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Golden Years: How Pets Add Life to Senior Living

“My face may be white, but my heart is pure gold.  There is no shame in growing old.”  

A pet’s love knows no boundaries, and there are few discomforts that their companionship cannot ease.  While this holds true for all stages of life from children to seniors, in times of happiness and health, to times of loneliness and recovery, those who experience the greatest benefits may be the ones who need it most.     Like pet therapy for children and people with disabilities, animals also have a special power for spiritual healing and physical well-being in senior citizens.

The popularity of pet-friendly senior housing has grown tremendously, and with good reason.  According to A Place for Mom, the nation’s largest senior housing referral service, of  all the inquiries they receive more than 40 percent ask if pets are permitted.

seniorcatHaving a  pet offers seniors much-needed companionship in a time where they are likely to feel lonely or forgotten.  The stress of moving and surrendering some or all of their independence can be eased by the presence of an animal.  By nurturing a beloved pet, they are given mental stimulation, a sense of purpose, motivation to keep active, and may even be more likely to take better care of themselves.   The benefits are endless.

To take advantage of the power of pets, senior housing complexes have multiple ways of incorporating furry friends into the routine. Some allow their residents to have in-house pets (weight/species restrictions vary), while others have ‘community pets’ that have free roam of the place or hang in communal areas.  Even more communities employ visiting therapy animals to brighten up everyone’s day. Scientific studies have proven that just 15 minutes spent connecting with an animal can lower heart rate, decrease blood pressure and release serotonin.   Over time, these benefits can reduce depression and even prevent serious health complications such as heart disease and strokes.

So whether your loved one has a full-time furry companion, or just the ability to spend time with one on a regular basis, the benefits are outstanding.  Cooperation with the animal rescue community allows seniors and living centers various opportunities to take advantage  of this incredible bond.  Seniors for Seniors-type programs match senior citizens with a senior pet, and some even waive adoption fees.   For those who aren’t able to care for an animal full time, pets can be ‘shared’ among multiple residents.  Alternatively, seniors can foster through a local rescue organization and keep pets on a short-term basis, allowing them to save multiple lives through their own.  Some assisted living centers even have Pet Care Coordinators that share in the responsibilities and management of in-house pets.

If you are considering pets for yourself or a loved one who is in senior or assisted living, contact the organizations director or reach out to a Senior Living Advisor at A Place for Mom.  For a list of pet-friendly senior and assisted living communities by state, go here.  Of course, the care of the animals is of the utmost importance for everyone involved, so speak with the appropriate representatives, depending on your situation.  If you someone you know is currently a pet guardian, consider including the animals in an estate plan or trust to ensure their long-term comfort and well-being is secured.

“Senior pets: their affection is timeless, their devotion is endless, and their love is forever.”

 

Awesome Kitten Facts (You Probably Don’t Know)

Leonardo da Vinci said, ‘The smallest feline is a masterpiece” and who could disagree?   Facades of the toughest men become softer simply by putting them in the presence of a litter of kittens. From the moment kittens are born, their lives become a circus of adorable antics as they grow, learn and explore the world around them.   We can’t seem to get enough of these precious little ones!

Kittens are Helpless at Birth

Newborn babies need special care and a mother's love to grow.

Newborn babies need special care and a mother’s love to grow. (Credit to Flickr user Kami Jo)

 

Mother cats give birth after a gestation period of about 65 days.  Some mammals, such as foals, can run within mere hours of birth, but kittens are entirely dependent on their mother for weeks and undergo incredible sensory and phsyical growth during this time.  Kittens are born both deaf and blind, and won’t open their eyes until 1-2  weeks of age and even then their vision will be blurry.  It will take another two months before they fully develop the incredible eyesight adult cats are known for.

 

Also, newborn kittens are unable to regulate their body heat so snuggling for warmth is crucial in the first few weeks.  The time that mothers and babies spend cuddling and nursing is an important form of bonding and beyond adorable!  Orphaned kittens require additional external heat, such as a heating pad.

Tabbies, Calicos and Tuxedos, Oh My!  

There are hundreds of feline color combinations, but did you know that kittens within the same litter can all be different?  Cat genetics is a crazy thing.  Mixed-coat litters- such as a calico, tabby, and tuxedo- are not all that uncommon, and to make matters more confusing, one litter can potentially have two different fathers!  Because of the role of genetics, only 1 in every 3,000 calico cats are male and those rare few carry an extra sex chromosome, XXY, and are infertile.  Orange tabby cats, on the other hand, are more likely to be male.

