Mother Nature is putting the capital “N” in nasty these days. Wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes and other weather disasters are striking coast to coast.
Sometimes, weather experts are able to give us some advance notice to pack up and head to a safe place. But other times, it can come on suddenly or pack more of a punch than expected.
Often right in the eye of these storms are staffs at animal shelters and pet rescue centers bracing for the worse and looking for help. That’s where you can lend assistance by volunteering to temporarily foster kittens and cats. For a great overview on fostering pets, particularly dogs, please click here for the post by Jamie Migdal, CPDT-KA and CEO of FetchFind.
But back to those frightened, confused felines who need a temporary haven to hang out due to a weather disaster or when a shelter is overcrowded due to rescuing animals from a major hoarding situation.
Here are some tips and insights into all things feline to help you help out cats in need:
Act now. Offer to step up as a temporary foster volunteer by contacting your local animal shelter or rescue organization now. Don’t wait until another weather disaster strikes. Let them know you are willing to temporarily foster kittens and cats. And maintain a good support line by knowing the contact info for the specific shelter staff in charge of the fostering program.
Pet proof the foster room in advance. When entering a new environment, some cats may act like “feline Zorros” and urine spray the walls or furniture. This is a way for some wary cats to feel more at home in a new environment. So, before the cat enters the designated room, make sure any heirlooms or new furniture has been removed. Use commercial urine cleaning products that contain chemicals designed to remove the odor and smell caused by pet urine.
Don’t make feline introductions. Keep these temporary house guests separated from your personal pets, especially other cats. You may not receive medical info on these foster felines and you don’t want to risk exposing your cats to contagious diseases, such as feline leukemia. Or spark a feline fight that results in bite and claw wounds to the cats and even to you. If you can spare a bedroom or spacious laundry room for the foster cats and kittens, pet proof in advance of their arrival.
Understand that cats do not behave or react like little dogs. Dogs tend to be pleasers, but cats are observation learners who take time to build trust. Avoid rushing up to greet a kitten or cat and coax them toward you using a wand toy or an extended index finger for them to sniff and rub their cheeks again (this is a kitty “hello.”)
Recognize visible signs of fear, anxiety or stress in cats. These signs can include dilated pupils, ears flattened back or out to the side, body low to the ground, freezing in place, hair on the back puffed up, a low growl or hissing, and perhaps panting or rapidly breathing. Try calming down the foster felines by spritzing the carrier and the designated room with popular feline pheromone sprays available online and in pet supply stores. These scents mimic feline odors and are designed to calm down cats. They seem to work on some cats, so give them a try.
Rely on an unlikely but effective safety tool – a thick bath towel. When you need to pick up a frightened foster cat, keep yourself from harm by wrapping him in a thick bath towel. Always pick up the toweled cat from the back with his head facing away from you.
Transport the foster feline in a pet carrier with a front and top opening. It is easier to towel a cat and place him in a carrier from the opened top than try to force him in the front opening as cats have flexible spines that can make it challenging to usher them into the front opening. Also, the safest place in your vehicle for a cat is on the floor in the back seat. Move the passenger seat up to create more space on the floor in the back seat to place the carrier.
Schedule time to play and interact with these cats. Unlike dogs, cats feel safe off the floor, so provide a cat tree or sturdy elevated, padded shelf in the room for the foster cat to roost. Aim to spend time petting and playing with them three or four times a day as your schedule permits.
Behave like a pet detective around the fostered felines. Recognize that the shelter may not have a good medical history on the felines under your care, so take note if these cats or kittens are starting not to eat, have diarrhea, or experience other health changes that warrant a call to the shelter foster manager or your local veterinarian.
When the need for emergency fostering comes to an end, you may find that you have bonded with a feline or two. If you have the space and the financial ability to adopt, view yourself not as a “foster failure” but as a “foster success.” The point of fostering cats or other shelter animals is to give them food, shelter and an enriching environment to thrive and win a permanent home. In some cases, that home may be yours.