Foster parents: the heroes of pet rescue #RememberMeThursday

Until I wrote about cats, I wasn't aware of the people who foster cats in their homes. I quickly learned that the job of a cat foster parent goes so much further than a safe environment, food, and attention. Foster cat parents prepare cats to find their forever homes.

Without cat foster parents, more cats would die to relieve overcrowding at shelters, kittens might not receive the individualized attention socialization requires, cats with special needs might not receive the care they need to prepare for a forever home, and many cats would not experience the quiet, safe environment away from noisy and scary shelters to show their true personalities. All of these tasks, performed by remarkable men and women with dedication to their foster cats and their well-being, mean that each adopted cat has the best chance at finding their happily ever after. And that means fewer orphan pets waiting for forever homes! On Remember Me Thursday, we celebrate foster parents, the heroes of pet rescue, who give orphan pets the best chance of being adopted to forever homes.

Disclosure: We received a box of Remember Me Thursday-themed goodies from the Helen Woodward Animal Center (HWAC) in exchange for spreading the word about Remember Me Thursday and pet adoption. Momma Kat and Her Bear Cat only shares information and content relevant and of interest to our readers. HWAC is not responsible for the content of this post.

What cat foster parents do

Cat foster parents provide a temporary, safe, and nurturing environment for kittens, pregnant cats, cats recovering from illness, surgery, or trauma, or those needing extra socialization or attention. Their goal, driven by their love of cats, is for their foster cats to find permanent and loving homes. Foster parents do this by providing care and observing and learning about their fosters to help them get adopted and problem-solve potential issues. Fostering bridges between rescue and a cat's forever home to prepare cats for adoption. Cat foster parents routinely provide care (food, environment, helping cats to adjust to a cat's changed circumstances), socialization, behavior/training (if negative behaviors are present), medical care, and assist the adoption process (taking pictures of cats, making notes of temperament, etc.).

Benefits of using cat foster parents

Holly Sizemore, chief mission officer of Best Friends Animal Society, tells Daily Paws that "foster homes are the single most important asset for saving lives and making sure pets aren't at risk of being euthanized." (Kelley, 2022). Foster homes open up more space and often relieve overcrowded shelters, where cats are otherwise euthanized due to a lack of room or resources (Buis, 2023). Because fewer cats are in a foster home than at a shelter, foster cats receive more individualized attention, extra care, socialization, or rehabilitation to prepare them for adoption.

Foster homes also provide a safe space for cats' true personalities to emerge outside the scary and noisy shelter environment (Kelley, 2022). A safe space allows each cat the time and room to come out of their shells. When foster cats show their true personalities, adoption rates increase because adopters observe how the cats will likely interact in their forever homes (Kelley, 2022). Seeing cats interact in a home environment might be especially important for cats with medical issues who experience exacerbated stress in a shelter (Kelley, 2022).

Lastly, many rescues do not maintain shelters for the cats in their care. Instead, they rely entirely on foster parents in their homes to shoulder the load of abandoned pets. These rescue organizations mean more cats receive help than fit in a shelter environment.

Process to become a cat foster parent

Many shelters, rescues, and animal welfare organizations run foster programs. The first step to becoming a foster parent is to find a local program; the steps and requirements for each organization will vary. But the general process includes: 

1) Understanding the requirements of fostering for a particular organization. 

Foster mom, Robyn Anderson, recommends asking the following questions before committing to a specific organization (in her words):

a. How long are you expected to keep the kittens or cats?
b. What medication will they need (and who provides it)?
c. Does the rescue provide food, litter, and other supplies?
d. Who do you contact if the cat or kitten is ill or there's another problem?
e. Will you be required to participate in the adoption process, or does the rescue take back the kitten at a certain age and handle that themselves?
f. Are there hard-and-fast rules about what you can and can't do, or is the organization there primarily for guidance?

