Colleen Patrick-Goudreau: Failed Cat Foster

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Fostering an animal awaiting adoption is a great service but Colleen Patrick-Goudreau learned its not without its challenges.

Several years ago, I was volunteering at an underfunded county animal shelter socializing cats, cleaning their cages, and providing some enrichment to their little lives. Adoption days were few and far between, and one day I impulsively decided to bring a cat home to give her some reprieve from the cage.

That’s when I became a foster failure — not because I adopted her, but because my good intentions turned into a nightmare for my own two cats — and me — for all the stress it caused. Characteristically sensitive, both of my cats immediately fell ill and developed crystals in their bladder — preventing them from urinating. Fortunately, after much discomfort and many medical interventions, they recovered — and the little shelter cat was subsequently adopted.

While I could have learned a better way to foster without causing stress to my entire household, I overcorrected, and for 20 years — though I remained a supporter of and volunteer for animal rescue groups — I swore off fostering.

Until I decided to try again a few years ago.

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This time, I prepared. I gave my foster kitties their own safe place, while making sure my own cats felt secure and unthreatened. I’ve now successfully fostered 10 cats and have seen them through to their adoptive homes. And my cats have hardly noticed a thing.

While I have a system in place to make it work practically, I’d be lying if I said the process wasn’t difficult emotionally — an aspect of fostering I think many people see as a barrier. After all, how do you remain emotionally unattached enough to let them go when the time comes?

It was a question I posed to the head of the rescue group I work with, and her answer was perfect: “I don’t want our fosterers to be emotionally detached. It’s our emotional attachment that makes us better able to care for them until they find their forever home.”

And she’s right. I give them everything I have, and while the initial goodbye is hard, it’s not long before I’m curled up with my own cats looking at photos of my former fosters thriving in their adoptive homes.

With a Perspective, this is Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is an author and animal advocate in Oakland.