The year after my college graduation, pet fever hit me harder than ever. I had always grown up with pets around, and then, especially then, during my awkward, ‘I am out of school for the first time in almost 17 years, I have no idea what I am doing with my life,’ stage as I scanned Facebook posts from rescues, I wanted a pet more than ever. But it just wasn’t the right time to make a permanent commitment. I was jobless, my bank account was running on E, and I knew I couldn’t assume responsibility for another living creature if an emergency were to arise. After reading a social media post about the benefits of fostering shelter pets, I decided fostering might be the best thing to remedy my pet-less situation.

I began fostering cats for an Athens area pet store, Friendly Paws Pet Supplies and Grooming, and continued after I moved to Lancaster by fostering with PetPromise, Inc., a Columbus-based rescue. Both organizations supplied me with the essentials needed to care for a cat– including food, litter, litter box and toys — as well as veterinary care like vaccines and spaying/neutering. Of course if the cat was ill or needed medicine the organization covered those expenses as well. I provided a safe space for the foster cats to play, learn to socialize, and a couple times a week took the cats to Friendly Paws for the day so customers could interact with the foster.

At the start of my experience, I did not realize how much I would enjoy fostering, nor did I realize the extent fostering helps rescue organizations and individual cats. I was placed with 1-2 cats or kittens at a time. Most were strays found in the community who had been abandoned, others were pulled from overcrowded shelters. I got first hand experience in building trust with an animal until the cat became social, playful, loving, and — most important — adoptable.

Of course, there were some challenges along the way. I had one particular kitten who had not had any contact with people. It took two weeks of patience and coaxing to get her to emerge from under my bed, but within days of her deciding to explore my apartment, she became an entirely different cat– affectionate and friendly. One cat was quite skinny and ill when she was placed with me; she had a bad respiratory infection so she could not smell her food, causing her to refuse to eat. I spent my early mornings before work creating a smelly paste of wet cat food, fish oil, and boiled chicken, and evenings after work trying to Febreeze the chicken smell from my house.

When I explain what fostering is to friends, and why I do it, the question that instantly arises is, how can I give the cat up? It’s never easy. In fact, sometimes it seems impossible. The reality is that the end goal of fostering is a happy ending. Watching all of the happy endings you create is difficult, but reminds you that because you fostered, you saved a pet’s life, and delivered years of happiness to that pet and its adopter. Hearing how well the foster is doing in a permanent home means you did your job, and that’s what truly matters.

Foster time varies with each organization. The longest I had a foster cat was 4 months, the shortest probably two weeks. Adopters go through a thorough screening process to be sure they are a perfect match for the cat. When deciding whether to foster or not, it is crucial to find an organization that matches your own views and values. Ask about their adoption process to be sure they take steps to screen adopters.

Fostering is a great option for someone who is not at the right point in life to take responsibility for a permanent pet. It’s inexpensive but still gives you a friend to come home to. It is also a great option to help socialize your own pets with other animals, see if having a pet is right for you, and of course it is just a great way to volunteer and make a difference. Fostering is not only rewarding for you, but it teaches you a lot about the true nature of animals. Fostering opened the door for me to learn more than I ever imagined about animal care, pet health, and the issues domesticated animals face. It confirmed what I already knew, but enjoy being reminded of first hand: animals, like cats, have distinct personalities just like us. They’re capable of love, intelligence, and gratitude. They need a voice, and fostering allows you to become that voice.

Many rescue organizations are eager to accept new fosters. The more reliable foster homes available, the more abandoned pets can be taken off the streets, or saved from overcrowded shelters. All you have to supply is a little patience, and a lot of love. The payoff is endless affection and gratitude from your foster pet, and the accomplishment of personally saving a life.—Merri Collins

Merri is from Meigs County, Ohio and graduated from Ohio University with a Bachelor Degree in Journalism. She works as a Marketing Coordinator full-time, and also as a freelance copy-writer. Merri has always had a passion for supporting animal rights and helping animals in need. She is a PetPromise cat foster, performs TNR in her area, and has an adopted cat named Big Poppa.

Photo Credit: Merri Collins (Foster Cat Queen Wu)