Foster mom, Connie Smith, suggests working with a rescue organization that pays for the cats' expenses. An organization with a solid support system will also provide emergency contact information so you can reach someone overnight if there's an issue. Connie says, "Having a good support system" is vital to fostering success.

Foster mom, Christine Michaels, recommends signing an agreement with the rescue organization detailing the responsibilities of each party.

2) Application,

3) Training (care, behavior, basic medical care),

Foster mom, Mollie Hunt says, "The foster person should have a space in their house where they can spend time with the cat separate from other animals. They must be ready to learn how to give basic medications and understand illnesses. They must know cat body language because all cats are different, and sick ones can be sensitive."

4) Preparing your house for fosters (creating a calm, cat-proofed foster space and considering feline enrichment principles, like vertical space).

Foster mom Christine Michaels says it's essential to keep your foster cats and your pets separate until the foster cats have been vaccinated and examined by a veterinarian. While some foster parents integrate their fosters into the household, many other foster parents keep them separate.

5) Matching (the cats you foster based on preference, cat special needs, and skill level),

It's important to note that a foster parent always has a choice to take a cat or not.

6) Providing care,

7) Monitoring and reporting (including personality, pertinent information for adopters, and pictures to post on the organization's website).

Foster parents play a significant role in providing information to potential adopters. Latte and Ellie Mae have the same foster mom (at different times, four years apart): Linda. So, when she posted Latte to her page in 2021, we immediately fell in love. You can see how Linda sharing Latte's story helped her get adopted.

Traits of cat foster parents

Traits essential to cat foster parents include patience, love, and the commitment to the well-being of cats. A willingness to learn is also necessary because while you might understand the basics of cat care, you'll learn from your experience. This experience will help you deal with feline behavior issues, basic medical care, and understand the principles of a safe and enriched feline environment. You must also communicate effectively with your rescue organization to coordinate care – and perhaps with potential adopters to advocate for a cat's specific needs.

From an outsider's perspective, foster parents have strong emotional resilience. They do not get used to loss or adverse outcomes – they hurt and feel devastation like everyone else - but they have the emotional resources to keep going and help more cats. Cat foster parents put everything into their foster cats, every bit as much as a parent. I've also noticed that they tend not to celebrate their successes. There's always another cat somewhere who needs their help.

Challenges of being a cat foster parent

As one might expect, saying goodbye to one's fosters is difficult. According to my panel of foster parents, they focus on the other cats that need their help and will not get their help unless their fosters move on. Still, foster parents tend to bond with their fosters like they do with their own cats, and it is hard to let them go.

Most people think saying goodbye to one's fosters is the hardest part of fostering. But there are other challenging situations a foster parent might experience, including special or complex medical care requirements and behavioral challenges (litter box issues, aggression, shyness) that must be dealt with before adoption. Sometimes, cats struggle to adjust to a foster home and other cats; this is more likely in older cats than in kittens (Christine Michaels). All foster cases do not end well. Compassion fatigue and coping with adverse outcomes can be challenging.

Additionally, it's important to note that in most places of the country, there are too many cats and too few foster parents to care for all of those cats. Practices such as trap-neuter-return and return-to-field help reduce the cat population by ensuring cats are spayed and neutered. Spaying and neutering your cats is essential to managing the load to rescue organizations.

Foster mom Mollie Hunt says the biggest challenge for her in fostering cats is time. Mollie Hunt wishes her friends understood her commitment to her fosters and that sometimes she must stay home for them to get the care they need. It also limits her ability to travel and stay away from home overnight. That said, foster parents may plan vacations and take in fosters around that schedule.

Lastly, a foster parent must come to terms with being unable to save all cats. Not only are resources limited regarding how many cats a foster parent or rescue organization can take, but a foster parent can do everything "right," and foster cats and kittens may still die. Many foster parents who face these heartbreaking outcomes choose to focus on their wins and the cats they were able to help. As foster mom Connie Smith says, "Nothing soothes my soul faster than a purring kitten." She also reminds herself that her job is not to force cats to survive but to care for them until they don't need her anymore (either by being adopted or "when a kitten's body isn't compatible with growing up into adulthood.”)

