Love for a special cat inspires a family to care for a large number

Since losing their beloved cat Dexter, this family is fostering an abundance of kittens.

My family lost a close buddy a few years ago. We had acquired a 20-year-old cat named Dexter into our modest family of people and pets. So his death left a chasm. My kids were seven and nine at the time, and while we already had a gang of silly dogs, there was something about Dexter that drew us in.

We felt that loss deeply. Our enormous malamute, Flora, who had a special affinity with Dexter, seemed to sense it too. We pondered for days how to respect this wonderful friend’s memory. We had barely known him for two years, but it felt like forever.

My 7-year-old saw a Best Friends poster in town. “Save a life,” it said. “Promote fuzz.” The lovely bright-eyed kitten photo on the flyer raised many queries. (“Wait, Can we? Let’s go, Mom!”) I explained that fostering was not adopting and that we would get a bunch of lovely kittens but would have to return them. I thought the conversation would finish there. But instead, my son pleaded. “Please? Do it for Dexter.” How could I refuse?

                                                 Boy with a foster kitten on his chest

Just do it!

                                                 Jill with her foster kitty litter

As a full-time working mom, I was hesitant to take on a new responsibility like fostering small kittens. We were already overburdened with school, sports, and our other dogs – three huge husky mixes and a little gremlin-type terrier mix. What would they think of these tiny clawed critters? You’ve probably guessed it by now, but it turned out better than we could have dreamed.

We filled out some papers to become official foster parents after deciding to go for it. It wasn’t difficult. We chatted with a Best Friends foster coordinator about what to expect and were ready to go once our questions concerning other family members and commitment were answered.

We got our first litter of kittens quite quickly. It’s hardly surprising, as kittens are flooding shelters year-round, not only during “kitten season” (the summer months, when cats give birth in large numbers). Because kittens are at risk of being killed in shelters, they urgently require foster homes.

We were rookies at fostering. We gathered Best Friends’ essentials: food, litter, beds, blankets, and toys. And we created a “kitten area” free of dogs and other cats where the kittens could relax. “Oh, my,” I thought. “What are we doing?” But my kids were unafraid. They were overjoyed to have these critters temporarily join our pack.

When the kittens arrived, we opened the carrier cautiously, revealing Iggy, Bowie, Glamour, and Roxy. They were four weeks old, curious, hungry, and boisterous. And we were hooked. We rapidly fell into a new pattern that was easy to learn. Morning routine: get up, pet the kittens, feed the kittens, play, and snuggle with the kittens. Rep. Everyone had a job, from preparing food to filling bowls. We had it mastered.

We were wrong if we imagined the kittens’ presence would just benefit people. Some curious passersby waited impatiently to join this new family venture. It took a few weeks for us to notice noses peeking under the door and kitten paws reaching out to the other side, trying to greet whoever might be out there. Maybe it was time for small talk.

We started with Flora, our patient mama-bear. Flora had a special affinity with Dexter, so we had to see how our fluffy kids fared with this giant marshmallow. Despite their small stature, the kittens approached Flora’s enormous paws, sniffing and tiptoeing. Flora smiled widely. We increased their time together by a few minutes each day as the introductions progressed. After a month, the kittens ran to greet Flora as the door swung open.

Seeing the kittens’ confidence grow, we decided to let our other dog, Rigby, have his chance. He’s more passionate than Flora, shy and sensitive, and often scared by unfamiliar people, places, and sounds. So we knew our meet-and-greet had to be unique. Half of the humans gathered with Rigby, assuring him that his new kitten buddies were harmless. The kittens were brave and unafraid at the start of the meeting. They rushed towards Rigby, who sniffed back. Bowie, the extrovert of the cat group, flopped onto his back to show Rigby his sensitive tummy. We had all the sensations. We were ecstatic. It was too cute.

I knew we had done it then. We fostered success.

From 0 to 60

There would be many more litters of kittens raised by the Williams and eventually adopted by loving families. We’ve now fostered over 60 kittens and counting. Our kittens are assured to be dog-tested, kid-friendly, cat-savvy, and ready for anything.

How do we have time to foster kittens with so many other commitments? Cats are the best therapy and fostering has been a great way for our family to bond and save lives. My dogs slept peacefully next to five tired kittens who had been chasing each other all morning. I saw my husband working with a kitten in his pocket, carefully moving his laptop, mouse, and papers so he doesn’t disturb the other fluff ball on his desk. My 10-minute “kitten break” is a work bonus, because there is nothing better to get you through a hectic day than purring kittens. My kids have learned vital life skills like patience, responsibility, trust, and compassion. Having this opportunity several times is worth any slight hassles.


Giving them back

“Aren’t you going to keep them?” “How do you return them?” To be honest, this portion of the fostering process made me nervous at first.

To love and care for these little, defenseless beings was our initial commitment. We see kids reach important milestones like gaining a pound. We take them to the vet to get inoculated and spayed or neutered. The day they find a permanent home is approaching. Then it happens.

Suddenly, conflicting emotions pour in. Both. Fear and excitement. Both. But in the end, positive feelings always win. It makes us so happy when “our kittens” find wonderful forever homes. Many of the adopters stay in touch after they move on, each a success story. We get to grow up with the kitties. Photos and memories are shared, making us all smile. It’s never-ending.

Thank you, Dexter, on behalf of all the kittens who have found their way into our hearts.

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