Fostering these kittens is a wonderful experience, and I’m grateful for the opportunity. It’s also been fraught with frustrations but not from the kittens: communications with the shelter have been sketchy from the start, supplies inadequate, and there was an unfortunate visit with the foster coordinator last week that traumatized at least three out of four of us.
Three people told me three different ages for them. The person who called said they were two-and-a-half to three weeks old, one maybe older. They had been brought in that morning by a person who “picked them up from a place where there were a lot of cats.” They needed to be placed that night. I was excited to take them. I’ve hand-raised baby parrots, but always wanted to bottle-feed something and was happy to help out.
The woman who delivered them to me in the Safeway parking lot, about halfway between the shelter and my home, said the black one was already spoken for and named Smokey. She gave me the name and number of the woman who had brought them in and said she’d like some updates. She also gave me one can of powdered formula, a small bag of kitten food cans, a heating disc, a package of one bottle and several nipples, and some cursory verbal instructions. When I asked again how many weeks old they were, she said “three-ish.” Later the foster coordinator told me they were listed as four weeks old at that time.
It seemed like it would be easy enough. Mix the formula, warm it, and give them the bottle. It wasn’t that easy. For five days, they failed to ‘latch’ onto the nipple, and feeding was cumbersome, messy, and insufficient. That first night I searched online and found the Kitten Lady videos, learned what was supposed to happen, and also learned about the ‘miracle nipple.’ The next day I let the foster coordinator (FC) know they weren’t eating well, and he suggested I look up the Kitten Lady. It occurred to me then that it would have been helpful if they had arrived into my naive, first-time foster care with an instruction sheet and a link to the Kitten Lady. By then I knew I would be back in Junction on Monday to meet the potential new dog, so I arranged to bring the kittens in for a lesson in bottle feeding. He mentioned then that he had these great miracle nipples that might help. Why, I wondered, had he not sent the miracle nipples along in the first place?
Then I learned that the woman who found them and claimed Smokey has an email address at the shelter. If she worked there and wanted the kitten, why did she send it out to be raised? A small question, and I’m sure she had her reasons. But then why so vague about the kittens’ provenance?
After a couple of days I advanced the largest kitten onto a slurry of the canned paté and formula in a bowl, feeding him in a tall cardboard box, and he ate well. Smokey progressed to the slurry after a few days, but Tigger ate very little and had liquid poop, a big no-no according to the Kitten Lady. At one point all the kittens had loose stools.
We took the kittens to the shelter on Monday, and after coming and going from the room several times the FC finally set us up with a bowl of food for the older kittens–a large bowl full of adult-size cat food shreds, ¾” long by ⅛” wide, that both Pitbull and Smokey dove into. All the way, face first. It didn’t seem right to me, but I figured, hey, he’s the foster coordinator, he must know that’ll be ok for them. Stupid me.
Then he gave me a lesson on bottle-feeding Tigger, during which he did everything the Kitten Lady had expressly said not to do, including forcing the nipple into the mouth, and turning the kitten onto its back to feed it. I said, “Here, let me try,” and took Tigger back, holding him gently and offering the nipple.
I asked again, to clarify, whether they were supposed to supply everything I needed to foster. Yes, absolutely everything, was the answer. “I’ll need some more canned food,” I said, and proceeded to list the remaining obvious supplies: wipes, litter, more formula mix. Resupply had been part of the plan we’d agreed upon, and I was surprised that I had to specify everything I’d need, and that it wasn’t already boxed up for us. I mentioned that I live 90 miles away and wouldn’t be able to come back for more. FC left the room again to gather supplies. In short order the tiny kitten began to suck. How wonderful it would have been to have had the miracle nipples for the first five days of fostering, instead of the unwieldy puppy nipples that came. Meanwhile, Pitbull and Smokey in the crate got covered in goo from the food.
When Tigger was done feeding, I handed Smokey, who was a mess, to FC to wipe down while I cleaned Pitbull. There was a box of wipes on the table, but FC struggled to open the new, sealed box he had brought for me, until I pointed out there was an open box right there. Then FC took Smokey across the room and held him over the garbage can as he cleaned him, kitten screaming, while I wiped down Pitbull. When Smokey was returned to me bedraggled and limp, he was still goopy, so I gently wiped him down again.
FC had set a small bag of litter, a sack of canned food, and an opened half-can of formula (“this should be enough”) on the table. Once the kittens were back in the crate, I said I’d need some help getting stuff to the car. “Oh. Sure,” he said, and gathered the supplies into his hands. After we left, it struck me that everything about his attitude and actions suggested he was stoned.
Smokey was still wet and limp when we got home. I dried and cuddled him. Over the next 48 hours he ate less and less, his little belly bloated. Monday night I discovered that the entire bag of canned food was adult cat food, not kitten paté. I texted FC to ask if they could ship me some kitten food or reimburse me for buying some, since kittens have different nutritional needs than adults. FC responded with, “Oh my goodness, I’m sorry, I didn’t look close enough but it was in the kitten section!!” He said he’d look into options. Three days later he got back to me, saying he still didn’t know about reimbursing or shipping, but that the adult food should be fine. Not on my watch. Meanwhile, I’d already asked a friend to pick up some kitten food while she was in town.
On Tuesday I put Smokey back on the bottle instead of offering slurry. By Wednesday afternoon he had become listless and quit moving. I thought he was going to die, and planned to take him to the vet on Thursday morning. That evening I gave him a warm soak in the tub, then held him and rubbed his belly for awhile, thinking maybe one of those shreds had gotten impacted or I don’t know what. It was an anxious night, but I was delighted in the morning to see him romping again with his brothers.
It’s Monday again. I ran out of litter yesterday, and formula this morning. Wipes will be gone tomorrow. It’ll be almost three weeks until they reach the alleged two month age at which I supposedly relinquish them back to the shelter. Tigger has gained only 10g in 10 days, about a tenth of what he should have. After his setback, Smokey is eating well and gaining weight again after losing for three days. FC has responded vaguely and slowly to my missives, saying he can’t guarantee that they’ll reimburse me for the cost of the supplies I’ve ordered, and that I’ll need to bring Tigger to a vet in Junction because they don’t have one in Delta. A local vet provided enough formula today to tide us over until the can I ordered arrives Thursday. Litter and wipes are on the way. I’m taking Tigger to a closer vet on Thursday and will pay the bill myself, since I intend to keep him.
I understand that all shelters are overrun and understaffed these days, but I am disillusioned with this unprofessional, slacker approach from an organization that had a good reputation and relies on volunteers. There are a few other annoying details, but I’ve gone on long enough. It’s been a joy to tend to these kittens, and a headache to deal with the logistics. A couple of four hour sleeps each night and a nap or two each day, and my mindfulness practice is in tatters. I’ve alienated a friend with my impatience, and let my best self down. I won’t be fostering for this shelter again, for sure, and I doubt I’ll foster anything ever again anyway, since I’m what they call a “foster fail”: I’m going to keep both the tabby kittens, giant little Pitbull and tiny sweet Tigger. After the time, energy, affection, and money I’ve invested, just let that FC try and take them away from me!