Last Updated on January 11, 2020
I awoke before sunrise this morning to the frantic skittering of little paws sliding across the slick laminate floor of my apartment in Chengdu, China. I pried open my eyes to a brief flash of fur zooming across my bed and over my nightstand. In the distance, someone was stripping the dead leaves off a long-forgotten plant. The kittens were starting their day.
I am helping foster nine kittens and am loving every moment of it.
It was Keri’s idea to foster cats while living in China. She moved here in March of 2018 to teach English and wanted a little company. A friend told her about Chengdu Animal Rescue and the decision was made. Keri was going to start helping animals in need. As many as they could bring her.
Keri has fostered 31 cats in her first year and a half in China, most of whom were either severely malnourished, stricken with fleas or illness, skittish and unsocialized, or some combination of all three. Without her, most of these cats would have lived out brief, harsh lives on the chaotic streets of Chengdu.
For many ex-pats or travelers like us, the dream of having a pet is put on the back-burner for one simple reason — owning a pet is a huge commitment and isn’t conducive to the mobile lifestyle.
Here’s the good news: There’s a short-term and very rewarding way to satisfy your desire for loving companionship while abroad — by becoming a pet foster care provider.
What is Pet Foster Care?
Foster care means providing in-need animals with short-term care to get them ready for their future owner. Sometimes animals are too young, sick, or poorly-socialized to find a home immediately. Foster programs step in to rescue animals and transfer them to their foster parents, who prepare the animals for adoption.
‘Short-term’ usually means anywhere between a few days to a few months depending on the situation. Naturally, if a foster parent wants to adopt an animal, they have first priority – a literal ‘pick of the litter.’
Meet Our Foster Cats
Keri and I have a bit of a unique situation. Nine kittens. Three different litters. One increasingly overworked mom. Here are their stories.
Litter One: Rejected by Their Mother
It was Keri’s original plan to foster a pregnant cat and her male companion. The birth was extremely difficult — one kitten died during shortly after birth, two were born on the bathroom floor, and another kitten was removed via C-section at the vet’s office. The mother rejected the kittens for reasons unknown, refusing to nurse, clean, or even pay attention to them.
Keri, distraught and desperate to help, knew that the kittens would have trouble surviving without an attentive feline mother, so she asked the vet for advice. The answer waited in the other room.
Litter Two: The Orange Bunch
Thanks to incredible timing, Keri learned that the vet had been taking care of a mother cat and her four newborn kittens, which were born the same day as Keri’s three orphaned kittens. The plan was to merge the seven newborns into one big litter and see if the mother would accept the newbies.
Glenda, the mother, instantly accepted the new kittens as her own. From Day One, she nursed them, cleaned them, and dragged them dutifully around the apartment by the scruff of their necks. Unfortunately, one of Glenda’s four original kittens became sick and died within days, but the other six in her extended litter remained — healthy and strong.
Litter Three: Left for Dead
When Glenda’s kittens were five weeks old, Keri got a heartbreaking message from her foster group. Three tiny and malnourished kittens were spotted being dumped in the trash by a person who saw them as a nuisance. A volunteer from the foster group witnessed this and retrieved the kittens. She reached out to the group to see if anyone could help.
Keri responded promptly. She was becoming a bit of a cat collector at this point, so what were three more? Maybe, just maybe, she could sneak them into Glenda’s litter for food and maternal care. Glenda initially hissed and growled at the newcomers, but Shake, the leader of the dumpster kittens, wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. He kept squirming his lanky black body into the nest until he was finally accepted. It didn’t take long for Glenda to also accept his brothers, Rattle and Roll.
Glenda was now the unintended mother of nine. Because she has one too few nipples to feed the whole litter at once, Keri and I carefully shuffle the hungry kittens around during feeding time. We weigh all the kittens every night to ensure they are gaining weight at a healthy pace.
