Saturday, January 29, 2011

So about this whole "foster cat" business...

As some of you already know, or may have surmised from my posts and Facebook page, I totally heart cats. Recently, I had to make the decision to put down my older cat, Stella (above). She was 13 years old and had been having health problems for about the last year or so. It was the first time I was put in that position and it was a toughie. When I came home from the vet afterwards, I was really hurting. I went through the apartment and got rid of everything that reminded me of her. The scratching post and carpeted steps (so she could still get up on the bed) went on Craig's list for free, all her food and treats went to friends who have cats. The wee cardboard box she used to snuggle up in went into recycling. (that one killed me - if you saw some random lady in an alley recycling a cardboard box and totally bawling her eyes out, that was me).


I didn't want to commit to getting another cat right away. I thought, when the time is right, the right one will come along. And then I remembered a friend who had posted on FaceBook about her "foster kittens" - so I decided to look into it. The whole "foster cat" concept was totally new to me. My friend went through an organization called VOKRA (Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue Association). VOKRA finds safe, loving, temporary foster homes for kittens, pregnant cats, and older cats until they can be adopted into a permanent home. They do not have a large, main shelter, and this actually helps protect the very young cats from colds, distemper, parasites and other transmissible illnesses. It also helps the cats get socialized with humans, and get used to new surroundings.

The concept made sense to me. I *could* just go ahead and get another cat. Or, I could help out some cats who need a bit of TLC, help them get socialized, bring them out of their shell, and help find them a new home. Hrrrrmmmmm.

I had already decided that I wanted to adopt an older cat as opposed to a kitten. Lord knows I love a kitten, but the reality is that most kittens will end up getting adopted while older cats end up sitting on the shelf in the shelters. Sad, but true.

I still had questions though. What if I got stuck with a cat that no one wanted to adopt? What if I fall in love with the cat I'm fostering and want to adopt them? What if the cat I got was a total asshat who scratches at the door all night?

So I called VOKRA with my questions & spoke to Michele Carrington (Vice President). She told me that they actually have a very good rate of adoption for older cats, and if I did want to adopt the cat I was fostering, I'd have fill out an application, just like anyone else. If I did end up with a cat that just was not working out (asshat), then the cat would just have to go back to their temporary holding area and hopefully have better luck out another foster home.

So I decided to give it a go. It came as a pleasant surprise to find out that, if you do decide to foster, VOKRA actually provides all the cat's neccesities; food, litter, and (drum roll please) vet bills! Also very handy since I had gotten rid of everything after Stella died.

I talked to Michele about what cats were in the most urgent need of a foster home. She described a few, then mentioned one ("Jacobia") who had been in a foster home recently, but then had been separated from her brother because it was suspected he was "bullying" her & keeping her from her food. She was currently in a kennel because she had been seen limping, so they didn't want her leaping about. Michele then sent me the link to her adoption page so I could check her out.

Ok - admit my first reaction was "hmmm, she looks kind of rough... that's a really bad photo... and who names a cat Jacobia?!". But I decided to foster her because she was confined to a kennel - a decent size kennel, but still . . .

When we went to go pick her up, she was very sweet & affectionate right away. We took her home on a Wednesday night, and she was silent the whole way. Smaller, confined spaces are better at first, so we kept her in our office with the door closed. She was very timid at first and hid in the corners (this is pretty normal for cats, they are very territorial and like to be familiar with their surroundings all the time). She was so quiet and just so accepting of her fate and everything that life had thrown at her that I decided the next day to rename her Grace. Of course, this was immediately amended to Gracie, Gracie-Face, Macy Gray, Goodness-Gracious, etc.

We were told when we got her that she would be timid. But it did not take long at all before she started to come out her shell and was investigating the entire room, wolfing down her food (she was pretty skinny), meowing a bit, and then investigating the rest of the apartment. It's Saturday now, and she is sitting on my lap, purring, as I write this. Nice.

As you view the cats up for adoption on the VOKRA pages, your heart just melts (unless you are made of stone?). There's a lot of hard luck stories up there. These two were left locked in an apartment when people moved out (who DOES that?), this one was dumped off by the owner at a stable & left to fend for herself. Gracie? She was rescued from "the Halloween house" - a big ol' house with too many cats that were not being cared for. It caught fire on Halloween 2 years ago and VOKRA got called to come in and grab up any of the cats that were left.

If you check out the links above, it becomes obvious quickly that the better the cat's bio looks (and the more cute photos they have), the better the chance they will start to get requests to be seen & possibly end up adopted. So I immediately tried taking some better pix of my new wee furry girl.

And I learned something new. It's hard to get good photograph of an all-black cat! I've been taking shots of cats for yeeeears, and never knew this. An interesting related aside to this tidbit; "A 2002 study in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science that examined adoption rates over nine months in a California pound found that black cats were about half as likely to be adopted as tabby cats and two-thirds less likely than white cats."

It really never occurred to me before, but it's partly because they don't have cute markings like tabbies or calicos (and therefore harder to get cute photos), and partly because of stupid ol' superstition. Cat prejudice. Who knew?

Anyway, I managed to get a couple of half decent shots and sent one off to VOKRA so they could update her adoption page. I also sent information about her personality and her new name.

Basically, I re-branded her. Not even joking. In the era of on-line profiles on sites like PetFinder, she needed a little help. "Pimp my cat", I couldn't help joking with friends. I also admit that within 12 hours of fostering her, I had already posted her photo on Facebook. It's all about marketing.

And guess what? It worked! Her new name, photo, and information were up by Thursday, and by Friday I got an email with a request to see meet her. Michele at VOKRA was over the moon; "we've had her in our database for over a year and no one has requested to see her!"

She was actually sitting on my lap (for the first time), purring, when I got the email to request a "viewing". And, yes, my heart sank a little bit. She really is a very sweet little girl. Curious, playful, still timid, but totally full of snuggles and purrs. Yeah, I guess I fell in love a little bit. We've already discussed putting in an application to adopt her. But I think I'd like to stick to my original plan. If I can help more than one adult cat find a "forever" home, then I will.

Someone is coming to meet her tonight. I'll let you know how it goes.


Jennifer Conroy said...

Oh! Heart-strings! 'Specially the bit about recycling Stella's box. Sigh. Good for you, Christi-muffin.

Anonymous said...

Love this! We got our kitty from Vokra about a year after our dear Sophie passed away at the grand old age of 13. We rebranded him as Mr. Ted shortly after he arrived. It was a rough go at first. I think he might have been a bit too young. Even though he can be a bit of an "asshat" at times (in and out all day long and nibbling on us occasionally) we love him. Good for you for helping out. It takes a lot of strength.

Cagey Bee said...

So proud of you! I lost my old girl last month too & have been rather obsessed with Petfinder & rescue sites ever since. There are so many dogs & cats who need good homes. It breaks my heart how often senior animals are dumped at the SPCA because the owner is moving.

I have heard the stat about black dogs being least adopted & most often put down (aside from pit bulls). I always assumed it was because black labs are such common animals & have large litters, but I wonder how much of it is bad photos or some other aesthetic reason. Black cats must have it worse though. Poor thing! :(

Anonymous said...

Awesome post, Christi! So glad you decided to foster for VOKRA. They're such a great bunch. I have to stop fostering now 'cause my partner's dust allergies got worse with cats around, drat. Can I come meet your next kitty?