Morgan makes herself at home…

For the first night, I tried to secure Morgan in the dining room to separate her and Livie when I wasn’t watching them.  Tried.  I closed off the two doorway openings with two and a half feet tall baby gates.  Inside the room I had a large crate set up and cozy bedding inside the crate and in another corner.  I took the pups outside and then put Morgan in the dining room.  She had her soft cone on for the night so she would leave her incision alone while unsupervised (this is when I thought I would be sleeping!).  I petted her for a bit and then left to go upstairs to bed. 

Morgan resting on her blankets in the dining room

Within minutes, I heard a scuffle, then a crash.  I quickly went downstairs where Morgan greeted me happily, tail wagging a million miles a minute.  She had knocked over one of the gates.  I reassured her and locked the gate with a bit more pressure than I had previously used.  She was a strong, energetic dog for an 11 year old who had just had surgery!

Within minutes, I heard a scuffle and then a thud.  I rushed back downstairs to again find Morgan wagging and waiting for me at the bottom.  The gate was intact, however.  Had she jumped it?  Climbed it?  Regardless, I knew that I would have to crate her if I wanted to keep her confined overnight.  I would need to use a confinement method when I left the house the following day to take the kids to school anyways, and I was happy to have figured out that the baby gates were not a solution for Morgan while I was home.  I crated Morgan, encouraging her with a treat, and then went back upstairs. 

The sound was heart wrenching.  Morgan was so sad to have been more securely separated from the family.  She whined, then barked, then howled, then whined some more.  My husband shifted around restlessly in bed.  He had been so supportive of my desire to foster animals and enthusiastically said yes when I asked about bringing Morgan home in particular, that the last thing I wanted was for his sleep to be disrupted.  Then my daughter walked sleepily out of her room.  “Mom, what’s wrong with Morgan?”  I knew I had to change the set up once again. 

Morgan and I getting ready for sleep. She decided she needed a sleeping buddy and would not quiet until she had it!

Now, an hour after my usual bedtime, I went downstairs for a third time with a pillow and blanket, let Morgan out of the crate and walked with her to the couch and curled up together.  She, for one, slept great, head tipped back, soft snoring at last.

A Dog!

Morgan’s wound

While we were waiting to regain some trust from Shadow and Midnight after their traumatic lice treatment dip, another foster request email arrived.  A dog, Morgan, needed foster while recovering from a surgery that she had to remove a mass from her hind leg.  She was a beautiful brown boxer mix senior, about 70 pounds and 11 years old.  This was her second surgery; she had chewed open her incision the first time.  The shelter was hoping that under the close supervision of a foster home, Morgan would leave her wound alone and heal up quickly.  Could we?!  Should we?!

I am a thinker.  I do very little impulsively and sometimes, my caution leads to missed opportunities.  I thought for about whether or not to respond that we could take Morgan for about a day.  While she was exactly the kind of dog who I hoped to help (friendly with people, okay with other dogs), I was nervous too.  After the day of pondering, and speaking to the family, I decided to move forward.  I emailed Ann and said we could take Morgan if someone had not already offered. 

We took Livie, our resident dog, to meet Morgan at the shelter the next day.  The shelter requires a dog interaction between any potential foster dogs and resident dogs before sending the foster home.  First, a shelter staff member and I walked the dogs around the parking lot with about 10 feet of distance between us.  Livie led, and then Morgan led.  Next, we let them sniff each other.  Finally, we took them into the education room and let them roam around while we observed their behavior.  Livie hung out close to me and Morgan sniffed all around.  They weren’t best buds, but there wasn’t any tension either.  These girls had passed the test and we were all set to take Morgan home!  But it’s never a good idea to put two unfamiliar dogs in the car together so I took Livie home and then came back to get Morgan.

Morgan sleeping on the couch
Sleepy girl!

At home, I brought Livie out so she and Morgan could get reacquainted outside.  I took them for a quick walk around the cul-de-sac and then brought Morgan in.  She sniffed all around, discovered the water bowl and took a sip, and then collapsed on the couch where she fell into a deep slumber.  Livie is not allowed on the living room couch (though she is allowed on a couch in another room…she knows the boundaries!) and I hadn’t considered how the rules might shift for foster dogs who had been denied soft places to sleep for a while.  Watching Morgan snoozing so hard through the hub bub of our household, I knew that I didn’t have the heart to ask her to move.  Livie was pretty understanding and kept on with her normal routine of following me around the house. 

