Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘pet fostering

Dear Onyx,

Thank you for coming into our lives. You’ve brought us many happy moments. We love how affectionate and playful you are. Now that you’re healthy, you’re also starting to explore and show your unique quirks, which is equally fun to see.

From the moment we first held you at the Capital Humane Society, we knew that you had lots of love to give. Yes, you might have clung to us out of fear, but you also kissed me with your tiny tongue. When we finally got to bring you home, it didn’t take long before you wanted to touch our hair, our fingers, our toes. You’ve always wanted physical contact and that makes you very endearing to us. Now that you know us, you’ll run up to us or flop on the floor to ask for tummy rubs. You’ve even climbed on my keyboard and pushed the pages of a book I’m reading to get me to focus on you. When we pick you up, you no longer cling to us out of fear, but now instead you snuggle on our laps, our tummies, our chests. And there you purr up a storm of content. You’re super cute when you stretch out your paws to touch us. You are a love.

How impressive is it that even when you were sick, you proved yourself an escape artist? Just three days after we brought you home, you wriggled out of the side of your crate when you heard me fixing breakfast. Within a week, although you had started gaining weight you still weren’t having solid stools, but you were determined to climb onto the guest room bed. I underestimated how fast you’d figure that out. One minute you were on the floor and I was arranging blankets in your crate, the next minute you were on the bed and I was watching to see how you did it. I finally figured out that you were scrambling up the sheets. One of my favorite things is when you play hide-and-seek. You wrap yourself around a bed post, peek your head out to catch my attention, and then duck it back when you see me. And then there’s your latest trick, that of trying to run away when you don’t want to get caught, especially at bedtime.

In that first week after we brought you home, you showed so little interest in food and toys that more than once we thought we were going to lose you. We even took you to our vet. I raised the possibility of “failure to thrive”. Our vet immediately dismissed the idea. No, you weren’t well. But you also had spunk. And you showed it during our visit. You kept wanting to jump off the exam table. We finally put you on the floor, where you promptly tried to eat dirt off the floor. You wouldn’t eat kitten food, but you’d eat dirt! That’s some weird logic. But we didn’t care, because then you started to play with some dog leashes that were hanging from a hook. We had never seen you play before. It didn’t take long before you were playing with all kinds of things. Some of them we’d rather you wouldn’t, such as my pencils and papers. Others we’re more than happy to let you have, such as soft balls, plush mice, and wand toys.

Time passes so quickly. In just another couple of weeks, we’ll be looking for an adopter for you. We’ll be happy-sad to let you go. The moments we’ve shared with you have been priceless. But you’re also going to fill your adopters’ lives with happy moments. Little Bat Girl, we wish you the best moments and the best life.

Love, your pet foster parents.


Onyx peered through the top of her carrier. Andy and I had brought her with us on our weekly visit to his parents. She was in a strange new place, surrounded by new people, new noises, new smells. But suddenly familiar hands were reaching for her. When I picked Onyx up, she snuggled into my soft pink sweater. “Do you need to use the litter box?” I asked her. I carried her to the bathroom, closed the door behind me, and placed her into a portable litter box. Nervous in the unfamiliar environment, Onyx lost no time in hiding behind the toilet. I retrieved her, held her close, and then returned to the dining room. Andy’s parents both took turns saying hello to Onyx and gently stroking her head. She stared at them with wide yellow eyes and continued to cling to me. I returned her to her carrier until after dinner, at which point Andy and I took turns holding her while the family played cards. Onyx grew more relaxed, laying on our laps and purring while we played When it was time for dessert, Andy gave Onyx to his mom to hold. Onyx didn’t object. Instead she settled in for a snooze, remaining on Andy’s mom’s lap until our game ended and it was time to leave.

Kittens need to be socialized. The main socialization window is from four to fourteen weeks. During this time, a cat is most receptive to new experiences. Kittens that are properly socialized are more likely to display confidence, seek attention from people, relax when held, and recover quickly from unexpected situations. Because Onyx had been underweight and contagious throughout November, Andy and I have just recently started introducing her to other people. When friends visit, we introduce them to Onyx. Each time, Onyx has allowed our friends to hold her, but has then happily returned to our arms. We’ve been taking Onyx for regular visits to Andy’s parents too. On the second visit, I placed Onyx on the table and Andy’s dad called for her. She cautiously walked towards him and, upon reaching him, immediately huddled into him. Later when cookies were being handed out, Andy’s dad offered her a nibble. She didn’t show much interest, but must have enjoyed the experience. Next thing we knew, Onyx was strutting across the table seeking food from Andy’s mom, then Andy, and finally me. We had a curious kitten on our hands!

