Ah, winter. Time to curl up on the couch, watch the snow fall, and rest up in preparation for Kitten Season 2012. Kitten what?, you ask. Allow me to explain. Kitten Season encompasses the warmer months of the year, which is when most of the kittens are born. It’s the time of year when we rely most heavily on our foster families to take babies (those with and without moms!) into loving homes to provide the TLC kittens require to become healthy, happy house cats.
It seems like just yesterday that my friend Leslie Harris, Executive Director here at the Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society, was posting on her blog about Kitten Season 2011. What a year it has been! More than 1,200 animals were placed in foster care in 2011. That’s an increase of about 33% compared to 2010.
The Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society Community Spay/Neuter Clinic is working diligently to reduce the number of kittens born in western Massachusetts. Unfortunately, there are currently more cats being born than homes available for those cats. Spaying and neutering is the best way to reduce animal homelessness right here in our community.
Since opening in 2009, the Dakin Community Spay/Neuter Clinic has neutered more than 22,000 cats and dogs. This number includes 1,885 feral cats, who produce many of the kittens that seek shelter at Dakin. Thankfully, through participation in the Clinic’s trap-neuter-return program, the community has given many feral cats a second chance. Feral cats—wild cats that are not social and cannot be touched by humans—still deserve a chance to live out their lives much like any other wild animal. A visit to the Dakin Community Spay/Neuter Clinic ensures that litters will not continue to be born to feral cats. The cats will also receive an all-important rabies vaccination.
We are hopeful that, over time, the Dakin Community Spay/Neuter Clinic’s efforts will reduce the number of homeless animals in our community. Until then, we are grateful for local rescue organizations, foster families, donors, and caring members of our community who are working hard to provide for homeless animals.
Thanks to 283 foster volunteers who opened their homes in 2011, Dakin has been able to provide for many more animals than we could have if we had to care for those animals in-house. We are forever grateful to those foster families who have opened their homes and hearts. Let’s take a look back at just a few of the foster families who have provided loving homes to Dakin alumni in 2011.
The Fediers have fostered a whopping 114 animals since they began volunteering in 2009. This number doesn’t include their prior experience volunteering for the MSPCA, which owned the Union Street building before Dakin. The Fediers estimate that they have fostered over 200 kittens since they first became foster parents.
“We started taking in kittens four years ago when we stopped in to visit at the MSPCA and saw a poster looking for foster homes for cats and kittens who need some extra TLC. We were looking to adopt a kitten at the time, so I thought we would try to foster maybe once or twice and see what it was like,” reports Mary Ann Fedier, reflecting on how her family began taking in kittens.
“Our ‘job’ is to feed, play with, and socialize the kittens. We have to handle and kiss and cuddle and keep them healthy and fat and happy until it’s time to go back and find their ‘forever home,’” said Mary Ann.
For the Fediers, fostering is a nearly constant experience. It seems that as soon as they’ve raised on litter of happy kittens, they are willing to take on the next! Fostering is not always easy, and the Fediers have taken on many animals who need special medical care.
“Now I have to be honest, it is a lot of work and responsibility. Very unfortunately, we have lost a couple of kittens, but that is nature,” Mary Ann points out. “To see all the fat, healthy, happy kittens that have left our home makes it worth every minute.”
We certainly appreciate all the time, expense, and hard work the Fediers have taken on as foster volunteers. Thanks to them, hundreds of kittens have received the attention and socialization they so desperately need at a young age to become friendly, happy adult house cats. The Fediers fostered moms like Sativa, who was found with her six kittens under a porch in South Hadley.
Just one week old when they entered foster care, Sativa’s kittens probably do not remember their days living under a porch. Unlike Sativa, her kittens will never know a life without love. After two months of foster, all seven cats returned to Dakin to be placed up for adoption. Sprinkes and Hot Fudge found their forever home on November 19, Jim Dandy and Peanut Butter went to their new homes on November 20, and Creamsicle, Banana Split, and Sativa were adopted on November 22. What a happy ending!
