When it comes to baby animals, it can take several people to do the job of one mother. Take the example of a newborn kitten, left alone and motherless under a porch. Just days old, the kitten makes enough noise to attract the attention of a kind soul. Unable to locate the mother cat, the rescuer wraps the kitten in a blanket to keep him warm and takes him to Foothills Animal Shelter for the professional attention he needs.
Upon their arrival, the Shelter team swings in to action. Their first stop is Health Care, where the kitten’s condition is assessed. Thanks to his rescuer’s foresight, his body temperature is normal; his gums are pink and his mouth is moist, meaning he isn’t dehydrated. Once his weight, just a few ounces, is recorded the Foster Care team moves in immediately to bottle-feed the infant.
As soon as the kitten has his fill of the milk-replacer formula, he is moved into the Shelter’s “Nursery,” an area restricted to infants and nursing mothers. A plastic basin, lined with a blanket, makes a snug and safe bed; a bag of IV fluid, warmed in the microwave and wrapped in a soft towel, is a cozy substitute for his mother’s tummy; and a few soft toys become his littermates. In these comforting surroundings and with his full tummy, the kitten falls fast asleep. He’ll stay that way for the next hour or so, when it will be time for another feeding. He doesn’t know how many people have already come to his aid. Nor does he know that the Shelter’s Foster Care Manager is at this moment reaching out to the next person who will take on the role of mothering this little life.
Newborn kittens need to be fed every one to two hours, 24 hours a day, for the first month of their lives. Until they can clean themselves and use a litterbox, they need regular baths. Their health needs to be monitored carefully. They need to be loved and nurtured. In other words, they need a mother. This level of care calls for a very special set of Shelter volunteers, our Foster Parents, who have the skills, time, accommodations and commitment to take needy animals into their homes.
Foothills places animals in foster care for a variety of reasons – medical, socialization, training, age (either very young or senior) – and their time in care varies from one to eight weeks or longer. In his case, our little kitten will be fostered for eight weeks, during which time the foster parent will, just like a mother, take care of all the kitten’s needs. The first few weeks will include round-the-clock bottle feedings, each session followed by a bath with a warm cloth. By the time the kitten is a month old, the foster parent will introduce him to drinking and eating from a bowl and to using a litterbox. Thanks to the home setting and personal attention he’s received, the kitten will be well-socialized. He’ll learn how to play with toys for exercise and amusement. Most importantly, he’ll know how to give and receive love.
Kittens must be eight weeks old and weigh a minimum of two pounds in order for them to be spayed or neutered. He will then be ready to leave his foster home for the Shelter’s cat adoption room. More Shelter staff and volunteers will care for him until he is adopted into his forever home.
And what about the Foster Parent our kitten left behind? There will be little chance of “Empty Nest Syndrome” as the need for foster homes is always there. Fostering animals is a rewarding but emotionally and physically demanding act of love. In 2012, Foothills Foster Parents took in 731 animals into their homes, including kittens, puppies, cats, dogs, pigs, chickens, hamsters, turtles, rabbits and snakes. It was a lot of work, but we’re willing to guess that each Foster Parent would say, to quote a mother, “If you think my hands are full, you should see my heart!”