Guest Post By MeLinda Hughes, Director of Merlin’s Hope Ragdoll Rescue
People always ask me how I can give up a foster cat once he or she has lived in my home. They tell me they “could never do that,” because they would get too attached. I won’t go into the ramifications of that attitude (i.e., cats don’t get out of shelters, because there are not enough foster homes), but I want to talk about how we fosters deal with sending fosters home.
Sometimes, fosters only come for a few weeks; sometimes they are here for months; sometimes they are here even longer. Ideally, a foster comes into a foster home (in this case, my home), stays long enough to be vetted and evaluated for behavior, and then we find the perfect home and send the cat to his or her new home.
Unfortunately, there is not a home for every cat nor is every cat immediately ready to go home. Some cats need time to become accustomed to being uprooted from their home, thrust into a hostile environment, or need help with behavioral issues. Now, people might question the “hostile environment” comment. Why would a foster home be a “hostile environment”? I refer people to the feeling that first day that their mothers drop them off at daycare or preschool. Remember how frightening it was? Remember having to meet all the children and learn to “play nicely”? A cat in a foster home is in just such a situation.
So, it takes time for cats in foster homes to show their real personalities. Days turn into weeks and weeks turn into months and the foster cat still doesn’t have a home. We can’t read a cat’s mind, so we don’t know what a cat really thinks about being forced into such an environment, but we know it can’t be easy.
Now, on to the weeks the cat spends in the foster’s home, what goes through that cat’s mind? Does the cat think he is home? Surely, if you live in a place for weeks and months, then you are home, right? What happens to a cat once he thinks he is home, then, he suddenly is forced into a carrier and sent to another place where there are new people, new animals, new scents, a new lifestyle?
We’ll never know, but I can tell you when I know a foster cat finally thinks he is home. Why? Because I see it every day and because one of my own personal cats, who was a foster cat, once showed me. I love red Maine Coons. People who know me know I am a sucker for a red Maine Coon, so when Bronte as he was first named showed up at a local shelter, I went zooming over to pick him up. I had no intent of adopting him; in fact, I had just adopted one of my own red Maine Coon foster kittens, Gryffin, just a few weeks before, so I definitely was not looking to keep Tam as I eventually renamed Bronte. Tam had other ideas.
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First, he moved from the quarantine room to the cat room to free roam in the house (the progression at my home). All the free roam foster cats are welcome in my room, but it is obvious that my cats “own” this room and they let fosters know that while they might “visit,” they are not welcome to stay. Tam never bothered with that. He chose a cat tree in the corner and moved in. He made sure to stay out of the way of my territorial females; then, he moved in on me. What? His chosen cat tree is right by the door to my master bathroom. Every time I walked by the door, he would reach out a paw and grab me for some “loving.” Then, we progressed from that to kisses and headbutts. Finally, when people started to come visit him to adopt him (a couple of months after he came), he refused to come out of my room. Every adopter who came received a firm “no, you are not my human.” Finally, six months after he came, we (Tam and I) decided he was meant to stay.
Now, if every cat came in that decided to stay actually stayed, I would be the little old lady who lived in a shoe who had so many cats she didn’t know what to do. It is especially hard to send the cats who “move” in to their new homes, BUT I have faith that these cats are going to a better home where they will receive more one-on-one attention in their new home. Then, there is the fact that if I keep my fosters, I cannot take any more fosters, and if I don’t take fosters, then what happens to the cats in the shelters that need a home? Let’s take a look at two current fosters at Merlin’s Hope: Tennyson and Velvet.
Tennyson was a friendly cat when he came, but he was not necessarily a cuddly, lap-cat. Despite his good looks and sweet personality, he has been here for months. During that time, he has gone from being just friendly to being a lap cat. He has moved from spending time in the living room to spending most of his time to my bedroom. He has gone from being friendly to being a true lap-cat. I can send this boy home knowing that whoever adopts him will be adopting a wonderful cat. The problem is that Tennyson thinks this is his home. There will be a period of adjustment in his new home, but his outgoing personality will allow him to go straight into that home, perhaps sulk for a bit, and then he will make himself at home.
On the other hand, Velvet is a friendly, immediately engaging cat who has made herself at home anywhere, but she will also make herself at home in any home. Sending her home will be easy, because I know she will be fine just as soon as she gets there. Integration will be minimal. These are the ideal fosters, but these are not the cats we normally receive in rescue. The majority of the cats we get from shelters have had a difficult time. They may have been abused, they may be physically ill, they may be grieving the loss of their home. All of these issues have to be addressed.
In conclusion, while fostering can be a difficult process for the humans (yes, it is hard to let them go home), it is a more difficult process for the cats, and as I always tell people (usually people I have declined for adoption) it is all about the cats. Cats can and do make the transition from shelter or even home to foster home to new home. It just takes a lot of time, a lot of understanding, and a whole lot of love. Never turn down a request to foster because you are afraid you will become too attached to the foster cat or he will become too attached to you. Both of you can move on, and there is always another cat waiting at the shelter for a foster home.