Like the Fediers, the Alexanders began fostering several years ago while considering adoption.
“We had been thinking about getting a cat or a kitten for a while. My husband was not so sure about this as he was not a ‘cat person’,” recalled Nancy Alexander. “We heard about Dakin and their need for foster families. Our family thought it would be both a way to help animals and a way to see if a cat would blend into our household, since we already had two rescue dogs.”
Nancy remembers their first foster kitten, Oliver.
“He needed medication daily and some TLC and handling, which my then eight-year-old daughter was more than happy to provide. None of us had been around little kittens before—what a delight! The chasing of tails, the fearless climbing, the stalking of human feet and the pouncing on anything that moved was so much fun to watch,” she said.
Eventually, it was time for Oliver to go up for adoption. Nancy shared the following story with us:
Well, Oliver finally “made his weight” and it was time to send him back to Dakin for his surgery and eventual adoption. Have you ever tried to take a kitten away from an eight-year-old girl? She had known from the beginning that this was coming, but that did not make it any easier. There were tears and hugs, but she bravely accompanied us to the Greenfield location and said goodbye.
What is the best way to get over missing a kitten? Get some more! We fostered three or four more litters over that summer and enjoyed every minute, truly. Our last litter that summer was a trio—Mila, Montana, and Stetson. My husband and I came to the conclusion that we would adopt one or two of this litter for our own. Monty (Montana) and Mittens (Stetson) have been full-fledged members of the family for four years now and effortlessly boss all of us around—especially the two dogs.
Why have we continued into our fifth “kitten season”? My daughter has learned compassion, responsibility, and lots about caring for young ones. We have had moms nursing litters, singletons, duos, and trios on up to litters of five. We have enjoyed longhairs, shorthairs, tabbies, tuxedos, and torties. We have medicated, nursed, weighed, and measured. Most of all we have loved, cuddled, chased, petted, and played with an estimated thirty or more cats and kittens. (Captain’s note: 44 to date!)
I am continually asked how do we do it. How can you open your hearts and home and then give them back? It really does become easy. We realize that we are just a few of the many helping hands that find these little ones their forever homes. Knowing that makes our short time with them the most enjoyable way I can think of to volunteer.
And my husband? He has officially become a cat person!
The Alexanders have taken on some very difficult fosters, including kittens with medical issues. We cannot thank them enough for donating their time to provide for so many fur babies!
Debra Bercuvitz first encountered the Dakin foster program when she adopted Duffle, a kitty who had spent his early kittenhood with a foster family.
“His complete and utter loving and relaxed self was apparent from the first moment that I saw him. I was so taken by how beautifully socialized he was that I sent a note to his foster parents in appreciation of their hard work,” she remembers.
Sadly, Duffle passed away less than a year later when he got out of the house and was hit by a truck. Devastated and mourning the loss of her dear friend, Debra decided to become a foster parent.
“I didn’t want to own another cat again after Duffle, but I felt like the best thing that I could do to honor him and the hard work of his foster parents was to become a foster parent myself, which I have been doing for the past year,” said Debra, whose children assist with kitten care.
“My nine-year-old son has been a great socializer, spending hours playing with all of the fosters. My kids understand that none of them will stay with us, but that we are helping them to be ready to find a forever family,” she said.
Although the Bercuvitz family has only been fostering for the past year, it is clear that they care deeply for the animals.
“One day last year my librarian looked tired, and I asked her if everything was okay. She sheepishly admitted that she was fostering for Dakin and was sleeping on the couch while the kitties had her bedroom,” Debra said. “I laughed and told her that I, too, was on the couch while the kitties had my bed.”
Most recently, the Bercuvitz family fostered Horace, a single kitten who was left at Dakin this past September. Suffering from ear infections and diarrhea, Horace was on medication and needed special food and fluids. Debra and her family tended to Horace’s needs and brought him to his visits with vet staff as necessary. He recovered from his illnesses and was adopted on October 20.