The kittens now live in a constant state of feline bliss, sprinting around our apartment like maniacs, wrestling, hiding in boxes, ambushing each other, and clumsily scaling their cat castle. If we’re lucky, they’ll curl up on our laps or shoulders as we lounge on the couch watching Netflix or eating dinner. We’ve become quite attached to these little bandits.
Glenda’s litter turned eight weeks old yesterday and are now officially ready for adoption. Keri and I are heartbroken at the thought of splitting them up between new owners, but, that’s the life of a foster parent. It’s what you sign up for.
Should You Foster Animals?
Whether you’re a lonely traveler or simply want to help, fostering pets is a significant responsibility that can be incredibly rewarding, but it certainly isn’t for everyone. You need to ask yourself…
- Do you have the desire to help animals in need?
- Do you have a safe, stable, and secure place to care for the animals?
- Does your landlord, hotel, hostel, or homestay allow pets?
- Are you willing to sometimes spend your own money to support your foster pets?
- Are you willing and able to make sudden and sometimes unpleasant trips to the vet?
- Are you prepared and equipped to rehabilitate dirty, sick, helpless, and scared animals?
If you answered ‘yes’ to most or all of these questions, you’re a probably a great candidate to become a foster parent. Now, you’re ready to take the next step.
How to Help
Join a local pet foster care group
It’s usually quite easy to find local pet foster care groups. Do some quick online research or ask a nearby animal shelter – the opportunities are fairly easy to find if you look in the right places. Keri and I are a part of The Chengdu Animal Rescue Group, which has over 400 members posting multiple updates every day.
Foster an animal
Want to help in the most direct way possible? Take needy animals into your household. You can help save their lives and find them a loving home. Keri and I choose to only to foster cats, but there are plenty of dogs, rabbits, and other animals that could use your help.
If you are unable to take a foster animal into your home, you can still help. Local shelters and organizations will gratefully accept donations and put the money to good use paying vet bills, providing food and litter, and promoting their cause.
Drop by an animal shelter or reach out to your local foster organization – there are always opportunities available if you know where to look. Whether you’re actively rescuing, feeding, or helping rehabilitate animals, assistance on any level is beneficial for everyone involved.
Spay or neuter your pets
This is the most humane way to help control the stray animal problem in your area. By not allowing your pet to reproduce, you’re eliminating the possibility of them contributing to the already massive homeless animal problem.
Spread the good word about fostering animals. Recruit friends to help with the cause, encourage pet owners to spay and neuter, help promote local foster programs, and share articles like this one with your friends and family.
Fostering Pets is Always a Good Thing
There’s really no other way to look at it.
For Keri and me, every day at home is a joyous distraction. We get to watch nine kittens wrestle, scamper around the apartment, chase each other’s tails, and tire at the exact same moment as they collapse into one exhausted, purring ball of fur. How did we get so lucky?
For as much love and entertainment as the cats give us, it’s our duty to return the favor. We provide them with plentiful food, medical attention, a safe place to stay, and a chance to find a loving ‘forever’ home. The whole process seems effortless simply because it’s so gratifying and rewarding.
But here’s the thing: all the help we provide in our tiny apartment will never be enough. The stray animal population here in Chengdu is a struggle to manage, as it is in most of the world. We need a much broader awareness and education about stray homeless animal populations. In the meantime, vulnerable animals continue to struggle for their lives in the unforgiving urban jungle.
I am convinced it’s our obligation as a society to help care for the starving, sick, helpless, and lost populations, humans or otherwise. So, please consider the difference you can make by fostering, donating, or volunteering to help animals in need. Chances are you’ll receive more than you give.
International Animal Rescue Resources
Organizations like Love and Second Chances, International Animal Rescue, and Compassion Without Borders help suffering animals all over the world. For more animal rescue information, or for volunteer opportunities, visit their websites to make a difference.
Have an interesting foster pet story of your own? Want to know more about my experience fostering animals abroad? Let me know by leaving a message in the comments section below!