Robyn Anderson deals with the heartbreaking aspects of being a cat foster parent by taking the time to grieve and then focusing on the next cats who need her. She doesn't forget the cats she's lost. To her, self-care is essential. Often, her favorite type of self-care is spending time with her foster cats.

Benefits of fostering cats

Besides the joys of cuddling cats, foster parents take satisfaction in preparing their fosters for successful (and permanent) adoptions. Foster mom Robyn Anderson mentions how addictive fostering is. "Watching kittens go from newborn to racing around like crazy things and watching sick kittens get better (and race around like crazy things) is wonderful to see. I honestly don't know what I'd do with my time if I weren't fostering." Mollie Hunt agrees and says, "When a cat first comes into foster, I always take a picture. They are often skinny or ratty looking, with drippy eyes and noses, taped wounds, or casts on limbs. Then they start getting better. Their coats improve, their eyes clear, and they lose that sick dullness, but most significantly, they begin to want to play. The first time my sweet foster cat goes after a wand feather or a catnip mousie is the best feeling ever!"

Some foster parents appreciate the flexibility that fostering offers. For example, a senior citizen might worry that a cat they adopt will outlive them. Fostering allows that person to enjoy the companionship of cats while providing flexibility in a short-term arrangement. For people who travel or work long hours during specific times of the year, fostering allows them to care for cats when possible.

Mollie Hunt says, "Fostering has been an incredible journey for me, which led me in directions I never imagined I would go. In my 17 years as a foster mom, I have cared for some sixty cats. I've learned so much about cats, their illnesses, behavior, moods, and spirits. I have saved lives the only way I know how, which makes me feel worthwhile."

Misconceptions of foster parents 

1) Fostering is always easy and fun.

While fostering includes cuddling with cats and kittens (and really, what could be better?), preparing cats and kittens for adoption can be hard work. Not all foster outcomes are positive: behavioral issues can be challenging, health problems occur, and the responsibilities to one's foster cats must be taken seriously. Of course, cuddling with cats and seeing cats move along to their forever homes is rewarding. But a foster parent's commitment to each foster cat's well-being is essential to weathering the challenging parts of the job. Robyn Anderson reminds us that fostering includes much more than cuddling cats; it includes cleaning, scooping litter boxes, feeding, monitoring, problem-solving issues with health and nutrition, and more.

2) Fostering involves only caring for kittens.

Many older cats need the individualized care of a foster home. Fostering includes providing a temporary home for older cats with medical or behavioral issues, who are pregnant, or who can't adapt to a shelter environment.

3) Foster parents want to keep all their fosters (or they are heartless for giving them away).

While "foster fails" occur, foster parents understand they are there to set their fosters up for success in forever homes. They don't love their fosters any less and bond with them like they do with their own cats. However, they realize that more cats need their help, which is only possible if their fosters move on. The goal of fostering is to say goodbye. Many foster parents love updates on their former fosters. Latte and Ellie Mae's foster mom reads our blog and enjoys seeing the cats thrive in their forever home.

As Connie Smith says, it hurts foster parents to hear people claim they couldn't be foster parents because they couldn't let cats go. It's not easy for foster parents to let cats go; foster parents are not heartless! They recognize that many other cats overwhelm shelters, and rescue organizations need their help. I've said that I couldn't let cats go. And it bothers me to hear how much that might've hurt someone else who tirelessly works and almost burns out, improving the lives of cats. Perhaps my perspective is wrong, and my thoughts about fostering shouldn't be about me.

4) Foster parents are only responsible for food, shelter, and love.

Sometimes, ensuring a cat's future in his forever home goes beyond basic food, shelter, and love. Many foster parents must help their fosters with socialization, training (using the litter box, etc.), medical care, and dealing with behavioral issues. In addition, many foster parents help their fosters get adopted (by noting their cats' personalities and unique needs and taking pictures for the rescue organization's website).

