If you’ve been following me since the beginning, back when I had more cats than children (it was a 2:1 ratio), you’ll know I’ve always had a soft spot for felines.
The truth is, although I guilted my parents into not one but two dogs as an adolescent, once I moved out and left them in charge of said dogs, it was all about the #catlife. Cats do not need to be walked in the pouring rain of Vancouver, the million feet of snow in Montreal nor the -40° C with the wind chill of Calgary.
The resident cats we had in Montreal were not subjected to our cross-country move and are currently living their best cat life with their grandpapa on his farm. Once we were settled here in Calgary and we had made it past the newborn phase with our second-born, we decided to start fostering cats again. I wrote all about why we chose to foster versus committing to our furever feline, and all my fellow cat-lovers followed the progress of our various foster kittens and mama cats on my social media.
When I got pregnant with the twins, it was time to press pawse on fostering for obvious reasons, and since their birth—again, for obvious reasons—we had not taken on more fosters … until recently!
I always told the kids (and myself) that we would foster again and eventually adopt once we moved into a bigger home. Our move to the big house coincided with a global pandemic, which coincided with everyone deciding they wanted to adopt a pet. A few weeks into lockdown, I figured there was no better time to foster than when we are stuck at home, so I applied with the Alberta Animal Rescue Crew Society (AARCS). I don’t mean to brag, but I was kind of a shoo-in with all my past fostering experience.
In my previous foster experiences, there were always more cats in need of fostering than there were foster homes available. (Hence why at one point, pre-children, I had eight cats in our 800-square-foot condo.) But these days, furry companions are in high demand, especially kittens! AARCS currently has a wait-list for foster homes willing to take on kittens or pregnant mamas, and you bet we are on it. The good news for AARCS is we are around for the long-haul, and we’ll take on kittens pandemic or not.
Our first AARCS foster cat was extremely shy. So shy that the twins never even met him! Despite holding our home-learning sessions in the guestroom where he stayed, despite coaxing with treats and toys, Gustave never warmed up to us before he was adopted by a couple who were ready to take him home. Even though she had been well prepared for this eventuality and never even got to play with him, Miss Cub was devastated that the “shy cat” was leaving. When a new set of foster cats became available, we were paired with a young male tabby named Shovel.
Now, to understand why his name was Shovel, you have to understand that all the shelters I’ve worked with have a strict naming policy for their animals. That is, no two cats in their system (past or present) can have the same name. And they have a lot of cats in their system. So sometimes you name cats after garden tools. (Other cats in the batch that arrived with Shovel included Saw and Spade.)
When we picked up Shovel at AARCS (in a socially distanced manner), I had every intention of him eventually leaving our house with another family. I always knew that one day we would adopt one of our fosters, but I figured it would be a kitten from a litter born at our place that would be the one to steal our hearts.
When we let Shovel out to meet the twins for the first time, I immediately knew we were going to keep him. The twins were shrieking with delight in a manner I can only imagine most felines would deem threatening, and Shovel just purred and ran around with them and seemed delighted by their at times violent attempts at petting him. Pulling his tail? No problem. Shoving kibble in his face to try and make him eat? It’s all good!
My only caveat for adopting Shovel was that in no universe was I going to make veterinary appointments for a cat named Shovel. My son was quite frankly a big fan of the name, so it took many, many suggestions on my part before somehow we settled on Cheezy Dibble. So yes, I am in a universe where I would rather book a vet appointment for a Cheezy Dibble than a Shovel. (In case you don’t get the reference, Cheezy Dibbles is the brand name of the cheese snacks favoured by the Penguins of Madagascar in their eponymous feature film.)
He has since become a daily source of joy for all of us, with the twins (who still have very few words) saying “meow” as soon as they wake up, pointing frantically at their doorway until he appears to say good morning (which he always does). My daughter enjoys covering him with a blanket whenever he is sleeping and admonishing me should I do anything that might wake up the minou. My son loves his company while he reads at night, as well as playing with him with the laser pointer. My husband likes to play-fight with him since he’s still got lots of kitten energy (he’ll be 1 at the end of the summer). As for me, well I just love it when he hops into bed, purring like crazy.
Shovel/Cheezy Dibble could not be adopted immediately by us because he was still under the care of the fabulous AARCS veterinary team for a respiratory infection. When his sneezing didn’t seem to be improving, I brought him in to the AARCS clinic for a checkup, and the vet also noticed that the tip of his tail had been previously frost bitten. So over the past few weeks we’ve gone back and forth with Mr. Cheez Ball (how quickly one invents a million different nicknames for one’s pet!) to have that checked on, with the tip of his tail ultimately being amputated. Once his stitches were removed, we finally got the greenlight to send AARCS $100 to make Cheezer officially ours.
Why might fostering be a great choice for your family?
I’ve already written about what I think the benefits of fostering cats are for families with young kids, but I will reiterate some of them as we have begun enjoying these benefits again as a family of not two but four young kids.
No financial responsibility, all the fun. As long as your kids can handle a cat coming into their lives and then leaving (my son has been awesome with this, my daughter found it harder), your gift to the cat is your time and your home: the food and supplies are provided by AARCS, as well as all veterinary treatments. (Of course if you are able, you can certainly provide supplies!)
Short-term commitment. For lots of reasons, a lifetime commitment to a cat might not be in the cards for your family right now. For example, if you travel all summer, you can foster during the school year.
The ultimate test. Fostering may just be the last step before your family decides to adopt a pet for good. It’s a great way for your kids to experience volunteering and working with a non-profit organization while learning what it’s like to care for a pet.
Find the perfect pet for your family. Foster fails happen. A foster fail is when you foster a cat and you love it so much you decide to adopt! Now keep in mind that fostering isn’t a free pass to “test out” a cat for weeks on end. Cats that are cleared for adoption will be posted for adoption quickly, and the foster family does not get “dibs” on a cat once another potential adopter has made an application. But being able to introduce a cat to your family and your home for a few days is most definitely a better way to know if the cat is a good fit than just a quick visit.
Why adopt a fostered cat?
If you’re not interested in fostering, but you’re ready to adopt, choosing an organization that has its animals in foster homes is truly a great way to go. In fact, I think it is the best way to go if you have young kids. Why? Because the foster family will know if the cat has the right temperament for children! When we fostered kittens before the twins were born, families adopting from us knew the kittens had lived their whole lives with my kids and would make great pets for their families. As for our first new foster, Gustave, I stressed to prospective new owners that he was not going to be happy in a home full of rambunctious toddlers. Another benefit of adopting a cat from a foster family is that you get to meet the cat in a comfortable environment and get a true sense of its personality. It’s a lot different than picking out a cat that you’ve only met in a cage.
How to Help AARCS
As things slowly open up here in Calgary, so too will more volunteer opportunities at AARCS. I expect that as more folks return to work outside the home, there may also be a decrease in foster applications. You can support AARCS by volunteering, fostering, sponsoring, fundraising or donating cash or wish-list items! Find out how to get involved with AARCS on their website.