By Stacie Craddock for The Island Eye News
Many animal shelters across the nation have been successfully adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic by calling on their communities to foster animals to help alleviate staff and resource constraints.
Fostering was always something I yearned to do “one day,” although my own schedule and time constraints prevented me from committing. As the pandemic stretched on, the idea of fostering also grew, and I began asking myself, “If not now, then when?”
The day after I submitted my foster application to Dorchester Paws, I received a call about four abandoned 2-week-old kittens. Neonatal kittens are among the most vulnerable population in our shelters because of their delicate health and immune systems. They also require aroundthe-clock care to keep them alive.
Many do not survive, primarily due to poor health or lack of shelter resources.
Taking on neonates requires special care, although anyone can learn how to do it. Up until 4 weeks of age, kittens require bottle feeding every two to four hours. I was basically a walking zombie keeping up with the feedings the first two weeks.
They also need stimulation to use the bathroom, something that in the wild the mother cat would perform by licking. Then there were the constant worries about constipation, then diarrhea, upper respiratory infections and whether they were too hot or too cold. It was a bit overwhelming knowing that these tiny lives were in my hands.
But then you hear their sweet little squeaky meows singing out just for you. You feel their warm little bodies and soft, vibrating purrs against your chest.
You feel their quick little heartbeats and their fur, so soft and silky against your skin. And the first time they focus straight into your eyes and really see you; it is just priceless. These precious little moments make it worth every single bit of effort.
As the weeks go by, the time between each feeding increases, as does your sleep schedule. By 4 to 5 weeks old, they can eat on their own and use the litter box. At this age, the real fun begins. They become bouncy little balls of joy – wobbling around the room, wrestling with each other and constant play, play, play. And then, just when you have succeeded in molding them into perfect little plump, happy muffins, it’s time to say goodbye.
Once they reach 1.5 to 2 pounds, they are ready for their spay or neuter surgeries and then adoption.
Saying goodbye is heartbreaking, but it is the end goal. I learned so much from fostering these little babies, and next time around there will be a lot less worrying and a lot more confidence.
But I need a break first before taking on another litter so I can catch up on some sleep – maybe just a week.
All of our community shelters have foster programs and need volunteers, including the Charleston Animal Society, Pet Helpers and Dorchester Paws. Feral Cat Helpers also has a fantastic foster program for kittens.
For more information about adopting the author’s foster babies, you can contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.