A House Divided

gate-300x294As a rookie foster provider for two feline brothers, I plunged in with all the best intentions and little knowledge of what to expect. I had agreed to take these two displaced persons into my home on a very temporary basis, as they are both declawed and young, while our resident feline is getting up in years and is fully armed with claws. I knew it was not an ideal situation, but since the only other option appeared to be dropping them off at the local animal shelter with a high kill rate, I opened my front door to two very anxious and terrified little guys.

Lesson Number One: Allow Time for Transitioning

The first few days were a nightmare; they had been dropped off without collars or tags, without medical records, and without carriers.  One hid under the couch, one hid behind the bed. They hissed constantly and appeared positively terrified. Litter boxes, along with food and water, were place within easy distance so they could come out at night when the house was quiet. I hoped they would join with one another for comfort, but they never left their spots for days.  I had to confine our cat, Skitter, in a room until they could be retrieved from their hiding places. Finally, I used food to seduce the beneath-the-couch resident into the lair of his brother in the bedroom.  Once they were contained and reunited, things began looking up considerably.

They continued to hiss at one another, to the point I grew concerned. My grandson, age 5, assured me it was normal. “I am often quite terrible to my brother but I still love him. I think it is normal.” Of course, he was exactly right – they were just scared and being declawed kitties, had to sound as scary as they could to protect themselves. Litter boxes and other equipment were arranged in the bedroom and they were set to adjust to their foster home. There are two large windows with low wide tables under them, in their bedroom, perfect perching places for inquisitive felines, and they soon spent hours peering out at the greenbelt behind our home.

Lesson Two: Make Sure There Is A Game Plan

Meanwhile, resident she-cat was none too happy about these rambunctious male visitors. There was hissing at the door to their room, and four strategically placed (but gentle) bites on my arm to voice her displeasure. At one point, my grandson accidentally let them out and our gentle feline became the She-Devil of Texas, with two frightened boys heading for their safe spot under the couch.  Skitter let out some incredible warning growls and I was forced to grab her and suffer any consequences, but she calmed right down. She just needed to let them know who was boss and whose house they were in – hers! It was looking like our house would be divided for quite some time.

Complicating matters, those who asked me to foster had no game plan. No one else was planning to take responsibility for finding these boys a home. I think like me, they were motivated by the best of intentions but without any real knowledge of what rehoming animals requires. I was soon to learn. For example, it is illegal to rehome cats that have not been spayed or neutered in Texas. I needed to get their medical records, something I had requested before assuming responsibility for them. A quarter million animals are killed each year in north Texas due to irresponsible animal guardians and homeless beings procreating with one another. This number is increased greatly by the number of puppy mills, individual breeders and kitten litters that seem to perpetually appear in the want ads of local newspapers. With the recession, things have become much worse, with job loss, home foreclosures, and an increase in the divorce rate. It was this final sadness, the dissolution of a family, that cost these two their happy home.

Lesson Three: Benevolent Despotism is Better Than ….. The Alternative

During the months of fostering, I have often felt like a despot, forcing these two loving and bright spirits to remain locked away from everyone for most of the day, when all they want is to investigate and cuddle. Meanwhile, there is a corresponding guilt for our resident feline, who was not eating as much as normal and sticking by my side during the day. I never fostered before out of respect for Skitter, who was originally a foster cat herself. She deserves to have a peaceful place during her golden years. When she naps, I do let the boys out to romp for awhile, but it is never for long. Somehow, they are adapting to this life, but it is far below my own minimum standards for animal care. I want them to have the home I could provide for them if I were available.

But of course on the other side of things, there are two beautiful, lively, loving feline boys who are alive and well and will most likely find a permanent home. They are exceptionally beautiful, clean, playful and loving. They are devilishly rambunctious and adore humans. Their athleticism amazes me, as they can leap up to the top shelf in my closet or above the refrigerator in the kitchen. My adult son nows comes to visit regularly and heads right to the “boys room” in the back of the house. He likes their playfulness, the way they grab his arm and give gentle bites, and the way they purr loudly when he visits. My grandson loves that they cannot claw him, with their oh-so-soft little paws feeling very safe. He also loves being the Authority Figure, clapping his hands to remind them to get down from a table or counter. He has even started volunteering to clean out their litter boxes and they run to see him when is here. And, he has told me never wants them to leave.

Lesson Four: Find a Legitimate Rescue Group

I am now getting assistance from some legitimate rescue groups who rehome animals. I have advertised them on Facebook, Twitter, and in the local grocery store giveaway magazines. They have been posted on every local rescue I could find.  Experienced rehomers have assured me it just takes time, but these boys will find a home. It may require volunteering at a local pet store ( or even at one some distance away) weekly so they can gain admittance to being seen there. Flyers have been given out at every opportunity. They will also be posted on Petfinder.com and have been shown on Examiner.com, too. I had hoped to find them a home together, since they are so loving with one another, but was told there are no guarantees. Right now, finding a suitable home is no easy task. With everything we do wrong when it comes to animals, it seemed like keeping this family pair together was essential when everything else was taken from them. I know each will do well with a loving person in their life, but still hold out hope that their wonderful union can continue. I look forward with simultaneous hope and grief towards their adoption. I know it will break my heart the day I get the bedroom back, but I will also be glad to give Skitter back her domain.

The work that our local animal rescue groups do is truly lifesaving. They fight for decent conditions in local animal shelters, they work tirelessly to get the animals in their care before the public eye, and they remind us of the significance of each and every animal life. They attend protests when shelter conditions are lacking and shelter staff are unwilling to negotiate. And, they help the forlorn fostering homes like mine find a way to the salvation of a bright new future for a few lucky animals. Without them, there may well be even higher numbers of animals dying in this part of the world. Special thanks to Teresa at Furever Friends and Lynn at Feral Felines for all their support and encouragement.

Lesson Five: Look Before You Leap

Taking responsibility for the lives of others is a daunting task. It has increased my stress and decreased my free time and my finances. I have no future plans to foster again; I want Skitter to have peace and quiet. I want to live in a house that is not divided between clawed and declawed, between resident and foster.

But I did acquire a doghouse recently. Who knows? Maybe someday….