According to Connie Smith, when a foster parent invites you to visit her kittens, she's not just letting you play with kittens! The foster parent is helping to socialize the kittens so that they are introduced to different things, which makes their lives less fearful moving forward. Socialization is a big part of what foster parents do!

5) Foster parents are cat experts.

While this is undoubtedly true of many foster parents, these parents have learned what they know through fostering experience. They did not start out as experts. They were taught and "trained" by their fosters and assisted by the rescue organization they work for.

Open communication and a good working relationship with the rescue organization is essential. While some organizations require more oversight than others, rescue organizations should provide resources, guidance, training, and support to their foster parents.

6) Fostering is always short-term.

Foster parents keep their fosters as long as necessary to set them up for success when adopted. This extra time might address behavioral or health issues that might lead to a cat being returned after adoption. Remember, the foster cat parent's goal is to prepare them for successful and lasting adoption: some cats will need more time to get to the point that they are ready for adoption.

7) Foster parents can take any cat home.

Fostering is not a one-size-fits-all situation. Some cats require experience in specific behavioral or medical issues. A foster parent's resources in terms of time, space, and experience level also must be considered. And a foster parent always has the right to decline a specific cat.

8) Foster parents are stereotypical crazy-cat ladies.

Most foster parents are married, have a rich social life, and have interests outside of cats. The stereotype of a crazy cat lady doesn't hold, according to recent research. Research shows that cat people are not more depressed or anxious and do not have more interpersonal relationship issues than people with dogs or no pets (Parsons et al., 2019). Furthermore, a study done in 2017 showed that more millennial males share their lives with cats than millennial females (How The 'Crazy' Cat Lady Became One of Pop Culture's Most Enduring Sexist Tropes | KQED, 2021).

Connie Smith says, "Almost everyone who comes into my house is amazed I have seven+ cats (seven who live here and any random number of cats who are being fostered) because, in general, my house does not smell of cats, nor is there an abundance of cat hair, or whatever cat stereotype they expect to find. As completely sane cat people, we take care of our cat's needs and their refuse.  Why don't people expect the house of a dog person to smell like a wet dog or be covered in excrement, but they do for cats? (Smith, 2015)"

9) The time commitment to foster is enormous.

Each case is unique, but many cats sleep more than 16 hours daily (kittens sleep 18-20 hours daily!). So, spending an hour or two a day playing and interacting with one's fosters takes up a significant part of their waking hours. Of course, some cases require more care, like cats with medical issues or kittens requiring bottle-feeding. As a foster parent, you can choose not to accept these cases. That said, having a particular space for your fosters is essential. Considering the principles of feline enrichment is important: include vertical space, toys, and other things to keep your fosters engaged during the hours you aren't available.

However, fostering involves more than cuddling cats. Robyn Anderson says that a foster's job also includes monitoring, deworming, weighing, scooping litter boxes, cleaning, coordinating medical care, and appropriate nutrition, among other things. When scheduling your time as a foster parent, setting aside time to perform these additional tasks is essential.

Advice for adopters from foster parents

Foster mom, Connie Smith, wishes adopters would consider how to keep their cats happy. When adopters get a dog, they often buy hundreds of dollars in supplies; when a cat is adopted, people think all a cat needs is a litter box, a bed, and some toys. Cat owners seldom consider ways to enrich the lives of their cats.

Connie also recommends adopting a cat based on the cat's personality instead of looks or a single interaction. One of the great benefits of adopting a cat or kitten from a foster home is that the cat's personality is often better known. A foster parent can tell you about a cat's quirks and personality (high or low energy, aloof or in-your-face affectionate, etc.). If a cat's personality traits don't match what you're looking for, do not adopt that cat!

