By Jaime Stephens
Spring is Coming……And so is Kitten Season!
Spring is just around the corner and with spring comes kitten season. Kitten season begins in the early spring and lasts until the early fall. With unseasonably warm weather in January and February (or in warmer climes), kitten season can come early, end later, and last nearly year-round. During this time, shelters experience an unusually high number of cats and kittens. It is not common knowledge that cats reproduce at almost the same speed at rabbits; an unspayed female cat can become pregnant as early as 5 months of age, and can have multiple litters a year. Each litter is typically 4 to 6 kittens, so just one mother cat can bring 12 to 18 kittens into the world every year of her life. That’s a lot of kittens!
Foster parents are always in short supply and can be difficult to find. I chatted with Robyn Anderson, a long-time kitten fosterer living in Alabama, and local resident Andrea Cerino about their experiences fostering. Robyn has fostered 339 (not a typo!) cats since April of 2005. She and her husband took most of 2006 off after ending up adding two “foster fails” to her family. If not, she said, the number would surely be higher! It should be noted that Robyn and her husband Fred have upwards of ten permanent cats (again, not a typo). Andrea, who has three cats of her own, including one with feline leukemia, began fostering for King Street Cats in August of 2015, and has fostered 23 kittens and 5 adult cats (including two long-term fosters).
Contrary to what most might think, you don’t need much to start fostering, although both women agree that a room where the kittens can be sequestered from the other cats is crucial. The usual equipment – litter and litter boxes, food, and food and water bowls, toys, a soft place to sleep…. and it’s a good idea to have some flea and dewormer medication on hand, too. Supplies are also tax deductible!
I’ve considered being a foster parent for many years but was concerned about not being able to be available on a 24/7 basis. When I asked Robyn and Andrea, they told me how wrong I was. Unless you’re fostering bottle babies, kittens can be left alone for several hours at a time. Research shows that a mere 45 minutes per day was optimum for socializing kittens, though obviously the more time you can spend with them, the better. Handle them a lot, pet them, hold them, and rub their paws so that cutting their nails will be easier as they get older. Not exactly a hardship, right?!
Should people who have cats at home try to foster? This also gave me pause as I considered fostering. As a human of a couple of cats, I have wondered how my pets at home would feel about any “intruders.” It took Pookie, our female tuxedo, over two weeks to stop hissing at her brother, Beau, after his last vet visit. How difficult is it for people with animals at home to foster without upsetting the permanent residents? Both women noted that it depends on the cats. Some are more used to seeing kittens coming and going. In any event, it’s important to introduce the visitors to the permanent residents gradually. Robyn and Andrea reiterated that it is important to have a separate foster room to keep everyone safe and minimize the disruption of the household.
Kittens usually go to foster homes with at least one other kitten so they will have a playmate and not be lonely. When the fosters are old enough and have been at the foster home for a few weeks, they can have more freedom to investigate the rest of the house. The introduction to the permanent cats should be gradual, and kittens should be shut away at night to give the permanent residents a break. Kittens are full of energy and can quickly exhaust a senior cat!
I asked both women how they dealt with giving up the kittens when it was time for them to go. Both agreed that is was hard not to become attached to their fosters, particularly the kittens. Initially, Robyn wanted to keep all of the kittens but realized that if she wanted to save more of them, she needed to make room for the next group. Kittens who are healthy and ready to go, therefore, need to leave. She also noted that the pain of saying goodbye is mitigated by the joy she finds seeing them go to homes where they are spoiled and adored. Andrea agrees, knowing that King Street Cats will make sure they go to carefully vetted, well-matched, loving homes.
What have these women learned since they started? How to administer medications, how to recognize when a cat needs a vet visit or just some tender loving care but, primarily, that kittens are more resilient than they seem.
Any advice for a first time foster? Both agree: Robyn: “Just do it!” “Seeing formerly sick, frail, or feral kittens turn into happy, healthy, well-adjusted cats makes it so very much worth it.” Andrea: “Have fun!” and “Don’t worry too much. Kittens are very resilient.” While fostering can be hard work, the rewards greatly exceed the down side.
Jaime Stephens lives in Alexandria with her rescue cats, including Jezebelle, adopted from King Street Cats in 2003. Special thanks to Robyn Anderson and Andrea Cerino for sharing their wisdom.