Unique as a snowflake! All cat noseprints are one of a kind. (Credit to Flikr user Minxlj)

Blue Eyes and A Button Nose

If kittens can be born with so many different coat patterns, why are they all born with the same blue eyes?  Because, similar to humans, the pigment melanin takes a while to be deposited into the iris.  Cat noses, however, are entirely unique from the moment they are born.  In fact, no two cats’ nosesprints are alike-  just like fingerprints.  This kind of makes eskimo kissing your cat even more precious, doesn’t it?

What to Expect: Your Kitten’s First Year 
While many people think of kittens as being itty bitty, ‘kitten‘ refers to juvenile cats who are under a year old.  Cats don’t reach adulthood until about a year, so the first year is a crucial time for learning cat ettiquete and honing their skills: social behaviors, cleaning and bathing, physical feats like jumping and hunting.   The first few months of a kitten’s life is highly social and the peak time for interaction with other kittens, which is why adopting young kittens in pairs is beneficial to their social and behavioral well-being.

‘Teenage’ kittens like Beck here are still learning through play! Kittens don’t reach adulthood until at least a year of age. (Photo Credit: Pet Adoption Network)

In the the latter part of a kitten’s first year, they tend to focus on personal growth and solitary behavioral skills, though being around other cats remains a highly positive influence for many.  Playfulness and curiosity doesn’t disappear once cats are ‘adults’-  it lingers for years in many adult cats, often throughout their whole lives.
Kittens, Kittens, Everywhere!  
While cats are not ‘adults’ until after a year old, they become sexually mature at a much younger age.  Typically, felines reach sexual maturity at about six months of age but it can happen even younger, at just four months!   Once they reach puberty, both male and female cats being to exhibit a slew of unfavorable behaviors and are able to reproduce.  They will even mate with their own siblings if given the chance, so getting your cats fixed as young as possible is ideal and safer for them in the long run.
Remember, all homeless pets are born because their parent was not spayed or neutered, and even newborn kittens are not exempt from being euthanized at shelters.  Some people feel that allowing their cat to have ‘just one litter‘ before being spayed is okay, so they can get to ‘experience’ the process.  However, even if you find good homes for every kitten your cat gives birth to, that means another one in a shelter won’t.  If you’re dying to see newborn kittens first hand, contact a local rescue and ask about fostering a pregnant or nursing mom.  You’ll get everything you’re longing for, without increasing the number of pets that don’t make it out of shelters alive.
Too Cute to Handle 
Come on, you know you want to foster a litter of kittens, right?  But do you know if you’re ready? Watch this video, and if you can handle the cute, you’re ready.   Behold, the power of kittens at play!

Best Rescues of 2013 from Pet Adoption Network

As we prepare for another busy and rewarding year of rescue, it is inspiring to look back at the rescues of 2013.  
Here are some of the most memorable stories:

Clive and Callum 

Callum & Clive, full of love.

Callum & Clive, full of love.

These one-and-a-half year old brothers came to us from a horrific situation: a mentally ill person had kept them confined in small pet carriers from the time they were very young. He had found them as babies living outside, and thought he was doing the right thing by taking them in.  Unfortunately, these sweet tabbies spent over a year with barely enough room to turn around, let alone the room to play, chase things, or stretch.  Although their hind quarters were weakened from lack of exercise, their spirits were strong.  Callum, long haired and regal, was immediately excited to play with new things, like feather wands, but Clive, sweet and gentle but coy, was afraid of toys at first and took a bit of time to find his light-hearted side. Both are friendly loving despite their struggles, and have recovered physically and been adopted. Humane Law Enforcement officers, local animal control and Pet Adoption Network volunteers participated in this rescue.

Bright-eyed Burlew (and his sisters, Chalice and Ambrosia) are all still looking for their furever families!

Bright-eyed Burlew (and his sister, Chalice) are all still looking for their furever families!

Burlew  A 9-week old copper-eyed, orange and white tabby named Burlew, and his siblings, were eating from a dumpster in Ciffwood Beach.  They were all captured in humane traps and taken in to one of our foster homes.  After a week or so, it was clear that Burlew had come down with a terrible virus – he stopped eating and would vomit immediately if force fed.  He quickly wasted away to nothing but bones and was extremely dehydrated. A trip to the vet confirmed our suspicions: there was no cure, no panacea for his condition.  His only chance was intense and round-the-clock supportive care to keep his body strong enough to fight this off.  His dedicated (and experienced) foster family gave him subcutaneous fluids three times a day to  stave off dehydration and force fed him in tiny amounts every hour or so to keep him from starving, in addition to administering antibiotics by injection.  Despite all the needles and discomfort, Burlew remained high-spirited and affectionate- a real survivor.  After more than a week of refusing food, he finally took a few tentative licks of wet food.  Everyone was overjoyed; this was the start of his recovery. Strong and healthy for months now, Burlew is still waiting for his forever home and someone to share a pillow with at night. (UPDATE: Burlew was adopted in February!)