I know how hard walking away from a kitten I've fallen in love with is for me. Before we met Latte, I fell in love with a kitten named Napoleon. As much as I loved him, I realized his larger-than-life personality was not a good fit for our home. Ellie is 12 and would not have adapted well to an over-exuberant kitten. Additionally, as much as I loved Bear and his over-the-top personality, my life has changed, and another Bear would not fit into my current living situation.

Robyn Anderson wishes adopters would ask what food, litter, and toys a cat uses. Cats like routine, so keeping some aspects of their care the same can help them adapt to their new homes.

Mollie Hunt wishes people would keep their cats inside. Studies show indoor cats live longer than outdoor-only cats, but it also saves people the heartbreak of a missing cat (Animal Friends, 2020) (Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota, 2022).

How you can support foster parents

  • Foster.
Look for local rescue organizations accepting foster parents! Joining the team of foster parents helps reduce the overpopulation of cats requiring care. Unfortunately, according to Christine Michaels, monetary resources are much easier to come by than foster parents. The number of cats an organization can help is limited because they don't have the volunteers to foster them. Because of a lack of foster parents, Christine's organization, Riverfront Cats, could not continue to care for strays and abandoned cats.

For more information about fostering, check out:

  • Donate.
Donations to local rescue organizations may help cover the costs of foster programs. In addition, I've listed the organizations or wish lists of my panel of foster parents so you can donate directly.

  • Volunteer.
Volunteer to help at your local rescue organization! Many foster parents will also accept volunteers to help socialize their fosters. Encouraging cats to adapt to new people results in a better adoption outcome.

  • Thank the foster parents you know.
An encouraging word might help a foster parent keep going. As Connie Smith says, "People in rescue see the worst in the interactions of humans and companion animals. Being reminded of success stories can go a long way."

Robyn Anderson says, "Please be kind to your favorite foster parents and don't continually suggest that they keep a foster kitten. Saying goodbye (which makes room for the next litter) is the ultimate goal of fostering; it's hard enough to say goodbye without the added pressure of strangers insisting you need to keep them. I love them, I would love to keep them - but if I keep 'em all, I won't have room to take more."

  • Raise awareness and understanding of what foster parents do! 
Because what foster parents do is primarily out of the public eye, many people aren't aware of these heroes of the pet rescue world. Raising awareness of the benefits of fostering in animal rescue and the need for foster parents, the more people who will volunteer to foster.

Panel of foster parents for this article

Thank you to these fantastic foster moms who shared their expertise and experience with me to bring awareness to foster programs. They work tirelessly to transform the lives of the kittens and cats in their care.

  • Connie Smith
Wish list for her fosters:

  • Robyn Anderson
Forgotten Felines of Huntsville - they have an auction page, online auctions on Facebook 4 times a year, and regular raffles.
Chewy wish list for ffhsv.org

  • Christine Michaels
The title of this post is in her words.
Social media (Instagram and Facebook): Riverfrontcats

  • Mollie Hunt
Oregon Humane Society,
To find the complete story of Mollie's brush with foster fame, start here:


Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota (2022, October 26). Indoor Cats vs. Outdoor Cats. Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota.

Animal Friends. (2020, June 22). Cats live Longer, Healthier Lives Indoors - Animal Friends, Inc.

Buis, LeeAnna (2023). Foster Cats 101: Why you should consider fostering a cat. Preventive Vet.

Buis, LeeAnna (2022). Foster Cats 101: How to become a Foster Cat Guardian. Preventive Vet.

How the 'Crazy' Cat Lady Became One of Pop Culture's Most Enduring Sexist Tropes | KQED. (2021, February 8). KQED.

Kelley, T. L. (2022, March 14). Curious about how to foster a cat? An expert shares what you need to know. Daily Paws.

Parsons, C. E., LeBeau, R. T., Kringelbach, M. L., & Young, K. S. (2019). Pawsitively sad: pet-owners are more sensitive to negative emotion in animal distress vocalizations. Royal Society Open Science, 6(8), 181555.

