June 19, 2018

Finding Fosters: How Temporary Homes Are Saving Kittens

For Amber Gil of Fullerton, California, fostering is the ultimate fulfillment. 

Amber Gil, her daughter Briana and their fosters
Amber Gil and her daughter Briana with their recent litter of fosters.

“Nothing beats watching a little critter blossom,” says Amber, who has been rescuing animals for more than 30 years and once dreamed of being a veterinarian. “You’re giving them a positive start and you’re saving lives.”

Amber, with help from her eight-year-old daughter Briana, has fostered 41 kittens over the past two years for the ASPCA’s Los Angeles Kitten Foster Program. They’ve had their current litter of four—Sally, Squeakers, Smoky and Rocky—since the felines were three weeks old, and already have homes lined up for each of them. Amber typically places 70% of the kittens she fosters through word of mouth and a Facebook foster network. The rest are transported to shelters on the West Coast where they go up for adoption.

“It’s a lot easier to say goodbye when you know where they’re going,” reports Amber, though she and Briana will still miss them.

A Seasonal Challenge

The need for fosters is especially critical during kitten season—the annual high-breeding period that extends roughly from March through October. Shelters see an influx of young kittens during this time and need foster families they can ideally rely on multiple times during a single season. Foster families provide care and support for these tiny kittens until they are old enough to be adopted. 

“A foster parent can make the difference between life and death because tiny kittens can’t survive on their own in a shelter,” says Tina Reddington, Director of the Los Angeles ASPCA Volunteer Program. “These kittens have no option for a second chance without foster homes.” 

“Watching them transform is just amazing,” says Amber, who also takes on kittens who are sick or have other issues. “During those four to eight weeks, they go from staggering to running and jumping. And it’s really not a job if you love what you’re doing.” 

Introducing “Meow For Now”

While most shelters and communities understand the importance of animal adoption, the need for kitten fostering is not as well known. On June 8, the ASPCA launched a new nationwide campaign called Meow For Now to raise awareness and inspire more foster caregivers. The campaign provides fostering supplies and information—including a list of participating shelters in nearly every state. (Los Angeles residents should check out the ASPCA Foster Program in their area at aspca.org/fosterla.) 

Over 675 shelters and rescues across the country are currently participating, and Meow For Now is helping even more get involved by offering free toolkits, educational webinars and other resourcesto help them jump-start successful foster programs and recruit new foster families. 

Saving Lives in NYC and L.A.

In New York City, the ASPCA’s kitten foster program has provided care for nearly 1,500 kittens and nursing mothers since 2016. Once kittens are big and healthy enough to be returned to the ASPCA for spaying or neutering, they are put up for adoption at the ASPCA Adoption Center.

On the other side of the country, the ASPCA’s L.A. Kitten Foster Program hit a milestone in January when we accepted our 1,000th pee-wee (kitten under four weeks old) for fostering. The Kitten Foster Program is part of the ASPCA’s Feline Pilot Project, which launched in April 2017 in partnership with Baldwin Park Animal Care Center—one of two county shelters where kitten intake is at its highest.

Though we’ve made immense progress coast to coast, there is still more work to be done—and many more lives to save. 

Misha’s Story

Claire Bienen, an ASPCA volunteer in New York City for the past four years, started fostering kittens two years ago. She most recently took in Misha, a seven-ounce kitten with a fractured hind leg who was transferred to the ASPCA from Animal Care Centers of NYC’s Manhattan location. Misha is the perfect example of a kitten who would not have made it in a shelter setting. The help of her foster caregiver is what Misha desperately needed to not only survive, but to thrive and eventually find a loving home.

Misha
Misha got lots of TLC from her foster mom, Claire Bienen.

Claire spent many hours with Misha, helping the young cat acclimate to her temporary home. 

“It’s great to be able to expose them to different things,” explains Claire, who has three other adopted cats. “At first, everything scares them—the sounds from the microwave, the television, a flushing toilet. But it’s rewarding when they get comfortable and aren’t startled by things anymore.”

Exposure to household sounds and socialization with multiple people helps make kittens more adoptable in the long run.

“It’s much easier to find homes for them after they’ve been in a foster home,” says Claire, who has complete support from her husband Gary and college-aged son, Nick. “The transition is a lot less traumatic.”

The Benefits of Being a Foster Caregiver

Eileen Hanavan, Senior Manager of Foster & Offsite Programs for the ASPCA Adoption Center, says that fostering not only saves individual kittens, but impacts the ASPCA’s ability to take in even more animals at risk. “When you place one animal in a foster home, you open space in the shelter for another animal in need,” she says. 

Lisa Phillips of Marina Del Rey is currently fostering three cats for the ASPCA in Los Angeles.

“I see it as helping them get on their way,” says Lisa, who is currently fostering Midnight, Blackie and Fergie with help from her 14-year-old son, Bryce. “It can be a lot of work, but it’s temporary, and for those few weeks it’s worth it. They’re no longer living on the street and they’re not going to reproduce.” 

Lisa Phillips and her fosters
Lisa Phillips with two of her three foster kittens.

It’s also a learning experience, even for people who’ve owned cats before. 

“I never realized how much help they need and how vulnerable they are,” adds Lisa. “Now, I understand their cues. You have to teach them to eat—and even poop. Plus, they’re so darn cute. It’s good therapy!”

Lisa began fostering for the ASPCA a year ago, starting with a litter of four sick kittens. 

“That was tough, but I tried,” says Lisa. “It took them a while to get well, but I found each of them homes myself; two now live in my neighborhood.” 

The ultimate reward, most foster caregivers agree, is knowing they are saving lives.

Miguel Torres, an ASPCA Community Engagement Manager in Los Angeles, most recently fostered Millie, a spunky four-week-old tabby who wasn’t eating well. Miguel and Millie formed a strong connection. 

“Fostering teaches you empathy toward the most vulnerable of animals,” he says.

Staff at the Downey Animal Care Center watched Millie during Miguel’s work hours, and the ASPCA Community Medicine staff provided Millie’s medical treatment. Even Corporal Abel Muñoz, an Animal Control Officer, took Millie in for a night. 

“Millie was cared for by a community,” Miguel explains. “Helping her survive, giving her an opportunity to live and receiving support from others was very rewarding.” 

Miguel is happy to report that Millie has since found a new, loving home.

Miguel Torres and Millie
The ASPCA's Miguel Torres with Millie.

Not all fostering takes place in the household. MaryLyn Carabello, Staff Counsel for the ASPCA in New York, has fostered 15 cats in her office over the past four years. In-office fostering is a program offered to ASPCA employees to help socialize certain cats who may need a little extra help adjusting to a domestic setting. 

“There are moments, both big and small—magical breakthrough moments—when you realize a cat is starting to trust you,” explains MaryLyn, who fosters at work because she has two older animals with chronic illnesses at home. “For me, that’s the best part of fostering.” 

Inspired by these true tales of kitten fosters? Visit our Meow for Now campaign to find all you need to know about hosting these adorable houseguests this kitten season!