Sunfish

This is what a silly, sweet Sunfish looks like!

This is what a silly, sweet Sunfish looks like!

In one of the areas where we do trap-neuter-return (TNR), there was a single elusive kitten that we were unable to catch.  For weeks we tried to trap or net her, but we could never get close enough to her because she had a really good hiding spot: an abandoned sailboat stored upside down  that was too heavy to lift or move by hand, and set on the ground in a way that made it extremely difficult to reach the cavity where she was hiding.  It’s likely that she was born in this very spot.  Finally- when she was old enough to start enjoying wet food, and we were exhausted from failed attempts- we lured her out and into a trap.  Success! And so the kitten was named Sunfish to remind her- and us- of her unique, nautical beginnings.

 

Always has his eyes on the sky!

Always has his eyes on the sky!

Teak  One March night, a Keansburg resident noticed a beautiful tabby cat high up in a tree- who would not (and likely could not) come down on his own.  After being turned down by the local fire department, the woman hired a tree-cutting service to rescue him!  Some PAN volunteers lived in the neighborhood and had gotten involved, and this is how the high-flying cat was brought into foster care with P.A.N that night, and named ‘Teak.’  His new adoptive family, including two sweet children, decided to rename him Tarzan. So appropriate and so adorable for this branch-swinging feline!

Doc & Flashlight 

Getting life-saving fluid therapy, too weak to move.  Then, after a full recovery.

Getting life-saving fluid therapy, too weak to move. Then, after a full recovery.

These two 3-month old tuxedos were found in a cardboard box in Red Bank on the hottest and most humid day of 2013. They were suffering from heat exhaustion, starvation and dehydration. They were lying in their own waste and circled by flies. We rushed them to one of our foster homes and discovered that the female was too weak to even stand, and her body temperature had dropped dangerously low (a sign that she was losing her battle for life). We gradually warmed her and then hooked her up to a bag of fluids. After she was treated, the male got his turn with the lifesaving fluids. Once they were properly hydrated, we offered these weak little souls some puréed food and they ate desperately. It had obviously been a good while since their last meal. It was another 24 hours before the female could get her legs under her, but within a few days the pair had their strength back and were putting on weight and starting to play. In spite of the fact that they were obviously mistreated and abandoned by humans, Doc and Flashlight, now about 8 months old, couldn’t be more cheerful and lovable (not to mention cute). They are both lap cats, and get along great with other cats and dogs, too! They are still waiting for a forever home. They do not need to be placed as a pair, as they will make new friends where ever they go.

Blaine

This past fall, during one of our usual Saturday adoption days, a man stopped in and asked if we would help him find a loving home for the 8-10 week old orange tabby he had been fostering for about two weeks.  Of course we said yes, and then we heard this baby’s incredible rescue: the man and a friend had been driving on route 35 one evening and saw something hovering on the top of the cement median.  They safely pulled over and ran out- it was indeed a kitten, a fiery orange tabby with one of the most boisterous, dare-devilish personalities Brave Blainewe’d ever seen. We thought Blaine, after the stunt artist, would be a fitting name.  What an incredible story! We won’t ever know how or why Blaine got to the median, but we are grateful that everyone worked together to save him.  He found a home the very first day he was shown at Petsmart.

Balthazar  Balthazar (who goes by many names, including Mr. Big and now Charlie) is a big, black, long-haired cat who was found living in a feral colony.  His appearance- ragged, scarred, beat up- had MrBigCollageearned him a reputation in the neighborhood as a tough and mean street-cat, but after he was captured and was recovering from his neutering surgery and his wounds, we discovered he was far from a tough guy.  Instead, he was a sweet and gentle giant who was most likely dumped there and was not fit for living such a tough life.  After some time and lots of TLC, his true look- gorgeous and regal- finally surfaced.  Balthazar had a wise, wizardlike sense about him, like he had seen more things than we could ever know.  Now he is living the luxurious life, one of sunbeams and comforters and windowsills.  His new mommy sends us regular photo updates on Facebook (which makes us happier than you could ever know!).

