How to Start Fostering

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Figuring out where to start can be the most overwhelming part of fostering. 

Having so much information at our fingertips is amazing, but can also be too much to handle. So I created the quick-start guide I wish my neurodivergent brain had when I started.

1. Research Rescues

It may seem like a no-brainer to start with Google, but a lot of people may not know that there are more rescue organizations than their local shelter. However, they may not receive the same advertisement as a shelter that is funded by your city or county. 

But thanks to the internet, they are just as easy to find. 

googling north carolina cat rescue gif

Just Google rescues in your specific area. You may be surprised at how many come up.

Many rescues don't have a facility. They are just a network of people volunteering out of their own homes and spaces. So you just have to find the people involved, and that’s pretty easy to do with a quick search.

2. Find Local Foster Programs

Once you have found a local rescue that you're interested in a lot of times you can check out their Foster program on their website. 

 tabby kitten playing tassel toy

Most sites will have a volunteer tab of some sort. Here you can usually find the foster application. Looking this over will help you figure out what is expected of you. 

3. Ask Yourself Questions

It is important to ask yourself the same questions that the rescue will ask. 

bottle feeding kittens

Like what age are you interested in fostering? For example, I would never suggest someone start out bottle-feeding immediately. But choosing this option would give you an idea of what else you need to ask yourself.

You may even decide to foster a nursing mama cat. And you couldn't figure this out if you didn't consider age first. 

Another important thing to consider is the time frame. You need to know how long you're interested in fostering. This will help the rescue place you with the perfect foster. 

kitten in cage
(image credit:  Animal Haven)

If you can only foster for a short time, you may want to look into something called "cage breaking." When a foster is placed at an adoption center, like Petco, some rescues will recommend they take a break in a home for a couple weeks. This gives them some time out of the cage and in a comfortable quieter environment. This is a great option if you can't make a longer term commitment. 

4. Consider Space

While you don't have to have a huge house to foster, you absolutely have to have a separate space for your fosters. This doesn't mean that they have to be in this space forever necessarily. However, every new foster that comes into your home needs to have a mandatory quarantine period.  

small kittens in blanket and facing away

This is non-negotiable. This is important for the safety of your fosters and your own pets.

Sometimes a kitten will come in seemingly healthy, but disease can present itself many days after intake. You want to contain until you know for sure. The last thing you want to deal with is something like ringworm spreading to everyone else in your house if you can avoid it.

5. Have Transportation

Transportation is a given, right? Healthy or not, your fosters will have to go to the vet. It's your job to take them. 

You may end up with a super easy foster that only needs to go to the vet for vaccines and preventive care. But if you want to foster baby cats, you have to be ready for whatever they throw at you.

cat sitting in car next to seatbelt

Kittens are like human babies. Their immune systems are still developing. They get sick. This is unavoidable.

Besides illness, even the healthiest kittens need vaccines multiple times in their first year of life. These must be included before adoption. So just make sure you can take them to the vet when they need to go.

6. Contact Rescues

When in doubt, just ask! I've never encountered a rescue that wasn't willing to talk to potential fosters.

So don't be scared to ask questions. I would much rather someone care so much that they ask a million questions, anyway. And rescuers are educators, too.

Ask what resources they provide. Ask what they pay for. Ask them how their vetting works, especially their emergency vetting procedures.

nashville cat video festival mobile truck

(img. credit:  Vending Trucks)

I actually spoke with someone for the first time with my rescue at an event. It was a cat video film festival, and they had a mobile rescue truck. I was able to go in and just ask someone for more information on their foster program. I learned how they pay for the vetting, supplies and about their supportive community just by doing this.

So don't be afraid to ask questions. 

7. Build Your Knowledge

This is not something that you'll do in a day. This will happen over time and with experience as well. But again, Google is your best friend. 

kitten sleeping curled up on cloud blanket

This is also probably something you’ve already been doing! If you've been watching Tik Toks, or engaging with rescuers on Instagram you have already been building your knowledge. Formal training is not a necessity in this community. It is just important to want to learn and continue learning. 

Some great resources are: 

The Kitten Lady - Her website has been so helpful. It's full of great information and resources about neonates. She also has a book called “Tiny But Mighty.” We call it the kitten Bible. Self-explanatory. - They have a whole kitten foster manual. There is also a section for nursing mama cats. 

8. Build Your Community

Building your community is so important not only for you, but for your fosters as well. I have been a part of fostering programs that weren't very organized or supportive, and that can really make or break your experience. 

woman wearing yellow jacket holding cat over shoulder

So when you’re looking for rescues, be aware of their responsiveness. Check to see if they have a handbook or some kind of written plan to refer to. How do they handle adoptions? Do they work with Petco or any other kind of adoption center? And take it from me, if you are having a hard time applying, (i.e. can’t get a response) you could have a hard time fostering through them. It’s not impossible, but the added stress of trying to get formula when you’re running out because there is no real procedure can make it much less enjoyable. 

The rescue I work with now is amazing. The organization is much larger and much more organized. The board members are great communicators, and they have a mentor program.

Not every rescue is going to have such organized procedures. So you can also build your community elsewhere. Tik Tok is great for this. Social media allows us to connect with other rescuers around the world. 

9. Know the Vets

Get familiar with the vets in your area. If you are fostering through a rescue or shelter, and not on your own, you will probably have specific vets that you take your fosters to. But if you're one of the many people that kittens have found on their own, you'll want to know where the vets are.  Especially emergency vets. 

teddy bear wearing stethescope

There is nothing worse than having a medical emergency and wasting precious time trying to figure out where to take the kitten. 

10. Be Realistic

Keep your expectations in Check. You may think that you want to bottle feed kittens because they are so adorable. But a lot goes into bottle feeding, and you may realize that your lifestyle is not accommodating. So make sure you are fitting fostering into your life properly. 

mom cat with baby kitten laying on her face

Start small. Maybe start with a friendly nursing mama cat. Starting small will also give you an idea of the support your chosen rescue will provide before things get too overwhelming. 

11. Be a Life Long Learner

The most important thing to do. You have to be willing to continue learning. There will probably never be a time that I know everything about this. Things change in the animal medical community constantly. We are learning new things all the time. And it is so important to be open to learning.

cat looking confused on books

 It's always a huge red flag when  someone says they want to start fostering or rescuing, but then they won't listen to an experienced rescuer's advice. I have experienced this with bottle babies before. And having an ego about bottle-feeding neonates can quite literally be life threatening. 

12. Don't be Discouraged

Even if you can't house a kitten yourself, you can still support rescue. So don't be discouraged if you can't open your home. There are still ways you can help.

Social media is such a powerful tool. And you can help by just engaging with rescue social media accounts.

screen with facebook instagram and other social media icons

Share their posts. Like, comment, just be involved. Even if you can't volunteer your home, volunteering your time in any capacity can be more helpful than you know.

I supported rescue in this way for years before I was able to take in kittens myself. It helps you build your community beforehand as well. This can help you in the long run, but engagement is especially important in a community that relies on word-of-mouth.

So keep watching those Tik Toks until your day of kitten cuddles comes. What a way to endure patience, huh?

tabby kitten with squished face adopt don't shop

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