My husband and I live just south of Charlotte, NC, with our two rescue cats, Will Feral and Oshie. We could not do what we are doing with ferals, fosters, and rescues without their cooperation. Will is our former feral, and Oshie is our shelter “foster fail,” an expression many of you recognize as a cat we intended to foster to adoption, but fell in love with and adopted ourselves. You can read about Will’s and Oshie’s journeys in the Happily Ever After blog posts.
For those of you who foster, you can appreciate the struggles and rewards recorded here. The struggles are to get our fosters healthy and socialized, and then adopted into forever homes with forever people. The rewards are when the very young or very sick charges finally get well, or when that feral admits to itself that living among people has its benefits.
I joke that orphan foster kittens make the best family members because they are hand-raised, all-natural, non-GMO, and gluten-free. And once they are litter trained, they are free-range, running through the house to get familiar with the sights and sounds of a home. The orphans I have fostered have done especially well in their adopted homes because from the moment they opened their eyes at 8 to 10 days old they looked to humans for food, safety, comfort, and companionship.
Here is my story: I began fostering kittens through LASS (The Lancaster Animal Shelter Supporters) in early 2019, shortly after I retired as a neonatal intensive care nurse. In 2021, I was approved for my own 501(c)(3) specifically to capture, spay/neuter, and socialize local ferals and orphan kittens that would most likely be euthanized if taken to a shelter.
Orphan kittens provide their own challenges. For one thing, they are very fragile, and some, regardless of the around-the-clock care, don’t survive those first few weeks. However, many of the skills I learned in the NICU translate well to kittens. I even have two incubators for orphan newborns because kittens can’t regulate their body temperature until about three weeks of age. But orphan kittens that young also require feeding every few hours for the first five or more weeks of life, either with a bottle, syringe, or a feeding tube. The night feedings, of course, are the worst. Kitten seasons (2020 & 2021) I went almost seven months with around-the-clock feedings. I’m not complaining at all, and I’m not looking for sympathy or praise, but that’s what fostering abandoned or orphan newborns requires, and that’s why the shelter simply doesn’t have the physical or financial resources to care for these kittens.
Adopting a Feral Takes a Special Heart
The goals for ferals are the same as for any other foster: 1) Get them healthy and neutered/spayed; 2) Socialize them so that they feel safe around humans and seek human interaction; and 3) Find them a forever home, which means not going to the shelter. So far, all but one of the feral cats we have brought in has been adopted. One recalcitrant feral refused to change her mind and was vaccinated, spayed, and returned to her human supported colony. Yes, socializing a feral is labor intensive. In addition to being terrified, they are often quite sick or injured. But once you strip away the fear, they begin to appreciate that they are now safe, warm, dry, and well-fed. Given time, space, and grace, they can become wonderful family members to the right people.
The families that have adopted my ferals have very special hearts for these very special cats. Ferals survive because they are intelligent and tough. You can’t outsmart or out-tough a feral, but you can love them and respect their boundaries until they change their minds.
And, yes, I absolutely bond with every cat or kitten that comes through the door, but always keeping in mind that I am caring for and socializing someone else’s family member. The reward there is the tremendous satisfaction in seeing how well these fosters adjust to their new families and new surroundings, and then seeing the pictures and hearing the tales of their happily-ever-after stories.
If you are interested in adopting one of my ferals or fosters, please fill out an Adoption Contract Application. You can also follow their stories in my Cheryl’s Ferals and Fosters Chat Group. This is also where those who have adopted my fosters post updates.
Special thanks to my sponsoring vet, Southern Paws Animal Hospital. We could not do what we are doing without the support of Dr. Hill, Dr. Lail, and the Southern Paws staff.