Fostering is for Everyone! Yes, you!

As the rescue mantra goes, “If you can’t adopt, foster.”   For many animal rescue organizations, fostering is the most important thing a person can do to help find homes for homeless pets.   In many ways, it is better than adopting because you save more lives over the course of a year than if you adopted.  By adopting, I have saved 6 cats over a 10 year period.  Over the same time, I have saved hundreds of cat and kittens as a foster mom.

So why are rescue groups always short on foster homes?  Because most potential fosters use the excuse ‘Oh no, I could never foster because I’d never give them up, or I’d be too upset if I did.’   Other reasons include not having the space, or not wanting to upset current pets.  Often money and time are concerns as well.   This post will tell you why you can and should foster.

Foster homes are an essential part of the rescue community. Without them, many rescue groups are forced to turn away homeless pets.

Foster homes are an essential part of the rescue community. Without them, many rescue groups are forced to turn away homeless pets.

Don’t be sad, you’re saving lives!

Sure, saying goodbye the first few times will be tough: its likely you will shed some tears. Maybe you won’t even want to be there when she goes home, but then again, perhaps you’ll want to be the one to drive her there.  Everyone deals with it differently, but the bottom line is this:  if you decide not to foster because you ‘can’t handle’ the goodbyes, that pet may not have a chance.  She may spend the rest of her life on the street, be euthanized alone and afraid, or abandoned because there are not enough foster homes .

So be strong, and keep the goal in mind: save more lives!  Get more pets adopted!  Once you get going, you’ll be addicted to the happy endings.  Besides, the sadness only lasts a short time because before you know it, you’ll get another adorable foster  and you’ll fall in love all over again.

A Small Space in your Home = A Large space in your heart

For those of you who don’t think you have enough room to foster, think again.  Only a handful of hardcore rescuers live in mansions; the rest of us live in small to moderately sized homes, some even in apartments, and simply make do with what we have.  For a cat whose life is in jeopardy, the space in your heart is worth more than the space in your home.

Our rescue suggests using a small room such as a bathroom or laundry room, but we also supply large dog crates for fostering as well.   A litter of young kittens, a pair of juveniles, or a single adult will do just fine in a large crate; they need your love more than they need the run of your house.

Small rooms are often better for fostering because it forces the animals to get used to interaction and being held, whereas cats with a whole house can easily evade handling or hide for days on end.  Plus, crates or separate rooms keep the fosters away from your current pets, which will help to keep the peace if your pets aren’t too thrilled about your new hobby.

Finding family in a rescue group

Feeling comfortable with a rescue’s volunteers and leaders is important if you want to have a pleasant experience.  Ideally, they should be a kind of support group to help you through the early emotions, celebrate your happy endings, and be on your side when making tough decisions.  Most adoption groups allow fosters to be involved in the adoption process from start to finish, and I would encourage this.    This gives you the opportunity to get to know and feel comfortable with the family that is adopting your foster, and will make parting with them much easier.   Familiarize yourself with the group’s approval/screening process, too.   Any reputable organization will have one.

Both cat rescue groups I work with (Pet Adoption Network & Fur Friends in Need) give the foster family the final say on whether or not a pet goes home with a certain family.  After all, fosters know the animal the best, and will have the most worthy insight on whether or not potential adopters are a good match or not.   If you would rather not (or don’t have time) to be so deeply involved, find a group whose leadership and adoption process you trust.  You provide the caring, cuddling, playing (and cleaning, too); they’ll take care of the rest.

Fostering: Eternally rewarding

Freckles Gazing

Freckles is going to be just fine!  Keeping him happy and healthy while he awaits his new home.

As I’m writing this, I’m sitting beside my foster, Freckles, a 1-year-old cow-print cat whose family loved him while he was a baby, but surrendered him as soon as he became a full grown cat.  Clearly, they didn’t understand the meaning of ‘furever.’  That happens.  Right now,  my role is to encourage Freckles to feel comfortable during the transition, help him to trust people again, and keep him happy and healthy until his real family comes along.  Basically, keep his spirits up, play with him, and love him when other people or circumstances have let him down.

He’s doing wonderfully: rubbing on my feet, crawling under my legs, and rolling over constantly.    It doesn’t get any better than knowing I’m part of the reason he is doing well, the reason he’s purring right now, the reason that his eyes- and mine- are filled with hope and happiness.

(UPDATE: Freckles was adopted in the fall of 2013 to a wonderful home that is a perfect match for him, definitely worth the wait!)