When an orphaned days-old three-and-a-half-ounce kitten named Houdini was relinquished to Animal Care Centers of NYC in 2021 and then transferred to the ASPCA Kitten Nursery, his umbilical cord was still attached, and his eyes had not yet opened. He also had congenital deformities in both front legs. After getting a thorough medical assessment, Houdini went home with a dedicated ASPCA foster caregiver named Heidi, who lovingly bottle-fed Houdini every three hours for three weeks. Eventually, Houdini’s eyes opened, he put on weight, and he was adopted into a safe and loving home.

Source: ASPCA/Youtube

Houdini’s story demonstrates the valuable and enriching role fostering plays for both the vulnerable animal and their foster caregiver, reminding us that animal shelters are not just a place animals go, but, even more importantly, a place animals leave. Last year alone, in Los Angeles and New York City combined, more than a thousand ASPCA foster homes provided care for over 2,400 ASPCA animals.

During National Animal Foster Appreciation Week, August 21-27, let’s recognize why the act of fostering—whether the animal has special needs or not—is beneficial on many levels and why almost anyone can get involved.

Benefits to Animals

  • Provides adoptable animals with individualized care, support, and socialization as they wait for placement
  • Ensures dedicated care for animals who are too young to be adopted right away or have special medical or behavioral needs
  • Helps animals become accustomed to the sights, sounds, and routines of living in a home environment and thrive as they approach adoptability
  • Introduces adoptable animals to new groups of prospective adopters in the foster caregiver’s family and community

Benefits to Shelters and Rescues

  • Helps animal shelters and rescue organizations focus their physical space and resources on other animals in need
  • Provides shelters with consistent resources to help them manage the ebb and flow of homeless animals needing care throughout the year

Benefits to Foster Caregivers

  • Delivers the joy and comfort of having a pet at home without a permanent commitment, sometimes with certain pet expenses covered
  • Provides a unique opportunity to experience a variety of animal ages, personalities, and species
  • Provides a chance to meet animals they may eventually want to adopt, also called foster fortunes.

Focusing on Young Felines

During the feline breeding season (also known as “kitten season”), foster caregiving is especially vital given the uptick in very young kittens in need of attentive and specialized care. From January through July, compared to the same period in 2021, the ASPCA saw a 26 percent increase of stray kittens under six weeks old arriving at Los Angeles County’s seven Animal Care Centers, representing 600 more kittens than last year. We also saw increases at our New York City Adoption Center and Kitten Nursery.

At the same time, long-term staffing shortages in the animal sheltering field have been exacerbated by the pandemic, hampering the ability of many shelters to care for young kittens whose immune systems are susceptible to illness in shelter environments. Dedicated foster programs reduce this pressure on shelters and shelter workers, enabling them to perform their lifesaving work more productively and efficiently.

Each animal fostered makes a difference, and the numbers add up quickly. In July, the ASPCA cared for our 10,000th kitten in our NYC Kitten Nursery—New York City’s first and largest high-volume kitten nursery—which relies heavily on the support of foster caregivers. Shortly thereafter, the ASPCA reached another milestone, caring for more than 9,000 kittens through our Los Angeles Kitten Foster Program, launched in 2016, which supports Los Angeles County Animal Care Centers.

Other Dogs and Cats with Special Needs 

Woman feeding kitten milk

Our New York City foster network also routinely cares for large dogs with medical or behavioral needs who require dedicated support and may benefit specifically from home environments. We’re currently looking for foster caregivers for fearful and shy cats who need patient fosters to help them develop trust and comfort in the presence of people.

Fostering any animal with special needs—due to age, medical issues, or behavioral challenges—is especially important because these animals are often overlooked and spend more time in shelters, which can put their lives in peril. Fostering gives them not just a new home but new hope.

How You Can Help

Not everyone can adopt an animal, but if you can provide care for an animal for two weeks or more in your home, please reach out to your local shelter or rescue organization and ask how you can help.

Some organizations, including the ASPCA, cover medical expenses and provide foster caregivers with food, equipment, supplies, and all the guidance and support they need to care for their foster animals.

If you volunteer for or know an animal welfare organization that wants to launch, improve or expand its fostering program, please tell them about free ASPCApro resources, toolkits, and webinars designed to help them best support their foster networks.

However, if you choose to help animals in your community, know that you are impacting more than one life or a few. You’re substantially helping shelters and rescue organizations, inspiring others through your compassionate example, and contributing to the humanity and kindness of your community.

On behalf of us all—animals and people—thank you.

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