“I can’t bring Duffle back, but I can be a part of preparing other kittens and cats to go to homes where they will hopefully be as beloved as Duffle was,” said Debra. “It is also another way to support the incredible work of DPVHS.”
Kittens aren’t the only animals that Dakin places with foster families. Other animals seeking foster include shy cats who aren’t doing well in the Adoption Center environment, adult dogs who are stressed out in the Adoption Center, Momma dogs with their puppies, small animals who are pregnant or have babies, female small animals who need to be on a gestational hold (to ensure they are not adopted out while pregnant!), and animals who are recovering from injuries, surgeries, or illness.
My friend and co-worker Tiffany Barrow, Adoption Center Manager, is a new face in the building, but she’s not new to the animal welfare field. Having worked with humane organizations in New Hampshire and Washington, D.C., Tiffany has a ton of experience working with animals. She and her family have provided foster care for many animals, including those who need socialization or medical care.
“As a family we like to open our hearts and home up to the animals in the most need,” said Tiffany, whose son patiently works with under-socialized kittens to gain their trust.
“In the winter months, when the kitten population drops, we tend to take in medical cases,” she told me, recalling some of her foster cats. “We helped a cat that was trapped in fire regain her strength and nursed a cat back to health after paint was dumped on her, and she lost all her hair and suffered liver damage from ingesting the paint.”
For her first official foster here at Dakin, Tiffany has taken in a chihuahua/dachshund mix named Nena. Nena gave birth to four puppies. Puppies are a lot of work, and the Barrow family has been patiently caring for the litter for seven weeks!
“Each foster teaches a new lesson in compassion, and every foster has been special to us. We are forever changed because we were blessed by the time that they spent in our house,” said Tiffany.
This past June, a friendly cat named Ebony came to Dakin. She was immediately treated for fleas and upper respiratory infection. After she chewed open the sutures to her spay incision, she required extra post-surgery care. When her blood work showed a low-positive result for Feline Leukemia, a blood sample was sent to a lab for further testing. The second result was negative. Due to the discrepancy, Ebony needed to be retested two months later before she could be cleared for adoption. Despite her rough start, Ebony was willing to be anybody’s friend. Norma Wanegar volunteered to take Ebony into her home so Ebony would not have to sit in a kennel for two months.
“Ebony was to be my summer foster kitty,” explained Norma, who gladly cuddled with her new foster feline. It wasn’t long before Ebony’s personality began to blossom.
“I soon learned that she is an exceptional ping pong player, feather chaser, and quilt cat. A quilt cat chases anything that moves under a quilt, namely my hand,” Norma said.
As it sometimes goes with foster families, Norma and Ebony developed a special bond. When the two months were over and Ebony once gain tested negative for Leukemia, Norma decided that Ebony should remain part of the family.
“What cinched it for me is that, occasionally, she sleeps with me and licks my hair clean as a whistle. She also chirps. Who would know a totally black cat could have such love and pizzaz?!” Norma said.
We are thrilled to know that Ebony has such a loving mom. Thank you, Norma, for giving her a chance to shine.
These are just a few Foster Stories from 2011. I wish I could thank every member of the hundreds of families who foster for Dakin. Without your support, we could not help nearly as many animals in our community. You put up with irritable Momma cats, messy kittens, and chewing puppies. You bottle feed, give fluids, and administer medication. You bring your fur babies to Dakin for bandage changes, surgery, and medical exams. You open your hearts to our animal friends even though you know they are not permanent members of your family. You wish them well as they head off to be adopted by their forever families. Your selfless acts of kindness and compassion are deeply appreciated by everyone here at Dakin.
If you are interested in becoming a foster parent for cats, dogs, or small animals, please visit the foster information page on our website. After reading through the information, you can submit the Foster Application form online.
Thank you, again, to all our lovely foster families.
My coworkers and I would like to wish our readers a very Happy New Year! My resolutions are to eat more, sleep more, and sleep more.