Not sure if having a cat is for you? Try fostering first

If you’re thinking of getting a cat but you’ve never had one before, you may find yourself wishing there was a way to have a trial of cat ownership to really make sure life with a cat is for you before you commit to 15+ years of companionship.  Well, fostering is a great way to do this, and this article explains why and how to go about it.

First, a tale of caution

My friend adopted a kitten for his kids, but things didn’t go as planned. While the kids loved everything about having a cat, their dad really struggled with certain aspects of the care requirements. Specifically, he just couldn’t handle the smell of the litter box, for which there was no other place in the apartment but the bathroom.

He tried to adjust for his kids’ sake, but it was a dealbreaker. I will add that this friend of mine is notoriously sensitive to scents and odors, so the litter box dilemma didn’t come as a total shock.

Lucky for his family, he had adopted Saturn together with his ex-wife with the arrangement that the cat would follow the kids between their two homes. So the fix was that the cat just stayed full-time at his ex’s house from then on. In effect, my friend was able to have a trial period and determined that having a cat was not his cup of tea.

But for most people, there wouldn’t be a ready-made solution and they would end up either returning the cat to the shelter – something that’s traumatic for both cat and people – or keeping the cat with regret for many years.

Why is fostering-first a good approach for those who’ve never had a cat?

Fostering will give you first-hand experience of what it’s like to have a cat around and take on the daily responsibilities of cat ownership. Will you be unable to tolerate litterbox odors and the ongoing possibility of cat barf on your rug? Or will the pleasure of a purring cat on your lap make every inconvenience and expense completely worth it?

Taking the foster-first approach might help you know the answers to these questions before you decide whether or not to adopt. This approach can also be a really great way to adopt a cat, because you and the cat get to know each other so much better than if you were just choosing at the shelter after spending just a short time together in what is a very stressful environment for a lot of cats.

Chances are, at a shelter you won’t see the cat’s full personality. Spending a couple of months together in your house will give you a lot more information about whether you and feline are a good fit.

How does fostering work, exactly?

It will depend in part on the local animal rescue agency you work with, but here is the gist of what things might look like.

  1. Find a rescue agency in need of volunteers to foster cats. If you time it during kitten season (spring through fall), then fostering kittens will be an option. The agency may be willing to work with you if you have a specific preference regarding age or number of cats or kittens. In my case, I requested a litter of young kittens who were still with their mama.
  2. Go through the agency’s qualification process and complete an agreement about what you and the agency will be responsible for, and for the length of time of the commitment you are making. Most agencies cover the basic costs of any veterinary care and supplies that are needed.
  3. Learn what you need to know in order to provide the care your foster will need. Agencies are often happy to provide this guidance, and will likely have someone to oversee and monitor your case to make sure things are going well. Good agencies will only match you with a situation you are prepared to handle and feel comfortable with. They want things to be good for you and the cat!
  4. Prepare your home for fostering. Our guide to kitten-proofing your home is a great resource for this step.
  5. Bring your foster home and help them acclimate to their new surroundings.
  6. You and your foster get to know each other while you provide all the quality care they need.
  7. Decide whether you want to adopt the cat yourself, or continue fostering until the cat is adopted by someone else. If you do not adopt the cat, you may be required to participate in adoption events or introductions to prospective adopters. In my case, I brought my fosters to an adoption event at the local farmer’s market. It only took one event for me to get my available kittens matched up with permanent homes. But it can take longer to get fosters placed (especially for adult cats), which might mean attending multiple adoption events and extending the timeframe for fostering beyond the initial target. You should find out in the beginning if it’s okay for you to stop fostering without the cat being adopted first.

If you do foster, see it through

It is very stressful for cats to be moved between homes and shelters. Therefore, it’s important to be committed enough to the idea of fostering that you see it through to the cat being adopted, even if you discover in the process that daily life with a cat is not your thing.

One major caveat

I will warn you that if you decide not to adopt the cat you have fostered, it will probably be very difficult to part ways with the cat when it gets adopted. Indeed, despite efforts to prepare myself, I still vastly underestimated how sad and hard this moment would be for me. In my opinion, this is by far the hardest part of the experience. But knowing you found a good home for a cat who might not have survived otherwise makes it more than worth it.

Final thoughts – foster first and know for sure

So if you’re on the fence about getting a cat, fostering can help you decide by giving you first-hand experience of daily living with a cat. And as an added bonus, you will be doing tremendous good by alleviating the burden placed on shelters and perhaps even saving a cat’s life.

About VerveCat

VerveCat is inspired by David’s lifelong relationship with cats. In 2014, he fostered a litter of week-old kittens and kept three of them. Those three cats – Phoebe, Bean, and Gandalf – are featured heavily in this site’s photography


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