We had our first canine foster and we were off to a great start!

Feline Lice

After Shadow and Midnight had been with us six days, and had slowly began to trust us, the day for their lice dip arrived.

Cat lice, feline pediculosis, are specific to cats, meaning they could not be transferred to humans or dogs.  This fact was important to me in deciding to bring these kitties home.  As eager as I was to begin fostering animals, I was not interested in treating the family for lice!  Cat lice function the same way as the lice we all dread; they are little parasites that feed off the skin of their host.  The adults are tiny six legged insects and the nits look like miniscule balls attached to the hair shaft.  Shadow and Midnight had been treated once at the shelter (which is maybe why they were so hesitant to approach us!), but the treatments must be repeated to ensure that any nits that hatch are also eliminated. 

I got out the apron provided by the shelter but decided against wearing it.  I draped a towel over my shirt to wrap up the wet and terrified kitten after the dip.  I filled the provided container with warm water and the lice dip solution.  The solution was a lyme sulfur concoction that was a tinge orange and smelled AWFUL (think rotten eggs).

I decided to start with Shadow to get some practice with the easier to handle, more trusting kitten first.  I pinched the back of his neck gently to calm him and scooped him up with my other hand.  I lowered him into the solution.  He was remarkably calm.  I had never bathed a cat before but there is the common knowledge that cats hate water!  I used my fingers to spread the solution over his head being careful not to let any get into his eyes.  I let him soak for about a minute, then lifted him out and snuggled him.  The shelter had told me to make sure I dried the kittens all the way.  Even though these babies were 10 weeks old, it was still important to make sure they didn’t get a chill.  Shadow remained calm wrapped in the towel, but when I released him, he scampered off shaking as wet dogs do. 

I took a deep sigh.  Midnight.  She didn’t want me to approach her.  I didn’t blame her after what I had just done to her brother.  I had to herd her into a corner and sneakily reach in and nab her.  Guiltily, I pinched the back of her neck to calm her and dipped her into the lice treatment solution.  Afterwards, she wanted nothing to do with cuddles and clawed her way free.  She ran to the corner and, I could swear, cowered and glared at me.  After all that patient work to earn her trust…

I knew that the lice treatment was the reason these babies were in foster.  The sooner they were parasite free, the sooner they could get to their real home, where they could learn to really trust humans.  But I hate being the bad guy!  And I could tell we were back at square one (or actually zero!) with Midnight….

The kittens warm up to us…a little!

Shadow hanging out in my son Dane’s lap

Each day, the kids and I (and sometimes Ryan, my husband) sat with Shadow and Midnight.  Shadow started playing with us after just a couple days of adjusting.  He would chase the “toy on a stick” and balls across the floor, sliding to a stop as the toy changed direction.  Midnight would hang back, cautious, but tempted to sneak attack her brother.  We could bring the toy across our laps and Shadow would chase it right over us, but didn’t want us to pet him…yet.

Shadow with my daughter Mae (and note the litter box under the counter)

After several patient days, we reached out to Shadow and even though he hadn’t known he wanted to be pet, he LOVED it once it happened!  He started to greet us at the door when we came to hang out and begged for scritches under the chin and down his back.  He remained cautious about new sounds and people and about being held, but really blossomed into a friendly, sociable kitten.  Soon, he was climbing in our laps (and up our legs!), and even enjoyed being cuddled.  Each interaction and purr from him was like a gift for having been patient, for having shown him some respect and having given him time to adjust and trust. 

Midnight, on the other hand, did not trust us so readily.  She started playing with the toys around the time Shadow started being interested in pets, but if she found herself within arms’ reach of us, she would look startled and quickly scamper away.   We were eager to show her that we were kind and gentle and only meant her well…but she was determined to keep her distance. 

