Becoming a Foster Mom

Written by Rebekah Marsh

It was late summer 2006. We’d just moved into a new rental house in a new neighborhood. I’d started feeding what appeared to be a stray/feral mom cat and her litter of older kittens (approx 4 months old). Couldn’t get near any of them but like clockwork they came to my back door every night at dusk for dinner. One night I’m out on my front porch late (approx 10pm) and see the mom carrying a screaming kitten across the street from the woods behind my house to a neighbor's front porch. She scoots around the side of the front steps and disappears underneath. Minutes later scurrying back without her screaming bundle. I watched as she did this 2 more times. So that made 3 very tiny babies that she had just placed under my neighbor's front porch. 

I’ve been around ferals all my life. I’ve always heard it’s best to leave the kittens with mom as long as they are being cared for. I’ve never raised orphans at this point and wouldn’t have the foggiest idea of how to do so. I am however worried. So I start watching the entrance of this little safe haven for activity. I even convince my husband to set up a camera trained on the spot so I can watch the comings and goings when I’m not physically able to be there myself.

So a day or two passes. I see mom and the older litter still coming for dinner and mom retreating to care for her tiny bundles. After about day 5, I see my neighbors outside looking at the entrance and I use it as an excuse to introduce myself. They proceed to tell me that they have a cat living under their porch and are planning to brick up the hole. I advise them that there are tiny babies inside. This does not deter them. I asked they give me the a day to see if I can retrieve the kittens before they proceed and they agree.

I immediately go home and start making calls. I’ve been volunteering for rescues up to this point cleaning, etc but have never taken on anything like this. After many conversations, one of my doggie rescue pals says she’s bringing me a tool that might help get the kittens out. The opening is no much bigger than a grapefruit. While I’m waiting for her to arrive, I go over and climb behind the bushes and start pulling as much mulch and debris from the opening as possible. I then track down a flashlight and a cat carrier. I’m as ready as I’m going to be. My friend arrives with something called a catch pole and we’re off across the street.

Now for the hard part! I scoot in behind the bushes lying flat on my stomach so I can see into the hole. I put the flashlight inside and look around as best I can. I can see them!!! Okay now what? I push the flashlight off to the side and angle it on the pile of sleeping kittens. I’ve managed to make the opening a little bigger, but no way can a person fit in there. Here goes nothing. I take the catch pole and slip it through the hole and over the first kitten. They are so tiny that I cannot grab them by the neck. I have to work the pole to get as much body space as possible in the loop. I get the first kitten around the belly and gently guide it out. One down, two to go. Second kitten I get neck and front leg. Now the last one is awake and crawling around. Gotta go fast. Last kitten is getting further away. I strain to get the loop around the kitten and only got the head. I did not want to drag it by the head but what choice did I have. Very gently I pull the last kitten out. Wow, I’ve gotten all 3. What next?

The rescue I am volunteering for at the time advises me what to do so I gather my supplies (ie milk replacer, etc) and begin the daunting task of hand raising what she says are approx 7-10 day old kittens. It’s hard work with constant feedings, teaching them to go to the bathroom, etc but I find myself enjoying every minute.

While I’m raising these wonderful little bundles I’m borrowing traps from my rescue, trapping mom, dad and her older litter, getting them all altered and moving them to a barn colony at my own expense. Something I will now forever do anywhere I live now that I know how to find resources to help accomplish this!

All my little charges survive and reach 8 weeks of age. I’m put in contact with another rescue that does mostly kittens and they agree to take them for adoption. I found myself very sad at the thought of not having this wonderful experience any longer. I go for about 3 weeks and receive a call from the new rescue asking if I would be willing to take on 2 babies in need of bottle feeding. I jump at the offer and realize this is now the beginning of the end…….from that moment on I’ve never been without fosters. As a matter of fact there was a point one summer, although it was only for a night, that I had 27 little tiny bottle babies while the shelter found alternative placement for 12 that had been brought in just before closing.

While fostering is very rewarding and I love it a great deal, it’s not for everyone. I always encourage animal lovers to find their own way to help with the homeless pet population. Find what gives you joy whether it be volunteering, donating, TNR (trap neuter return), social networking, educating the public, etc.

Every action makes a difference to animals in need. I hope to one day have my own no-kill, non-profit, rescue but in the interim I will continue to open my home to animals in need by volunteering and being a foster mom for other no-kill, non-profit organizations.

Editor's Note: To follow Rebekah's adventures in fostering, follow Samson the mostly blind Maine Coon and the rest of the gang on their facebook page, Purrcatory.