5 Tips to Support Kitten Foster Caregivers in Areas of High Shelter Intake
Foster caregivers are a lifeline for many shelter animals. They free up shelter space, provide a place for animals to recover from diseases or surgery, and can act as adoption ambassadors by promoting and placing their foster animals in new homes.
Fosters are especially valuable in communities where kitten intake at local shelters is high, putting severe stress on shelter operations, staff, and resources.
A significant takeaway from the survey is that people in these communities are, oftentimes, already providing care for kittens on their own. More than 25% of those surveyed had engaged in fostering on their own without support from an animal shelter or rescue group, and approximately 50% reported that they and/or other community members cared for the outdoor kittens in their area.
“By providing these caretakers with our support, we can strengthen what’s already working in these communities,” says Tina Reddington Fried, the ASPCA’s Senior Director of LA Feline Programs and one of the study’s authors.
More than 1,400 foster families in LA have provided care for more than 9,000 felines since 2016 with the ASPCA Los Angeles Kitten Foster Program. But surprisingly, almost none of these families live in the areas where the kittens originated.
The study’s authors offer these 5 tips to support community-based kitten foster caregivers:
Provide Supplemental Support for Community Fosters
Many community members have already been caring for kittens they find in their neighborhoods or backyards. Not only that, but they have found homes for these kittens with friends, family, and neighbors. Don’t impede on what’s already working; instead, supplement their existing efforts with medical care (especially spay/neuter), food, litter, and other supplies. This support will strengthen the work that has already taken place and keep kittens out of the shelter.
“Recognizing those who already do the work is often a great place to start,” agrees Shelby McDonald, Director of Research and another author of the study. “By supporting them, we can improve the sustainability of these programs.”
Identify the Source of the Kittens
By keeping kittens where they are found in the community, we have a much stronger chance of finding their mom and ending her breeding cycle, Tina advises.
“You’ll likely find a mama cat who needs to be spayed, but if you bring the kittens to the shelter, you may never find her, and the cycle of unwanted kittens being born will continue,” she says.
Instead of using typical foster recruitment language, simply ask people, "Are you willing to continue to help the kittens you’re already helping?"
-Debra Olmedo, Manager, Foster, and Community Outreach
Create (rather than translate) Materials in Other Languages
You’re likely to get more understanding and cooperation by creating materials in different languages, says Debra Olmedo, Manager of Foster and Community Outreach.
Don’t just translate your existing materials. For example, even the term “foster” can mean something different in other languages and doesn’t always translate literally.
“You want to get the right point across,” says Debra. “So instead of using typical foster recruitment language, simply ask people, ‘Are you willing to continue to help the kittens you’re already helping?’
“By improving how you promote and disseminate marketing materials in other languages, organizations can de-mystify what fostering is and what’s expected of foster caregivers.”
Success with a community foster network means adapting to them, not expecting them to adapt to you.
“Accommodate what the person can provide rather than making them fit into your mold of what you think a foster caregiver should or shouldn’t be able to do,” says Tina.
For example, the ASPCA survey revealed that would-be fosters can’t always attend online training. And many can’t meet all the requirements traditionally asked of foster caregivers.
“Maybe someone can keep kittens for one or two days in an emergency until you can find a longer-term caregiver,” says Tina. “Or maybe they can monitor mom and kittens outdoors in a safe location, providing care for mom and socializing the kittens. Try to meet people where they are and support what they are willing and able to provide.”
Debra says one of the keys is establishing trust early on.
“Trust the community members to do the right thing and offer help,” says Debra. “You can always assess the situation later and then offer suggestions accordingly.”
By supplementing the work of existing community members, the ASPCA continues to explore how organizations can effectively assist homeless pets and broaden the number of people who can help them.