My husband Ryan playing with Shadow and Midnight

Strangely enough, it was Ryan (who definitely spent the least amount of time with the kittens) who finally got Midnight to come out of her shell a little.  He could get her really interested in playing and even to accept a few tentative pets from him.  Just like people fall in love with certain animals, animals certainly choose their people!

Just as these sweet kittens were starting to open up and trust us…the first lice treatment loomed on the horizon…

The early days…

Prior to fostering, I had never had an indoor cat.  Growing up with farm animals, I had been around a fair number of cats, but barn cats.  Barn cats are a different animal all together than the house cat in terms of care.  Sure, we left some water and dry food out for them, but they mainly subsisted on their favorite meal: horse feed thieving mice (poor, super cute little furry things!).  I often found remaining entrails strewn across the barn floor in the mornings.  And a litter box is superfluous in a barn full of sawdust.  I would occasionally find a dry, hard cat excrement in the barn and pitchfork scoop it right along with the horse dung, but I suspect the cats more often went outside to take care of business. 

We also (quite irresponsibly) never spayed or neutered our barn cats.  We thought we had gotten several males when we were establishing our crew, but alas, one female was in the mix.  Snooze (she was really sleepy for the first few days we had her!) was a gorgeous, friendly white female who was excellent at hunting and at producing really cute kittens.  These pregnancies, deliveries, and nursing periods were the makings of my adolescent euphoria but, reflecting back, I am ashamed that we so recklessly contributed to the cat overpopulation problem.

And now here I was, with two indoor cats, Shadow and Midnight, and I was quickly learning some things.  First, just because cats prefer to bury their excrement doesn’t mean it all stays in the litter box.  I had placed the litter box on the floor in a recess in our counter between the two sinks.  In those early days, we were all trudging through the litter that followed the kittens out of the box every time we brushed our teeth or washed our hands.  It was not uncommon for a piece of poop to end up on the floor as well.  Sometimes cats have “stickers” (those pieces of poop reluctant to disconnect!) and kittens are far too busy to sit around waiting for those to come free before dashing off to explore!  I tweaked our set up by placing a towel under the box extending to the front of it, hoping it would collect some of the stray litter.  This definitely reduced the amount of litter that made it to the tiles, and also served as a visual reminder for us to give wide berth to the litter area.  I didn’t want to confuse these two cuties by completely moving the litter box, but I told myself that I would set it up in the separate toilet room for the next feline fosters.

Shadow and Midnight playing (notice the poor placement of the litter box!)

The foster director had told me that kittens are not to savvy about protecting their own lives. Much like young children, they like to explore their territory often to their detriment and any area they’re in needs to be “kitten proofed”. Toilet seats must be kept in the down position and blinds (and their strings) must be kept up. The room the kittens were in has three sets of blinds and Shadow and Midnight were climbing the ones I didn’t think they could reach within the day. Luckily, they were uninjured and I am a quick learner; the blinds and strings were quickly secured out of reach.

I was also learning that cats have definite food preferences.  The shelter had given me a variety of wet food for them to try.  When I put out certain brands, they would scarf them down like they hadn’t been fed for days.  Other brands were still in the bowl, barely licked, hours later.  I ended up making some extra store trips for Fancy Feast kitten, Shadow’s and Midnight’s favorite wet food. 

Our early days with Shadow and Midnight were exhilarating and educational for me.  I was so happy to be offering them a home and socialization and space to play during their isolation time (due to feline lice) instead of the alternative: a cage at the shelter. 

The first fosters!

And suddenly, you know: it’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings.

Meister Eckhart

Only a couple days after the home visit, I received my first foster request email.  I think I would have taken any animal in any circumstance; that’s how excited I was! 

So when I read about two black kittens, one male and one female, who were a couple months old and needed foster through their lice treatment, I didn’t immediately twist my face with disgust and discount them.  I looked up cat lice and realized it wasn’t communicable to dogs or humans, and then right away responded that we would take them.    And then I waited…. And waited…. And waited.  I checked my email every ten minutes waiting for a response.  After a few hours, it finally arrived.  Could we pick them up the next morning?  Yes, yes, yes!