Hiss! One at a time our three cats entered the living room to check out the crate and its occupant. Inside the crate, Onyx lay curled on a beige pet bed. She stared demurely at the cats, who each took their turn stalking about her crate and hissing before defiantly leaving the room. Two of our cats elected to return when we had dinner. From the safe distance of the recliner, they watched Onyx. And she watched them. Our third cat snuck behind our recliner, used the litter box, and returned the way she had come–just to keep as far away from Onyx as possible. When we finished eating, the other two cats fled too. I opened the crate and placed Onyx on my lap while Andy and I watched television. Curiosity eventually drew our cats back to the living room. Cinder, our tortoiseshell and oldest, sought refuge in her cave. Bootsie, our former feral and second adopted, didn’t return that night. This left Rainy, our brown-patched and youngest, to welcome Onyx. She bravely jumped onto our recliner, even ventured a sniff of Onyx’s tail, and then curled at my feet with her back to me. 

It has been easiest to introduce Onyx to our dog Barnaby, as Barnaby is indifferent to all animals. Here, Onyx checks to see if the gray lump is alive.

Introducing a new kitten to an older cat should be done slowly and carefully. After all, the resident cat (or cats) will have established territory, and the introduction of another may not be well received. This is one reason that Andy and I initially kept Onyx separate from our other cats. They could no doubt smell her food and litter box, but only through the safety of a closed door. This gave everyone plenty of time to adjust. Once our cats stopped hissing at the guest room door, I swapped some of their bedding. Onyx received a couple of their beds and our cats got some of Onyx’s blankets. Our cats showed little interest in the new blankets, but Onyx spent several minutes sniffing the beds. During this time, Andy and I were also often bringing Onyx out into the living room, but limiting her to our laps. The above steps aren’t new to us; we followed them when Bootsie and then Rainy joined our family. But our three cats are now bonded as sisters; I feel trepidation about how to introduce Onyx into the mix.

The two cats stared at each other from either side of the guest bed. I sat next to Rainy with treats and toys in my hands, while Andy sat near Onyx with treats and squirt bottle handy. Rainy leaned forward and glared at Onyx, who lay alert on her black blanket, but otherwise neither cat moved. Rainy straightened up and glanced at me. I rewarded her calm demeanor with a treat. After she gobbled the treat, I tossed several more in front of her. Andy and I wanted our cats to view the introduction of Onyx as a positive. If anything were to endear Rainy to Onyx, food would be it! I let Rainy stuff herself, especially because this encouraged her to move freely about the room and closer to Onyx, while Andy sat ready to squirt water if a fight ensued. No squirting was necessary. I brought out the toys. Onyx sprang after a wand toy while Rainy watched. Andy and I declared the evening a success.

Later that week, Andy and I introduced Cinder to Onyx with mixed results. Like Rainy, Cinder was content to stare at Onyx from a safe distance. The difference is that treats are more problematic for Cinder. She has the mentality of a shelter cat that has needed to compete for food. As such, Cinder growls protectively over her food if any living being is nearby. While Cinder did accept a few treats, she soon ducked under the bed to hide. From there, she kept a close eye on what was the happening in the room and repositioned herself more than once. But again, no fights ensued. We don’t intend to give Bootsie a turn, as she doesn’t like to be corralled into a room. Instead our next step will be to allow Onyx free run of the living room, with the other cats having access too. And Andy will keep the squirt bottle handy. After that, we’ll simply continue to socialize Onyx, preparing her for the day she’s adopted.

Her weight had started to climb, but something still seemed amiss. Whenever Andy or I entered the guest room, the little black kitten was lying down? Shouldn’t a kitten do more than lie down? Shouldn’t she be playing? One evening, Andy tossed a fluffy yellow ball her way. Onyx sat upright but otherwise didn’t move, not even when Andy and I tried to play ‘keep away’ with her. Another evening, I dangled a pink plush mouse near her. Again, despite her green eyes sparking with curiosity, Onyx made no attempt to play. Even though she snuggled into us and purred whenever we picked her up, worry tugged at me. Andy was still having to syringe feed her, which didn’t seem normal for a growing kitten. Then there were the regular soft stools in her litter box. I tried to push the phrase “failure to thrive” out my head, but it got harder with each passing day to maintain hope.

