Why We Foster, by Elsa Nownes
Every family has one--The person who sees stray animals everywhere she goes. In my family, that person is me. I have been
rescuing animals my whole life. As a child, my family lived at the base of a mountain inside a National Park. For some reason, it was
THE place to dump unwanted animals. Every few months, I'd spy a dumped cat or dog and joyfully announce to my family that we had
a new pet. Our veterinarian knew my family well. As a child, I never knew that people paid for their pets or that people had to go to a
shelter or rescue group to find a pet. I thought everyone simply found their pets like us.
When I first met my husband-to-be, he was unaware of my "stray-vision" abilities. One evening, we were on a date. As he drove
me home, I made him stop on the side of the road in the pouring rain because I thought I had seen a flash of white run into a ditch. He
stopped the car. I quickly opened my door and ran to the ditch. There I saw him—a tiny, wet, long-haired kitten covered in poop and
fleas. I scooped him up and took him home.
Shortly after we got married, my husband and I adopted two human children. Thankfully, my children love animals as much as we
do. When my son reached the age of five, we made a decision—I wanted him and his younger sister to experience the joy of rescue. I
also wanted to expose my children to the miracle of birth. On a lark, I called up a random rescue group called "Feral Feline Friends of
Knoxville." I left a message on the answering machine that went something like this: "Hi, my name is Elsa Nownes and I'd like to see
about fostering a cat…maybe even a pregnant cat if that is possible. Oh, and all our cats are spayed and neutered." I did not know what
to expect. Was asking for a pregnant cat weird? Would anyone call back? It didn’t take long for me to get answers to these questions.
Within a few hours of my telephone call, a woman named Diane called me. We had our very first "official" pregnant foster within a few
We have now fostered hundreds of mama cats and kittens. We only foster one cat family at a time, and we have a special "cat
room" so our three "regular" cats do not have to interact with protective mamas and unruly babies. So why do we do this? Why do we
foster cats? People ask me these questions all the time. Here are my answers:
1. Entertainment: It’s better than television.
My husband and I always say that having a set of kittens in the house is better than tv. My kids will often go into our "cat room"
for hours and play with the mama and her kittens. In fact, when we do not have a foster family, my kids say that our house is boring.
The fun starts when the (usually very pregnant) mama cat arrives. At this point, the naming discussions begin. What do we name
mama? How many kittens will she have? What should we name them? We usually have a theme. For instance, for the last set of cats,
we adopted a "Frozen" theme. The kittens were named Elsa, Anna, and Olaf.
2. Education: Where do babies come from?
We started fostering pregnant cats before our children knew much about “the birds and the bees.” Fostering has led to many
healthy discussions about sexuality, reproduction, and family. Once we fostered an adolescent mama, who upon being brought into the
house crawled into my lap for comfort. Almost immediately, she started pushing. Before I knew it, Kitten Number 1 was born in my lap!
My son was, to be honest, horrified. My daughter was transfixed. At this point, I believe that my kids know more about reproduction,
sex, and birth than most other kids their age.
3. Learning the language of adoption.
Since both of our children are adopted, I wanted them to be well-versed in the language and meaning of adoption and fostering.
Bringing cats into our home has proven invaluable in helping us teach them (and their friends) the language of family, love, and
adoption. Family, we teach them, is not about blood; it is about love.
4. Enjoying the peace and quiet.
Our kids, like most others, enjoy their electronic diversions. Our cat room is a quiet and simple haven away from buzz of
technology. The storms and stresses of adolescence are rough. Our foster cats and their families provide a wonderful respite from the
noisier world outside their room. Almost magically, kids’ behavior changes inside the cat room. A normally sullen teen becomes gentle,
responsive to the needs of others, and sensitive. These wonderful animals allow our children to stretch their "nurturing muscles."
5. Learning to help others.
Finally, fostering allows us to show our children that there is value in doing good in the world without receiving anything
material in return. Fostering allows us to show our children that life is about more than just making money, doing well in school, or
“getting ahead.” I also hope that fostering shows my children that they are truly lucky to have loving parents, plenty of food, and a
solid roof over their heads. We are in a place where we should give back to the world.
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