The next morning, I collected the carrier with two terrified kitties peering out.  The foster director, Ann, explained that I would need to give them medicated dips once each week, comb them, and give them a dewormer during their stay in foster.  The treatment was expected to take a couple weeks.  I was given food, bowls, litter, a litter box, toys, blankets and towels.  I signed a foster agreement explaining the rules (foster cats must stay in the foster’s house and care at all times) and off we went!

Shadow and Midnight eating on their first day in foster

At home, I set up a cozy area for the kittens to sleep, an eating area with wet food, dry food, and water bowls, and a litter box area in the master bathroom.  I opened the carrier and left the room.  I wanted to give the kittens some time to explore their new area before confronting them with new humans too.  Later, I went in and sat quietly, hoping the kittens would be ready for some attention.  These were, however, undersocialized kittens who wanted nothing to do with me.  They slunk around the large bathroom looking for good hiding places.  I stayed 10 minutes and then left.

The children were so excited to have our first fosters!  We had twin boys who were 10 (Andrew and Dane), a daughter who was 8 (Mae), and a daughter who was 4 (Nora).  They couldn’t wait to meet our new kitties when they got home from school!  I explained to them that the kittens were shy and we needed to be calm and quiet when around them, especially for the first few days, so that they could learn to trust us.  They were so awesome at this!  They sat in the bathroom very patiently and for such a long time that eventually the male kitten approached and even consented to some pets.  But four year olds cannot sit still forever.  Eventually Nora made a quick movement that sent the kitten scurrying all over again.  She had to endure some evil glares from her siblings as punishment, and then they started the sit still, pet kitten until he got scared again cycle all over again. 

Then there was the issue of names.  These two kittens had not yet been named by the shelter or any former caretaker.  We decided that the children would take turns naming any unnamed foster animals.  Mae and Andrew were going to take their turns first.  Andrew named the male kitten Shadow and Mae named the female kitten Midnight. 

We checked on Shadow and Midnight so many times that first day, hoping they were happy with their set up, hoping they would become comfortable and thrive under our care.  I could hardly believe that we were really doing it

The prerequisites

May your walls know joy; may every room hold laughter and every window open to great possibility.

Maryanne Radmacher Hershey

Before a potential foster for the Humane Society of Huron Valley can be eligible to actually bring a shelter animal home, there are a few hurdles to clear. 

First, the foster orientation, where I was asked about why I was interested in fostering (among other reasons, for me it was a way to help out animals that was not limited to my daughter’s preschool hours) and told not to expect perfect, well-adjusted animals to need foster (those animals are ready for adoption right away!). 

Next, after the training, potential foster families with resident pets needed to obtain veterinary records demonstrating that their pets were sterilized and up to date on vaccinations.  We had Razor, a bearded dragon who was exempt from needing these clearances, and Livie, a two year old Lab mix.  I went to our vet and requested the records and told her for what purpose. 

“Don’t do it,” our veterinarian said with 100% certainty.  She told me that animals that pass through a shelter are almost always sick with something.  She warned me that if I brought home a foster dog, we would need to change clothes after interacting with him/her and make sure that the dog eliminated in the same spot each time, a spot far from where Livie visited.  She provided several cautionary tales about colleagues that had hosted foster dogs.  She kindly informed me about other ways that I could help with animals.  I took the records, my enthusiasm only slightly dampened.

The third, and final, obstacle between me and the first foster request email I would receive was the home visit.  THE HOME VISIT.  A volunteer would come to my home and determine if we had the appropriate space and set up to receive fosters.  The impending visit made me wonder what the perfect set up looked like and if we fit the bill.  I cleaned excessively, froze peanut butter (xylitol free of course!) in a Kong to (probably!) keep Livie on her best behavior during the visit, and hoped for the best.

When John arrived, Livie greeted him enthusiastically but didn’t maul him with jumps and kisses, so we were off to a good start.  We sat at the table and chatted, John telling me about the variety of spaces he had visited, from studio apartments to mansions, which were all a good fit for foster animals.  He told me about an older gentlemen who had various rooms in his home dedicated to fostering different ages of kittens.  The man had a room for bottle babies (those kittens too young to eat solid food), kittens just weaning and beginning to eat on their own, and kittens with medical needs.  Wow!  I was just hoping to bring home and offer love and shelter to one animal!