Failure to thrive in kittens can occur from birth to nine weeks of age. Affected kittens often decline quickly and die. Immediate detection and treatment are key to survival. The problem is that fading kitten syndrome, like its name implies, is a condition and not a disease. There are many causes. Worse, many of those underlying causes are difficult to prevent. It can be the fault of the mother, who might have a difficult birth, inadequate milk production, or even an incompatible blood type with her offspring. The fault can lie with the kitten, who as the runt might have congenital abnormalities, immature lung development, or decreased nursing ability. Infections, toxins, and other environmental causes such as temperatures that are too high or low can be at fault. Finally, nutrition can be at fault, if the mother h didn’t eat enough while pregnant or nursing or the kitten received inadequate milk replacement formula. Especially when a kitten is discovered homeless, many of these causes can already have taken a toll, in which case recovery will be an uphill and sometimes impossible battle.

scheduled a vet appointment for Onyx, but also collected a stool sample to bring to the Capital Humane Society for which we were fostering Onyx. At the vet, Onyx meowed plaintively when touched, showing that she wasn’t feeling well. But she also insisted on exploring the exam table, showing that she still had some fight left in her. The vet left to run some tests and we let Onyx roam the floor. She discovered some hanging leashes and began to play with them. Andy and I exchanged glances, surprised and delighted with Onyx’s energy level. Moments like these are what calmed my worry that Onyx had fading kitten syndrome. The vet echoed feeling that Onyx had too much spunk to die. The call we received later that day from CHS gave us even further reason to hope. Onyx was diagnosed with Giardia. That would certainly explain her poor appetite, runny stools, and lethargy. The good news was that, although Giardia was contagious and potentially life-threatening, it was treatable.

Giardia is a common intestinal parasite in people and animals. It’s excreted in the feces of an infected cat, then picked up when ingested by other cats sharing litter boxes. Giardia can also be found on contaminated surfaces, in soil, or in food or water that has been contaminated with feces from infected creatures. The most common symptom is diarrhea. Other symptoms are weight loss, poor grooming, and lethargy. Unfortunately, these symptoms can also be indicative of many other medical conditions, and so Giardia isn’t always readily recognized by its symptoms alone. The incidence is relatively low in North America, but can spread quickly wherever several cats share space, such as in shelters and multi-cat households. For treatment, Onyx received a week’s worth of metronidazole. We already had Onyx confined to the guest room, so we didn’t need to quarantine her, and had already been thoroughly washing our hands well after each contact. I consulted Lancaster County (Nebraska) Ask-A-Vet and learned that I should bathe Onyx and then clean her after every bowel movement. In addition, I followed the advice to change clothes after cleaning her litter box.

The crate was a mess. Diarrhea soaked the litter box and the blankets. There was even diarrhea splattered on the floor around the crate. This was the worst incident, but the next day the tide turned. Onyx had a solid stool. She began eating both her wet and dry food. Syringe-feeding had suddenly become a thing of the past. One night she turned escape artist and found her way out of her crate. Having realized that adventure can be fun, Onyx started to explore the guest room with earnest. She soon discovered the delights of closets, curtains, corners…. and of playing hide-and-seek with her guardians.

At the time of this article, Onyx continues to thrive. In the three weeks that we’ve had her, she’s gone from 1.2 pounds to over 2.5 pounds. Her litter box, scratching post, and toys get put to full use. She’s showing even more curiosity, wanting to play with Andy’s beard and my glasses. She’s also learned to jump, and a few times she’s managed to climb into the guest bed. Friends of ours have nicknamed her Black Beauty and Blackjack, as her personality develops. More adventures lie ahead for Onyx, when we introduce her to our other pets. In addition, soon she will be spayed, and then we can begin our search for an adopter. Thank you Capital Humane Society and Joining Forces Saving Lives for letting us foster this beautiful little girl.

