Danville Express

Living - May 25, 2007

It's kitten season

Animal shelters rely on foster parent volunteers

by Rebecca Guyon

It's lunchtime and 3-week-old kittens Armand, Emily, Leland and Anthony have no problem letting their foster parent Pam Nagy know they are hungry.

"Every day, they eat about every three hours," said Nagy, who is also a veterinarian technician for the Valley Humane Society. "If they hear my voice, they wake up immediately and come to the front and meow."

At such a young age, the kittens need to be fed by a bottle. Once each one has eaten, they all curl up and fall fast asleep until the next three-hour cycle begins again.

As a foster parent, this is all in a day's work for Nagy and the many other volunteers with rescue foundations and animal services who open their homes to kitten litters and injured or aging dogs and cats. Being a volunteer foster parent entails temporarily taking an animal into your home and caring for it until it is ready to be adopted. These organizations rely on volunteer foster parents to take in animals that need special care not available in the shelters.

"It takes a very special person to do this," said Eliza Fried, director of development and marketing for the East Bay SPCA, which manages the Tri-Valley facility. "They do it 100 percent out of the goodness of their hearts."

While homes are needed for both cats and dogs, there is a special need for families willing to care for kittens. Now through the next six months is considered "kitten season" as many cats give birth to litters, explained Cathy Bergren, vice president of Tri-Valley Animal Rescue. The combination of feral cats giving birth and cat owners finding their family cat pregnant with a litter they cannot take care of leads to the large influx of kittens in the spring and summer.

"The need is greater for cats as far as sheer numbers go," Bergren said. "Over the past 10 years we've been able to get the dog population a little more under control, but people don't spay and neuter their cats as often as dog owners do, so we still have population control problems there."

Bringing the kittens to an animal shelter is the best course of action for those who find an unattended litter, but as more and more litters are brought in, the shelters begin to run out of space and simply don't have the manpower to give the kittens the attention they need. Newborn kittens only weeks old require regular bottle feedings and active socialization. They also need to learn basic survival skills such as how to clean themselves, drink water and use the bathroom.

Pat Evans, a foster volunteer for the Tri-Valley SPCA currently caring for a litter of three very young kittens, said she even keeps notes on each kitten's progress.

"Kitten mortality rates are quite high, so I want to make sure they have the best," Evans said. "It's really nice to see them emerging with new things. They just learned how to purr and now they're learning how to play with each other."

While kittens are the main focus, older cats and dogs, usually with serious medical problems or who are recovering from medical procedures, also need foster homes. Caring for these animals can be indefinite as an older cat is less likely to be adopted than a kitten or temporary if the animal just needs a short stay to recover from a medical procedure, said Wendy McNelley, director of Valley Humane Society.

"We have one cat going into foster care this weekend because he is getting some teeth removed," McNelley said. "It's just for a week since he's going to be on medication and in pain, so it's important that he's not in the shelter for that."

Natalie Giordano, a foster parent and animal specialist for Valley Humane, is currently caring for Lil' Bit, a cat 14-17 years old (her birth year is unknown) who came to the Valley Humane shelter with many medical problems, including a thyroid problem that required radiation treatment. Due to the radiation, Lil' Bit had to be kept away from the other cats at the shelter and anyone working with her needed to use gloves.

"Every day I'd come into work and see her there, just sad and lonely and skinny ... I just couldn't handle it anymore," Giordano said.

Giordano started taking Lil' Bit home over the weekends, then weekday nights as well, until finally she decided to give Lil' Bit a foster home.

"She needs her golden years to be peaceful because obviously the rest of her life wasn't," Giordano said.

Once the pet is ready to be adopted, some fosters do have difficulty saying goodbye. Truth be told, Giordano is considered a "foster failure" because she has decided to adopt Lil' Bit. But organizations encourage the foster parents to let the pet go, since there will always be another animal in need of care.

"A lot do get attached, especially if it's their first experience, but we train people that there are always more coming that need your help," said Tracy Quartaroli, cat medical coordinator for TVAR who has volunteered as a foster parent.

And, helping an animal find a loving home is its own reward, she added.

"There's nothing better than getting a phone call from of family of a pet we saved saying what a difference their new pet has made in their lives," Quartaroli said. "It makes me think, if we hadn't been there to save that animal, it would not have been there for those people."

Want to be a foster parent?

Anyone can volunteer to be a foster parent, so long as they have the time and resources to care for their temporary pet. The main requirement is having space in your home for the pet, preferably a private room, such as an extra bedroom or a bathroom, and a fenced in yard in the case of a dog.

To sign up or learn more about becoming a foster parent, contact the following organizations:

* Contra Costa County Animal Services Department is in great need of volunteers to foster. Its Martinez Shelter is located at 4800 Imhoff Place; call 335-8300.

* Animal Rescue Foundation - Tony LaRussa's ARF is located at the corner of Oak Grove Road and Mitchell Drive in Walnut Creek. To find out more, call 296-3173 or visit www.arf.net.

* Tri-Valley SPCA - Call the Foster Coordinator at (510) 563-4632 or e-mail foster@eastbayspca.org to learn more or schedule an orientation.

* Tri-Valley Animal Rescue - Orientations are held from 1 to 2:30 p.m. on varying dates and are held at the East County Animal Shelter, 4595 Gleason Drive, Dublin. Visit www.tvar.org for a complete list of dates or call 803-7043 for more information.

* Valley Humane Society - Foster orientations are held 10 a.m. on the third Saturday of the month at the Valley Humane Society's offices, 3670 Nevada St., Pleasanton. Call 426-8656 to make an appointment or visit www.valleyhumanesociety.org to learn more.


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