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The Secret to Saving More Lives: Fostering

An all-black mother cat and her three look-alike kittens pose on cozy blankets and rugs in their foster home.

As of this moment CAT has 59 felines in our care, but it might surprise you to learn that over 40 of these cats and kittens aren’t in the shelter. They’re in foster homes.

CAT’s foster program started in 2002, just a few short years after the organization was founded. In the program’s first year, about 200 kittens went through foster. By 2012, we were fostering an average of 1,000 kittens annually with the help of about 100 volunteer foster homes. Today CAT has over 175 foster volunteers!

Kristi Brooks, CAT’s director of operations, explains the “Three Pillars of Success” for CAT’s foster program:

1. Mentors. Experienced foster parents can become program mentors. These mentors field calls and emails from other fosters with medical concerns or questions. Mentors also make visits to foster homes to help with specialized medical treatments, such as giving antibiotics and vaccines.

2. Pre-adoption. CAT’s pre-adoption process allows kittens to find new families quickly. Adopters can choose a foster kitten before they’re old enough to go home. The kittens stay in foster care until they’ve been spayed or neutered, but can go directly to their new homes after surgery.

3. Foster supplies & training. CAT provides all fosters with training, support, and a “baby bag” stocked with common medications and foster supplies. This means kittens can stay in the comfort of a home and receive medical care and socialization that leads to happy, healthy adoptions!

Providing a Great Place to Grow Up

Baby kittens are more susceptible than older cats to common illnesses like an upper respiratory infection. Foster homes provide kittens with a safe environment that protects their developing immune systems. Being in a home also gives kittens an interactive place to explore their surroundings, spend lots of time with people (and sometimes other pets), and get whatever care they need to grow into affectionate and confident adult cats.

The foster program is ideal for kittens, and it’s rewarding for foster volunteers too.

“The first few years, we only took orphan kittens because we thought our resident pets would not like having a mom cat in the house. About five years in, we decided to try taking a mom and kittens and we loved it. It led us to taking pregnant cats, going through the whole birth process with them. We discovered along the way that our dog is awesome with foster kittens (#LouieLovesKittens). We began taking on more challenging cases, like bottle babies and sick kittens. The hardest challenges are dealing with death and very sick kittens.” – Laura Devore, CAT foster parent

“We started with four kittens [for a short-term foster]. They were with us for less than a week but that experience helped to cement that fostering was both personally rewarding and fun. Kittens require a fair amount of our time during the day with feeding, cleaning, playing, and recording their progress. But the home stay is short as kittens are adopted quickly.” – Gary Wallis, CAT foster parent

Giving Adult Cats a Paw Up

While there has always been a need for some adult cats to go to foster care (for medical recovery, for instance), CAT expanded the foster program in 2020 to include more adults than ever before. The plan for this expansion was in the works and the COVID-19 pandemic expedited the process. With the shelter all but closed, moving cats into foster care helped maintain our ability to save lives. And in a foster home, cats could have a video meet and greet with potential adopters, giving them the chance to show off in a natural and relaxed setting. Not only have cats with medical needs benefited, but shy cats who were fearful in a kennel often blossom and show their true personality while in the quiet comfort of a foster home.

Fostering kittens can be loads of fun, but taking care of adult cats is just as special.

“Everyone wants the fun, spunky kittens, but I find the medically complex adults so rewarding. Tube fed adults are my favorite. Often they have stopped eating in the shelter due to depression, and so far I’m 100% for all of my tube fed fosters being off of the tube entirely within a week.” – Tia Kauffman, CAT foster mentor and board member

“Each of our adult fosters has required administration of medicine, but we quickly became adept at pill pockets, pill shooters, and tube feeding. It’s rewarding to see them get better.” – Gary Wallis, foster parent

Fostering as a Family Affair

One of the best things about fostering cats and kittens? You can get the whole family involved! Caring for a foster pet teaches empathy and patience to younger members of the household. And likewise, having exposure to young children or other pets gives kitties the tools to be successful in their future adoptive homes, where children and dogs might be present. 

Many of our foster volunteers include kids who help out alongside the adults in their homes.

“It is hard to find ways to volunteer with children, but fostering is perfect and benefits the kittens to have experience with young children. My 8-year-old has come with me on mentoring visits since he was a newborn, and now his extra set of hands is so helpful! – Tia Kauffman, foster mentor and board member

“My daughter Cassidy and I started fostering with CAT in 2011 when she was 11 years old. She is now about to graduate from OSU! I love the close bond we have through fostering. It’s very rewarding to care for and watch these tiny beings grow and become little cats. People often ask us how we can possibly give them up. We tell them goodbye is the goal.” – Laura Devore, foster parent

This army of amazing foster families is vital to CAT’s lifesaving work. Each feline that goes out to foster care opens up a space in our shelter to take in another animal in need. Each time a cat who is struggling in the shelter environment is able to go to a foster home, they are given a second chance to grow to their full potential. Foster homes bridge the gap between the shelter and the adoptive home, making for positive adoption experiences.

For more information about getting involved with CAT as a foster parent, visit:

About Cat Adoption Team

Cat Adoption Team (CAT) is the largest cat shelter in the Pacific Northwest. We offer adoption, foster care, and veterinary services to homeless cats and kittens.

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