About a week into fostering a kitty from the Marathon campus of the FKSPCA, I realized two things:
One, why haven’t we done this before?
And, two, summertime is the perfect time to foster. That’s because our tweens and teens are home for the summer and easily convinced (who wouldn’t be?) into caring for the animal.
It all started innocently enough, no matter what my husband says. I had stopped by to see shelter director Tara McFarland about three weeks ago on some FKSPCA business. As usual, she was calmly doing 73 things at once, including syringe feeding a tiny kitten — seriously tiny, palm-of-your-hand tiny.
Tara, of course, noticed the sideways glances I kept giving the kitty. Boldly, she asked, “Do you want to foster?” Umm … well … yes. Yes, I did.
And by “I,” I meant my 16-year-old daughter, Rachel. She came to the shelter the next day, armed with a list of questions and ready to take on the baby cat with brown and gray stripes. (She cleared the biggest hurdle the night before with a well-rehearsed script delivered expertly, designed to melt her father’s heart in .02 seconds. It was a cinch, because he never denies her anything and if she was, perhaps, coached a little bit … no one needs to repeat that to my husband who understands the family dynamic pretty thoroughly.)
The little cat proved to be a very fast learner — eating by herself in a day, and learning the ins and outs of the litter box in the first week. And Rachel handles the food, the water, the potty. She gives the kitty plenty of time to explore, and was ready to scoop up the kitty when she strayed too close to the two bigger, wary cats already in residence at Cattery de Matthis. (The once-strained relationship between the kitty and the dominant cat is mostly resolved. This morning, we caught the two playing but when the big one noticed this, he nonchalantly walked away in that typical independent, arrogant way of the American House Cat. I swear the switches of his tale spelled out “Whatever!”) Rachel has done an excellent job of caring for the little girl kitty and then snugging her up in a secure space when it’s time to work out, volunteer or go to work at Sweet Savannah’s.
And it’s those moments I crave. Playing with the kitty when no one else is home, when I can have her to myself, is like sneaking chocolate when you’re on a diet. I lie on the terrazzo floor and let her climb all over me, or play a game of foot tag where the kitty courageously darts out from under the coffee table to attack my toes. Sometimes we snuggle nose-to-nose and I virtuously tell myself this is as good as, or better than, the meditation all the self-help gurus are yammering about right now.
I’m writing this not to rub my good fortune in your face, but to tell you the shelter is full of cats that need some extra loving. Forgotten Felines, a separate organization that regularly partners with the shelter, also finds homes for the Middle Keys’ homeless cats. There are young cats, old cats, friendly cats, snooty cats and some that desperately need the socialization that can only be provided by a persistent kid that’s bored senseless until school starts again.
Of course, the Matthis family is a foster failure. Yes, we’re keeping her. Of course, we’re keeping her. Her name* is “Ellie,” named after Eleven of Netflix’s “Stranger Things.” Naming rights were Rachel’s, which is only fair.