Plaintive meows caught her attention as she headed inside her home for the night. Scurrying away from her porch were two tiny kittens. The woman had a dog crate handy inside and she retrieved it now to try to capture these scrawny black cats. They’re too small and too young to be outside. Were they even six weeks old yet. If a fox or some other predator didn’t kill them, they could easily be crushed under a car’s tires. The woman shivered. This cold snap was typical of Nebraska weather in fall. It was not the time for such little creatures to be homeless. The kittens took a few steps towards the crate, and the woman wondered if it smelled too much of dogs. She disappeared inside and returned with an open can of tuna.  She placed the can inside the dog crate, then stepped back and waited. Slowly, one of the kittens approached. Its hair was unkempt, and its bones protruded. Finally, its hunger overcame its fear It stepped inside the crate. Soon the trembling kitten was devouring the tuna. The woman looked around. Its sibling had disappeared. Sighing, she closed the crate, and then pulled out her cell phone to call Animal Control.

Pet fostering starts with a need. Early this past November, a friend of a friend messaged me. She wanted to know if I had a trap that she could borrow. She said she was trying to trap a kitten. And then she proceeded to tell me about another kitten for which she needed to find a home. As is my habit in such situations, I sent her a list of animal rescues and wished her the best. Ninety-nine percent of the time, this is where my involvement ends. My husband and I don’t rescue. Both times we’ve tried foster care, we ended up adding a new pet to our household. We now have four pets, and that’s enough. But something about this kitten tugged at my heart. When a posting about the kitten appeared on the Joining Forces Saving Lives Facebook page, I followed its progress. When I learned that the kitten had been labeled ’feral’ by the shelter, and that this label was causing potential adopters to shy away from it, I knew my husband and I had to get involved.

The little black kitten hunkered in a cardboard box at the back of a cage at the local humane society. When a volunteer picked it up, the kitten uttered an almost inaudible squawk. The volunteer handed the kitten over to me. The kitten flattened itself against my chest and buried its head inside my jacket. When I gave the kitten to my husband, the kitten instantly clung to him too, and even protested when we said goodbye. On our second visit, the kitten had been identified as a girl and given the name Onyx. We asked if we could check the kitten’s weight, and discovered it was only 1.3 pounds and quite bony. Onyx’s spunk had no doubt helped her to survive the perils of outdoor life, but by our third visit we realized that outdoor life had taken its toll on this frail kitten; when weighed again, she was now down to 1.2 pounds. The shelter had kept Onyx safe and warm since she’d arrived, but now she needed more. In order to thrive, she needed a home. And so, with the help of Joining Forces Saving Lives, we became her foster parents.

Fostering is a roller coaster ride. The first day Andy and I brought Onyx home, we placed her in our spare room. Because her low weight was our biggest concern, our immediate goal was to get her to eat. I tried hand feeding Onyx three different kitten foods. Two of them she rejected; the third she not only ate from my hand, but she also from a dish. I felt elated. But my excitement was short-lived. When I later mixed milk replacement powder into her food, Onyx refused to sniff it. Andy had to syringe feed her. At least half of the watery mix dribbled down her chin and chest, but she must have enjoyed what she ate. The next morning, Onyx ate an entire helping from a dish. Again, I felt elated. A quick recovery seemed imminent. Except by noon, Onyx was again refusing to eat. And so, the roller coaster ride began. One day she had normal bodily movements. Another day, her litter box was a mess. One day she strutted about the guest room. Another day she retreated into a corner. And so, we were eager for the most miniscule indications that Onyx was going to live.

The wide-eyed kitten rolled onto her back. She stretched her front paws over her head and purred contentedly when we scratched her fat belly for the fifth time in one night. A camera flash illuminated the scene. We had taken yet another photo of her. She batted the camera strap with her paws. Elsewhere in the house, the three family cats were restless. They remained unsure whether to accept this creature that had disrupted their cozy lives. Onyx stretched her back legs until her paws touched the side of our napping toy poodle. One day at a time….

At the time of this article, Onyx will be nine to ten weeks old and has reached a healthy weight of two pounds. She likes to play with small plush toys and our toes. She also likes to run about the guest room, but also likes to take long naps in our laps. We’ve nicknamed our foster cutie “Bat Girl,” because her little black face and big black ears she looks like a bat. It’s fun watching her personality develop. Thank you, Capital Humane Society and Joining Forces Saving Lives for letting us foster her.

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