Smith, Connie (2015). Why The Crazy part of Crazy Cat Lady Must End.

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© 2023 Momma Kat and Her Bear Cat - Written and Published by Katherine Kern. 
All text, pictures, images, and other content are original and copyright by Momma Kat and Her Bear Cat [K. Kern], 2015-2023. No content on Momma Kat and Her Bear Cat may be used without the owner's [K. Kern] written permission. If you see this post posted on a site that isn't Momma Kat and Her Bear Cat, please contact 

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  1. Kat this is a beautiful post. Thank you for the time and effort I know it took. Both Milky-way and Madi were SPCA kitties as are my Grandkitties, Frisco the Ginger and Mia the Tortie
    Hugs Cecilia

    1. I follow several different blogs of people who foster, and the difference they make is amazing!

  2. Oh such a wonderful post ~ you and the shelters, foster parents are all angel and I am grateful you ~ Xo

    I have a rescue doggie now and am ever grateful for him ~ he rescued me ~ Xo

    Wishing you good health, laughter and love in your days,
    A ShutterBug Explores,
    aka (A Creative Harbor)

    1. Hopefully, one day, I'll get to foster. I need my own home first!

  3. know it! The same goes for fostering dogs. We're trying to line up fosters for our new OES rescue. Not an easy task. Bless all fosters and may they all have great experiences saving the young and the older pets.

  4. latte and ellie, pleez ta tell yur mom thiz post rockz….and sew doez yur foster
    mom Linda….blessingz two her….we honest two cod dinna noe ewe both came
    frum de same foster mom….total lee awesum 💚💚💙💙🍀🍀🐟🐟

    1. We agree about Latte and Ellie Mae's foster mom, Linda! I can tell how much she loves them.

  5. I enjoyed your wonderful post and it's so true, fosters are amazing heroes. I could never do it, I couldn't say goodbye, but bless all of those who do such amazing jobs with the kitties in their care. Thanks for joining our Thankful Thursday Blog Hop!

  6. I couldn't possibly love this post more. Recently I've become very interested in fostering. Definitely something I want to do one day. THANK YOU for such an informative post.

    1. Hopefully, one day, I'll get to foster. I need my own home first! I think Latte would be okay with it ... Ellie?! She's the wildcard. Bear wouldn't have been okay with it.

  7. I admire all who foster. I am too selfish and would keep them all.

  8. I’ve always admired those who can foster. It’s not an easy job…but it is so rewarding.

    1. I hope to jump in some day when I have my own house (and don't rent).

  9. Bravo! We agree -- foster parents are some of the truest heroes of animal rescue. We are so grateful for -- and in awe of -- them. Thank you for shining the light, and for this wonderful article, Kat! XO

    1. It was an honor to hear first hand accounts from these wonderful foster moms!

  10. Such a great post. Foster pet parents are amazing!

  11. This is a wonderful and informative post. Foster parents are amazing people, and I know I couldn't do it. I could never give them up again.

  12. Sunny here, tortoishell foster fail at Dash Kitten. You nailed it Latte and Ellie (and mom) fosters are the lifeblood and the life for cats and kittens worldwide. A future award winning post I reckon (and mum agrees). Your friend Sunny.

    Sunny Dawson-Henderson, New Zealand

    1. Mollie prefers to use the term "foster success" and I tend to agree with her! Finding a forever home is a success!

  13. Excellent article. Fostering is a wonderful way to help animals!

  14. What a wonderful article about fostering! We would love to foster again. I found it harder to return the adults than I did the kittens. Which is probably why I ended up with two of our adult fosters becoming residents (aka the Jr. Associates)!

    1. Thank you! We love the Jr. Associates (perhaps it's time for a promotion?).

  15. Great post! I sometimes toy with the notion of being a foster parent to some wonderful kitties but I am afraid Amarula would not be amused!!

  16. Full of admiration for all the cat fosterers out there. What a difficult and worthwhile job they do.


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