ASPCA Survey: Strategies to Increase Participation in Kitten Foster Programs in High Shelter Intake Communities
Kittens are entering many animal welfare organizations in very high numbers, especially in the warmer months. A traditional sheltering situation isn’t an ideal environment for these vulnerable animals. They require more care than shelter staff have the ability to provide and they are especially vulnerable to diseases in an overcrowded shelter. In response, many animal welfare organizations are turning to their traditional foster care programs and finder foster programs to manage these intakes. In a 2015 report by Maddie’s Fund, 78% of organizations surveyed reported that they encourage community members who find kittens to care for them until the kittens are ready for adoption.
In areas where kitten intake to shelters is extremely high, animal welfare organizations rely on foster program awareness and active community engagement to make a substantial impact. But what more can be done to increase and expand those programs and engagement? What do we need to know about these communities to make that progress?
The ASPCA recently conducted a study to identify ways to increase awareness of and engagement in kitten fostering programs among residents of areas of high kitten shelter intake in Los Angeles County.
The study aimed to identify barriers and opportunities to increase kitten foster volunteers for animal welfare organizations.
Using intake data between January 2019 and October 2020 from the LA County Department of Animal Care and Control, the ASPCA identified high kitten shelter intake zip codes in the Baldwin Park and Downey Animal Care Center service areas. Twelve LA County zip codes with a high intake of kittens were identified.
The ASPCA randomly selected clients with addresses in the 12 zip codes who had contacted the ASPCA for subsidized medical services such as spay/neuter surgery and veterinary care or had received free food for their pets. The selected clients received a text message inviting them to take the 36-question survey. In the survey, fostering was defined as “temporarily caring for orphaned kittens in your home who are not yet ready for adoption.” Questions asked the participants about their awareness of kitten foster programs, common actions taken for outdoor cats/kittens in their neighborhood, level of interest in fostering kittens, concerns about fostering, ability to meet common fostering requirements, and perceptions of potential kitten foster program marketing messages and communication methods.
The 283 respondents were predominantly Hispanic/Latinx adults 18 years and older. Data was collected between July 12 and August 31, 2021.
The participants who completed all the survey questions identified primarily as women (77%), Hispanic/Latinx (78%), had an annual household income under $50K (66%), and currently owned at least one pet (97%). While the survey was available in English and Spanish, 74% completed the English version.
“The most helpful finding was that the community has already been providing care for kittens on their own. With extra support from animal welfare organizations, we can strengthen what’s already working.”
Survey findings revealed these insights:
Awareness of Kitten Foster Programs
52% of the respondents had never fostered kittens and did not know someone who had
26% of participants had engaged in fostering on their own without support from an animal shelter or rescue group.
21% knew of someone who had fostered kittens in collaboration with a shelter or on their own
3% had experience fostering kittens with support from an animal shelter or rescue group
Actions Supporting Outdoor Kittens
Approximately 50% perceived that they and/or other community members cared for them
20% reported that no one cared for them
13% were unsure
10% reported no kittens in their neighborhood
6% said the kittens were taken to local shelters
Knowledge of Kitten Foster Programs
69% reported not having seen advertising or promotional materials
20% had seen advertising or promotional materials
Spanish-language respondents were less likely to have seen marketing for kitten foster programs than English-language respondents
Level of Interest in Fostering Kittens
Approximately 1/3 of the total sample were open to fostering in partnership with an animal shelter or rescue foster program
More than 2/3rds of participants who had already fostered cats and kittens on their own were open to fostering in partnership with an animal shelter or rescue foster program
Concerns About Fostering Kittens
79% Time Required
78% Financial Costs for Foster
77% Space in their Home
Ability to Meet Kitten Fostering Requirements
The average participant interested in fostering could meet 5-7 common foster program requirements out of 10; those not open to fostering met only 1-2
Participants indicated willingness and ability to engage in kitten foster programs:
53% said they were sometimes or always able to share information about adoptable kittens with family and friends
45% could give kittens plated food up to 4 times a day
36% could bottle feed every 2-5 hours
35% could hand-feed kittens up to 6 times a day
Barriers to Kitten Fostering
49% Were never able to attend online training sessions
54% Could not keep kittens in their homes for 1 week to 1 month
The survey reveals that working to improve the ASPCA’s engagement with Hispanic/Latinx residents in high kitten shelter intake areas could help expand the capacity of the ASPCA’s Los Angeles Kitten Foster Program, improve the sustainability of this work, and drive enhanced and culturally relevant models of animal care. This study demonstrates the value of animal welfare organizations using research to understand community needs and how they can better engage residents to improve animal welfare.
“The most helpful finding for our team was that the community has already been providing care for kittens on their own,” says Tina Fried, the ASPCA’s Senior Director of LA Feline Programs and one of the authors of the study. “With extra support from animal welfare organizations, we can strengthen what’s already working.”
In the meantime, the ASPCA continues to support community-based foster programs, improve kitten foster program advertisements, and enhance the dissemination and marketing of Spanish-language materials.