretend they are just visiting. While you can’t take your foster cat out sightseeing, you can bring them breakfast on a tray like room service – and ask them if they are enjoying their stay and if they need anything else (like maybe a new home). Ideally, you may even be able to (depending on temperament and comfort level) take your foster dog on a tour of local attractions.
- Take your time, put your big girl pants on, and know your limits. Be realistic about your resources, time, space, and finances. And most importantly, be sensitive to how adding a new family member will impact your existing pets because they have a say in this, too!
The best thing about fostering cats is you save two lives – the cat you foster AND the cat who takes its place at the shelter. The not so great thing about fostering is you have to give them up, send them out into the world and trust that they will be safe and OK.
I haven’t fostered in several years. I thought I was ready, but fostering is hard for me and it turns out it is hard for mini-me as well (not surprising since she is my kid). I am mindful that my decision about Harvey will have consequences. It’s kind of a battle between my head and heart – and as usual, my heart is winning.
We will see. I will try my best not to fail. Whatever that means.