I’m taking a leap here – I don’t have permission to re-print this but I’m going to anyway. I am hoping that it will help some of you who are considering fostering and I know that it gives a good perspective on those first days of fostering a new cat.
About the Author: Ruth is a fantastic foster mom. She cares deeply, has patience, and ‘gets it’. She has insights that come from intuitively knowing cats that were honed with years of fostering and making a difference. Ruth is in Toronto and fosters with Annex Cat Rescue. In fact, you have seen her letters before in my blog. Ruth took the Rascal’s mom Mattie after she was fixed – and we kept in touch to try to help her adjust. The kittens were only 8 weeks old when we separated them from Mattie – I would have liked a few weeks longer based on all the stress and trauma this little group had been through. But I fostered the Rascals outside the ‘rescue system’ – so when a viable foster home with Ruth became available with Annex, I jumped at the opportunity to get Mattie to a safe, experienced home and officially into a rescue. She did not adjust well – even with Ruth’s great care. She howled for the kittens non-stop and was miserable. We sometimes ask too much of them – though we know we are acting in their best interests!
So without delay… here are some very wise words from Ruth:
Environment You might be familiar with the saying that “dogs remember faces, cats remember places”, i.e. familiar environment is more important to cats than the care-giver. When I had my own cats and had to travel, it was always better for them to arrange for a cat-sitter to visit daily and tend to their needs, than to send them somewhere else. Many of our foster cats have experienced multiple environments: cat colony, vet clinics, temporary rescue homes, then foster homes. They have endured capture, and spent time in clinics being neutered/spayed, being de-flead and given shots. Cats have acute and very efficient senses of hearing, sight and smell. Before coming to you as their fosters, their senses have been bombarded by hundreds of sensory experiences which they have had to deal with and sort through. They have been physically handled by rescuers, vets etc. No wonder that they are disoriented, confused and fearful. Of course, we are doing what we think is best for them, but they don’t know that. Thus, the more traumatized cats need time to adjust to yet another new environment with a stranger. They need to spend a great deal of time examining every inch of their new setting, not just once, but over and over again, often daily in the early days. They also need to time to put their imprint (scent) in various locations and features of their new place: feeding stations, litter boxes, furniture, beds, toys, window sills etc., before they become comfortable.
Self-Preservation. My observation over the years has been that self-preservation is a cat’s foremost and extremely compelling instinct, which might account for why they have survived and thrived for thousands of years. Thus, if they are fearful for any reason and feel threatened, they will either retreat or fight back. Don’t take their reactions personally: they are only doing what cats do instinctively.
New Setting. Cats have an enormous amount of information to absorb when they go to a new foster home: the physical setting itself, sights, smells, noises, the garbage chute across the hall, the “thump” of the delivery of the newspaper, nearby construction etc. They also have to adjust to the new human(s) in their life. How many are there: just one foster, a couple, children, other pets etc. Equally important are the routines of the new household, their comings and goings. My observation is that cats very much appreciate routine and predictability, including their mealtimes.
Patches and Shreddy. Some of you might know about this rescued non-related bonded male pair. I mention them because it took a long time to socialize them. They hid in the bedroom closet, not in the bed that I had prepared for them in one half of the closet, but behind the shoe rack. For many days, I visited them in the bedroom, played with them etc. It finally dawned on me that I was rewarding them for staying in the bedroom, so I stopped visiting them, opened the bedroom door and waited for them to emerge, which they soon did. When they did so, I sometimes ignored them, allowing them to explore the rest of the apt. as much or as little as they wished. At other times, I called them by name and encouraged them to visit and play. I gave them lots of time and space to become comfortable in their new home. Only after that did they become friendly and playful with me: joining me in my reclining chair and in bed, and letting me stroke and groom them.
Meowtini (I have nicknamed her “Tina”) and Rue. They are my current fosters, a mother and daughter pair that have experienced rescue, veterinary care, temporary rescue care, unsuccessful foster care and adoption. I have given them lots of space and time to get used to my home and routines. My best compliment from them recently (as it has been from other fosters) is that they sometimes simply ignore me. That is, they used to be alarmed at every movement I made, even the crackle of the newspaper. They have now had time to absorb enough information about their environment and my comings and goings, that they are much more relaxed. Instead of lying upright and on guard, they now lie all curled up in their favourite places. They also both now show up in the kitchen at mealtimes. They are a long way from letting me touch them, and they still run away from me, but not as much as before.
- Please understand and appreciate what your foster cats have experienced
before coming to you: physically, emotionally and psychologically.
- Don’t expect too much of them too soon.
- Be patient and low-key. Take your cue from them.
- Give a lot of thought and time to understand their needs. Give them lots of space and time to get used to their new environment and to you.
- Be affectionate toward them, talk to them, give them assurance.