I showed John the master bathroom, the space where I intended to keep any foster cats or kittens.  It has a couple windows, stays warm, and is easily cleaned.  Then I showed him the dining room, which I thought could be used to separate new foster dogs from Livie as they got adjusted.  He said that we were well set up and approved, but I insisted on showing him the basement (because we had cleaned it!) as an alternative place for dogs. 

As John left he said he had me pegged as a foster failure by foster number three.  I chuckled, but was eager to prove him wrong.  I wasn’t interested in another pet, only in helping the vulnerable population of shelter animals.  The home visit was probably more about checking to make sure we weren’t a family who hoarded animals or lived in squalor, so I don’t know why I was so anxious awaiting it or so relieved when it was over.  I think I knew then that we were teetering on the brink of something that would become important to me and we could now, finally, get started. 

My impatience leads to great things…

We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals

Immanuel Kant

My youngest of four was starting preschool and I was eager to start volunteering with animals again.  I had volunteered at an animal shelter back in my college days.  I spent my time that gray concrete building washing dishes and laundry, kennels and dogs.  When the cleaning was done (rarely), the volunteers could take a dog out on a leash to a small paved area in the back for a quick sniff around.  The dank and loud shelter was crowded and the kill rate was high.  Animals were simply coming in at a faster rate than they were leaving and resources were limited. Dogs didn’t have long to win the heart of an adopter before their time was up.  One time I stumbled upon the room where they were administering the euthanasia; the bodies were piled on one side and the pup most recently injected was stumbling around the room while the next one was on the table, wagging his tail, about to receive his last interaction with humans.  But I digress…

I attended the volunteer orientation at my local shelter (the Humane Society of Huron Valley in Ann Arbor, MI) in August, a few weeks before preschool started, just to learn more about the opportunities to help.  It was clear from the outset that this shelter was much different from the one back in my college town.  The euthanasia rate was low, only employed to alleviate suffering of ill animals, or, in rare cases, to put down aggressive dogs for the safety of the shelter staff and volunteers…and the public.  The building was newly renovated and brightly lit; the staff was smiling.  The shelter is located in a hub of people passionate about animals; the volunteer hours and money donated are impressive.  Yet, the fact remains there, as in all shelters around the world, the animals are homeless and there is neverending work to be done.

I was told in the volunteer orientation that 10 hours of non animal-interaction volunteering had to be logged in a new volunteer’s account prior to attending a dog walker training course and getting started handling the animals.  Smart tool, I thought, to make sure the volunteers are committed and not just there to pet the pups.  We were shown the laundry room, the primary location that new volunteers put in their 10 hours.  The laundry machines in animal shelters are among the hardest working anywhere.  These massive machines ran from 8am to closing each day and there were carts of dirty laundry awaiting their turn outside the room.  Other ways to contribute volunteer hours without animal interactions that I tried in those early days included crate cleaning, poop pickup from the buckets along the walking trails, and administrative paper work. 

Those 10 hours flew by in September, and I was eager to attend the dog walking class.  I received the clearance email and got online right away to sign up for the next dog walker class (offered periodically)…but the next few were full!  Aghast, I signed up for the January dog walker class and kept spending time emptying poop containers and washing crates in my knee high wellies for the next couple weeks.  I had thought that the 10 hours of service were my golden ticket to getting back into the dog area and helping make the animals’ time while homeless a little more pleasant, a little less stressful. 

While I was stalking the shelter’s online platform for any cancellations in any earlier dog walking classes, something else caught my eye.  Foster Orientation…and there were openings!  While I couldn’t yet walk shelter animals, I could bring one home!  I signed up and attended the class next week.  And so my family’s fostering experience began…and our home was soon to be filled with cats and dogs, puppies and kittens, heartbreaking failures and astronomical successes.

About me

Our resident dog, Livie, checking out a foster puppy, Hazel.

“Animals are such agreeable friends – they ask no questions; they pass no criticisms.”

I have always loved animals. I don’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t somehow involved in the care of an animal. I grew up with horses, chickens, dogs and cats. I am now the mother of four children. Needless to say, I am well acquainted with poop, both analyzing and cleaning, so I was a perfect fit for fostering animals!