I have never considered myself a ‘cat person’.
For one thing, I grew up with a dog. I spent most of my childhood anticipating getting a pup, saving up my money for the adoption fee, waking up to watch Animal Planet specials on dog training, and seriously deliberating about whether we should name her Bandit or Jedi. Caricatures only served to reinforce the idea that dogs are friendly and happy to see you whereas cats are aloof and could care less if you are around (as long as you feed them).
This was reinforced when I cat-sit for my neighbors, whose black fluffy cat would hide and hiss when I came over to fill up her bowl. The one time the cat let me pet her, she sat happily purring until suddenly– in a flash of fur and unsheathed claws– she lashed out at me. From that point on, I imagined my life populated with puppies and certainly not those frightful furry fiends we call cats.
Our Foster Cat Adventure
“But Financial Mechanic,” you might say, “I follow you on social media, and you have shamelessly inundated my feed with pictures of a cat!”
Okay, you caught me. We recently took a foster cat home from the shelter, but it wasn’t a decision we took lightly. After a month of fostering, I wanted to share our decision-making process, our reservations, and the pros and cons we learned about fostering an animal from our local shelter.
Why We Hesitated to Adopt and Decided To Foster
First, we discussed the massive commitment of adopting a cat. If we got a kitten, it could potentially live 14-18 years. That means I would be in my mid-40s and still responsible for its wellbeing!
Secondly, we know we want to travel a lot and potentially move internationally in the future, which would make pet ownership complicated, even if we did adopt an older cat.
Finally, in the short term, we were concerned about pet unfriendly apartments as renters. It might be difficult to find a place to live when we move cross-country in 6 months.
However, even though our lifestyle doesn’t accommodate a pet very well, we both really appreciate the joys of a pet in the house. Our envisioned futures always included a big dog and (in Mr. Mechanic’s case) a cat. We decided on a compromise: we could foster!
This way, we could help the local shelter out by temporarily caring for foster animals while simultaneously scratching our pet-lovers’ itch. We decided to start with a cat (despite my misgivings) because they tend to be easier to care for, and I figured it would be an interesting new experience.
Meeting Our Potential Foster Cat
I dialed the nearest animal shelter and asked about available foster cats.
“Yes, we have four kittens that need care for four weeks, and four cats that tested positive for feline leukemia.”
I went in the following day and when I found the woman I had talked to on the phone, she said the kittens had already found a foster home, but she brought me to the isolation room where they keep sick cats.
“They were strays, found in the next town over behind a gym. That guy there,” She pointed out a grey tabby meowing loudly in his cage, “tested positive for leukemia, so we need to keep them all separated for 60 days until they can be retested.”
Unfortunately, Mr. Mechanic was working that Saturday, so he couldn’t help pick which cat we would take home. However, I did have the advice from the book Marley & Me stuck in my head: pick the most rambunctious one. The grey cat she pointed out originally rubbed against the bars of his cage. His three sisters shrank away, but when I carefully lifted him out of his enclosure I could feel his belly rumbling as he purred.
We Don’t Plan on Being “Foster Fails”
A volunteer helped me carry out the crate and supplies and as I carefully placed him on the back seat she said, “I know this might not be the right thing to say, but I hope he’s a foster fail!”
Friends, I had obviously not done my research, because I didn’t know what a foster fail was. I thought that as a foster, you were committed to caring for the animal for a set period, and then would be required to return it to the shelter.
I never considered that you would get “first dibs” on adoption and could “fail” by taking them home! Unfortunately, it would be irresponsible to adopt him because of the reasons I listed before, but he has won our hearts regardless.
Let me introduce you to Muse, the latest Mechanic in the house.
Pros and Cons of Fostering A Pet
1. Fostering is Financially Friendly
Pet ownership is obviously not about the money– but financially, fostering is an ace move. The shelter provides everything you need, from the carrier, food, litter, toys, crate, and treats. We didn’t need to spend a dime.
Avoid Unexpected Vet Bills
Muse ended up needing some antibiotics for his eyes. The vet showed me how to administer them, adding, “Be careful to only use a couple of drops, this stuff is expensive!”
I realized that if I had adopted him outright, I would have needed to pony-up for his booster shots, the antibiotics, and the re-take of his leukemia test. While I could hypothetically cover these costs and would be happy to contribute to the shelter, the lack of liability struck me as a solid perk of fostering.
2. Fostering Boosts Your Emotional Wellbeing
We moved across coasts and winter swooped in to keep us mostly cozied up at home. Since I also work from home, it is a lot of time spent indoors and can get rather lonely with Mr. Mechanic always working at the hospital. Racing around the house with a cat on my heels has added joy to my days.
3. Fostering Benefits Both The Animal and The Shelter
The arrangement is obviously beneficial to the animals. Rather than staying cooped up in a cage, they get socialization, stimulation, and room to play. Even though it’s not his “furever” home, it’s a much better temporary home than the kennels in an overrun shelter.
The Downsides of Fostering A Pet
4. Home Damage
Just like with regular pet ownership, there is a chance your new pet will scratch up the doors or your nice leather chair. Luckily for us, most of our furniture was taken off of the street. We haven’t been able to get Muse to use his little scratching post, he opts instead for the Aldi rug we got for $25. So far none of the wear is visible, but I imagine that housing pets that need to re-learn the rules would wreak havoc on some homes.
5. Scheduling Follow-Up Visits
This will vary pet-to-pet, but 7 month-old Muse needed a few appointments with the vet in the 60 days for his booster shots and neuter appointments. Luckily it’s a short drive for me to get to the shelter, but it’s still an added chore. I imagine that if you were to foster kittens or older sick cats, you might have multiple appointments with the shelter’s vet during your foster period.
6. He’s too cute to kick out of your office chair
Be ready to relinquish your favorite spots to sit.
7. It’s Hard To Say Goodbye
We know that saying goodbye won’t be fun. It’s easy to fall into a routine with your new friend. While I started this journey a bit mistrusting of cats, Muse has straightened me out.
He loves belly rubs, climbs on us to cuddle while we watch The Office, and greets us at the door. He hides around corners to surprise us with chirps, and follows us to participate in whatever we are doing– hopping up on the counter while we brush our teeth and clambering in the cabinets while we prepare dinner.
Saying goodbye will be difficult, but we have to remember that we are his launchpad and temporary refuge. We are excited for his new adventures, and for our next opportunity to foster.
What About You?
Have you ever considered fostering a pet?
What are your thoughts on foster ‘failure’?
Isn’t Muse the cutest cat?!
Let me know in the comments below!
UPDATE: Since this post, we proved ourselves wrong and adopted Muse despite all of our initial reasoning. To read an update, check out this article: How Much Does It Cost To Adopt A Cat? A Comparison of Three Families