I’m Erin and I’m sharing my personal story about being a cat foster parent and hope more animal lovers will consider it.
My family has had cats my whole life. A few of those cats have been skittish or shy, but they loved me so my family called me “The Cat Whisperer”. I’ve grown up loving cats and got my own first cat in 2019.
I graduated from an Animal Care program in 2020 and would love to work in animal welfare or rescue someday. Wanting to get some experience, I started volunteering with Toronto Cat Rescue in the spring of 2021. I started as a Foster Coordinator, someone who advises foster parents and connects them with other areas of the rescue when needed. I became a Pet Publicist in January 2023. When cats are ready to be adopted, foster parents write up a bio for them and submit it with some cute pictures. It’s the Pet Publicist’s job to post those bios on AdoptaPet.com for prospective adopters to see. I’m part of a team and we post bios that are submitted two days of the week.
An unspayed female cat can have 3-4 litters a year. This can snowball quickly, leading to a much larger number of cats.
In April of this year, TCR was contacted about assisting with a hoarding situation. Unfortunately, some hoarders collect cats. They usually mean well, taking in a few strays, but they don’t get them spayed or neutered.
In the case that was brought to TCR’s attention, 200 cats had been found in one home. It was far too many cats for the local rescues and shelters to deal with, so they asked TCR if we could take 135 of the cats. Of course we said yes, but a lot of our foster homes were already full so we sent out a request via social media and email asking people to apply to become foster homes and help us with this rescue effort. This particular large rescue was also covered by newspapers and other news outlets like Breakfast Television. Many people came through and became foster parents.
I talked with my family about it and they agreed that we could help with fostering a pet. That was an important discussion to have because all members of a household need to agree/consent to becoming a foster home. Within a couple of days, I was asked to take in two young cats. They were 6 months and 2 years old respectively. I named the younger one Kaylee and the older one Tara.
Toronto Cat Rescue is an example of a foster-based rescue. This means that we don’t have a physical shelter, only foster homes. In the GTA, we have more than 450+ foster homes. We also have a chapter in the Kitchener-Waterloo area. This makes TCR a great resource for animal services, humane societies, and smaller rescue groups due to our size and capacity.
Animal services and humane societies can never turn away an animal. This means that they reach their facility’s capacity quickly. When this happens, they reach out to TCR and we take any overflow of cats.
We also help smaller rescue groups that may have less space, less foster homes, or less volunteers and resources. TCR takes in cats in Ontario from North Bay to London. We also take huge groups of cats from Quebec. Their rescue and shelter resources are limited and they have a higher rate of not spaying or neutering their pets.
At any time, TCR might have between 250 and 450 cats and kittens in foster care. That number depends on the time of year, for example at the height of kitten season, we had 469 cats and kittens in foster care.
The cats sent to foster homes from shelters/humane societies are the ones who could benefit from one-on-one attention, whether that’s to care for them while they’re sick or while a more serious health concern is being diagnosed and treated. It’s also great for cats who need socialization, as that can take longer than a shelter can reasonably keep them.
Sanctuary room – An important consideration when preparing for fostering a pet is where to set up a sanctuary room. It’s a requirement of fostering for a few reasons. The first reason is that you need to quarantine foster cats for two weeks. Foster cats come from a variety of situations and can be sick when they come into foster care. Sometimes this is due to time spent in a shelter with other sick cats, resulting in URIs (colds) or various parasites. The quarantine is to protect you from zoonotic diseases like ringworm and any resident pets you might have from disease and viruses spread from animal to animal.
The second reason for a sanctuary room is related to the first. If a foster cat is sick, it will be easier to clean and sanitize one room in your home rather than your entire living space. Cleaning and sanitizing between fosters is always important, but is especially important when a cat has been sick. The quarantine lasts for two weeks because certain illnesses can take up to 14 days to show symptoms.
A sanctuary room is also good for the foster cat, as it allows them to decompress after being moved. Cats also do better in new environments when introduced to them one space at a time.
I started off with my bedroom as the sanctuary room. That only lasted about a month as I’d forgotten how kittens can keep you up at night. After talking it over with my parents (whom I live with), my mom offered to clean out her study and move her workspace to another room. That study is now the sanctuary room.
Both Kaylee and Tara were adopted so I then took in a foster that wasn’t doing too well in a store. His name was Bladerunner and he had issues with crowds and lots of noise. He opened up just a few days after coming home with me and was adopted by the end of the week.
Currently, I’m looking after a cat named Samantha. She was left outside in a carrier and was brought to a local shelter by the kind person who found her. She’s five years old and was extremely fearful in the shelter so I picked her up and brought her home.
She’s been a complicated cat to figure out. For the first four days, all she did was growl and hiss anytime someone went into her room and while she has stopped growling and hissing, she’s still wary of people, and watches me very closely when I’m in the room. She also won’t let anyone pet her. When I’ve tried, she scratches or bites me. I know it’s coming from a place of fear so I don’t blame her for it. Since she won’t let me pet her with my hands, I started petting her with the wand of a cat toy. She really loved that, so this past week, I switched to a cat brush.
For the first week and a half that Samantha was with me, she barely ate or drank. I consulted with my foster coordinator and we concluded that it was most likely due to stress so something I was asked to try was to offer her a buffet of food options. I tried 12 different things before she started eating normally.
Financial impact – While some shelters and humane societies will provide food and litter to foster homes, some rescues/shelters can’t. TCR will provide those things under certain circumstances. Things like litter, food, toys, and cat furniture are often donated, so foster homes can take what they’d like from donated items. This is not an endless resource, so foster homes are still expected to buy their own food and litter, since those are constant necessities of fostering cats.
In cases where a cat is on a specialized diet or a foster home takes in multiple kittens, TCR provides the food.
Samantha is eating well now, and has started to warm up to me. She still won’t let me pet her, but she rubs up against my legs and purrs when I brush her. Considering how fearful and defensive she was when she arrived, I see this as huge progress in her socialization.
If you would like to become a foster to cats and kittens through the Toronto Cat Rescue, please visit their website for more information and application details.
I think you will find volunteering as a foster to cats is a rewarding experience. I know that has been the case for me.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Erin is a longtime volunteer with TCR and with PAWS Canada.