Pet Fostering The Good, Bad & Ugly



It takes a special kind of person to foster an animal and at the Humane Society of Genesee County (HSGC), there are many caring and compassionate volunteers who take on the task of caring for a pet prior to its “forever” adoption. According to Terry Ashley, HSGC Special Events and Volunteer Coordinator, the volunteers there have fostered hundreds and hundreds of animals. Most of the animals that need fostering are kittens, as there are many occasions when HSGC receives an entire litter, some so young they need to be bottle-fed. “Eighty percent of the animals we foster are kittens,” Ashley reports.

What does a person have to do to foster animals at HSGC? “There is a process,” explains the coordinator. “You have to be an existing volunteer who has had the training and an orientation to learn about our rules and policies.” A volunteer must be 18 years of age and have a separate space for the animal in their home. If they have pets of their own, the pets must be current on vaccinations. Once these criteria are met, the volunteer will attend a Foster Care Workshop, which will take place on March 23 this year in anticipation of upcoming “Kitten Season.” Feline breeding season begins in very early spring and may persist throughout the summer months. “Pet fostering is a lot more than just cuddling a kitten,” Ashley shares. “At the workshop, we show them the good, the bad and the ugly of fostering.”

The volunteer coordinator reports that there are 700 volunteers at HSGC, active at various levels – from those who come to the facility almost every day, to some who bake cookies for a fundraiser. And, fostering a litter of kittens without a mother takes an experienced volunteer. “They have to be bottle-fed. It can be very intense,” she adds. “And we have to be realistic about the situation, that some of the kittens might not make it. That is where the ‘ugly’ part comes in.”

Fostering animals can be a very rewarding experience. Featured in this year’s HSGC Annual Report is a story about a stray cat named Helen that came to the Humane Society in 2018. She had no eyes. They gave her food, safety, medicine and a foster home where the feline gave birth to a litter of kittens. “Luckily, the kittens were all born with eyes!” Ashley reports, “and they’ve all been adopted!”

Photos Provided by Humane Society

Finding Joy in Fostering

Jennifer Fader of Millington has been a volunteer with HCGC for more than 18 years. She loves being with animals and started out working inside the shelter, helping with care and cleaning cages. “I had to work outside of the shelter, because I couldn’t walk away from the animals,” she remembers. “So, I have been fostering in my home – that’s how I contribute.” Currently, she is fostering four kittens that have to be bottle-fed around the clock, which is very time consuming. “If the mom is fostered with the kittens, then it’s not so much work.”

For Fader, however, the time element is worth it. “It’s so rewarding!” she exclaims. “You really develop a bond. When you are holding them and bottle-feeding, you really connect with them. It’s something else!” Through the duration of her fostering, Fader has only kept one animal as a pet. “I have to keep in mind they are not mine, they belong to the Humane Society.”

The “bad” side of fostering for Fader is, of course, when a kitten doesn’t survive. “I’ve lost some,” she admits. “It helps to know there wasn’t anything else I could have done to save them, but it’s really tough to witness.” And, it’s always hard for her to take them back to HSGC for adoption. “The best-case scenario is I drop the kittens off and they are adopted that day,” she says. “I always hope they go to a good home and I know the Humane Society is good at that.”

Pet-fostering is a family affair at the Fader residence. She gets a lot of help from her husband, Mike and son, Cameron. “It’s not just me, we all help,” Fader shares, adding that her son is so good with the kittens that he’s been nicknamed “Cat Whisperer.” “Fostering has brought so much joy to our lives. They are so much fun! There’s nothing like watching kittens play together and jump over each other. It’s priceless. I don’t know how anyone can’t love them.”

Fader teaches a workshop on fostering at HSGC. “I inform volunteers about what to expect,” she says. She also teaches them about the birthing process, how to bottle-feed kittens and even how to burp them. “There’s a lot of little things you have to do. We want them to feel confident.” The class lasts for a couple of hours and the volunteers are also given an instruction booklet. According to Fader, there is a definite need for more volunteers to foster pets, especially in the spring, when HSGC is inundated with kittens. And the best thing about it is that a volunteer can make their own hours, Fader reports. “You can take a break or you can foster around your own schedule.”

What is important to Fader is that she feels she is contributing and helping HSGC. “This is something I want to do for the rest of my life, as long as I can.”

Photography by Kayce McClure


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