I was a pro at it. I’d hop in the back of my mom’s typical suburban minivan, complete with stickers on the windows and those little movie players wrapped around the headrests; my eight year old body full of excitement and joy in response to what was to come. It took about ten minutes to get there, and when we did I broke into a big smile every time I saw the plastic dogs placed sporadically throughout the property. I’d jump out of the car and run inside, greeted by the stench of 100+ animals living in a confined area. Every now and then one dog would bark, which would start a competition of who-can-bark-the-loudest. My mom would always go to the front desk with my younger brother and I trailing behind her, anxious to hear the upcoming conversation go down.
“Do you guys have any kittens to foster?” my mom would ask. With eager eyes at the mere idea of fosterers, the front desk worker always replied, “We do! Are you looking for bottle babies, mom-and-litter, individuals…?” To which my mother would explain that she didn’t want mom-and-litter, because “we have a cat at home and sometimes they don’t get along, you know? And also, we prefer to not have bottle babies.” The worker would nod and check what kittens were available. She’d usually come back and tell us that they have litters of three/four/five kittens who need a good temporary home, and that they weren’t bottle-babies.
This time, however, it was different.
The desk worker came back and reported that they only had bottle babies-which my mother was very uncertain about. Bottle babies are a ton of work, and my mom’s time was already preoccupied with taking care of my brother and I, and managing a full time job. After much begging, and I’m talking a LOT of puppy-dog eyes and “please mommy, pleeeease?!”, we were headed back home with four two-week-old, bottle-fed kittens.
The kittens were tiny. They didn’t run and jump and play as much as the kittens we usually fostered, and one was extra small. My mom called it the ‘runt of the litter’, and it made its way into my house and my heart at the same time. I was always on the smaller side when it came to body size, so I instantly felt a true bond with this kitten. I vowed to love it, play with it, and protect it, most of all. This kitten was my pride and joy.
My family was with this kitten for six days before he passed away. I still remember the gentle touch of my mom’s hand rubbing my back comfortingly as I cried over the loss of the kitten. I had failed at keeping him safe. I’d failed at nurturing him, and I failed at protecting him. I couldn’t bear to look at his brothers and sisters, thinking I was the reason their brother died, when really, he was ill. Because he was the runt, his immune system wasn’t strong enough to fight his sickness off.
After some time had passed and healed the wound of his death, I began to realize some things. Prior to the kitten’s death, I looked at fostering as a way of having a bunch of baby animals to play with. Now, however, I realized that this wasn’t only beneficial to me, but even more so to the kittens-and the shelter. The kitten had died because he caught a cold in the shelter, which could’ve been prevented if he was placed in a clean, cold-free home sooner. While this doesn’t do anything to bring back the kitten, it did make me realize what I could do to help save shelter animals in the future. Fostering and opening your home to even just one animal can-and will-save its life. And what better feeling is there than feeling like a hero?