Sunday, March 29, 2015

Cat Fostering: Best Practices

First of all, thank you for your service to the world and to animals!  If you have never owned a pet before, this is a great way to start, to gain experience without making the life-long commitment yet also experiencing the same joys that many long term pet owners get.  Many animal shelters are saturated with animals, and they need as much help as they can get. This is a great way to get involved in your community, give exposure to animals to what it's like living in a loving home, and ultimately being part of the process in giving permanent homes to many animals.

Bringing your first foster animal home for the first time can be exciting.  Or at least it is always for me.  It's the start to a new friendship, that on that first day, you really have no idea what's in store.  This can be both intimidating yet intriguing.

Tip number 1:
Be prepared before the animal enters your house.  If you are limited on a budget, then don't worry about these things, the things you get along with the animal should be enough to take care of the animal, these extras are just basically help the animal feel a little more comfortable a little faster.

Items that can help to have in your home:
1- Cat treats: Although many cats arriving to a new place are too nervous to want food, it's at least a good way to show your cat that you doing the best you can to make him or her feel more comfortable.
2-Canned cat food: At the shelter they are fed dry food, which is fine, and feeding them dry at home will most likely make the transition easier for them anyway. However having canned food on hand will be helpful if the cat you have brought home is mostly avoiding food.  The canned food definitely has a stronger lure on the animal and may help in getting them to eat.  
3- Leash and halter: These things are definitely not necessary, but I like to use them to see how comfortable the cat is being outside, without the risk of the cat running away.  Although the cats so far I've watched have been moderately scared of the outdoors.  The leash can also double as a cat toy, to drag around the house :)
4-Wide cat tray, clumping clay kitty litter -- the shelter may or may not provide this, the first cat that I fostered, for some reason wasn't too fond of the kitty litter box I got from the shelter.  So by my 2nd cat I made sure that I followed the best practices to see if it would make a difference.  Basically cats typically prefer the clumping clay kitty litter, I was too excited when I saw wheat and corn based kitty litter but the reality is my cats began using them as beds or eating it.. they didn't realize it was a toilet!  I think if you get a kitten it would be easy to train on anything, but if you are getting a cat from a shelter, make sure you find out what kind of kitty litter they are using, and try not to veer from that.  Cats a super particular about where they go and if things change too much on them, they are capable of peeing in inappropriate places.  Having a big tray, can also make a cat feel more invited to go inside of the kitty litter box, uncovered is typically preferred as well.
5- Scratch post or layers of corrugated cardboard equipped with catnip. Cats typically really enjoy this. Entering a new home, it's impossible to know what they may like to scratch, this will help get their clawing tendencies out on something they are supposed to, to help save your furniture.

Tip Number 2:
Set a room or portion of your house designated for your cat. This will be the place your cat can go when you are out of the house, and at night. You will be able to put the cat's bed in here, along with kitty litter and food and water. Make sure you keep the food and water and the kitty litter on opposite sides of the room.  Cats don't like to go the the bathroom in the vicinity of their food.  And they may instead choose to hold it, or stop eating/drinking.  If you know they are potty trained it could be a room where there is carpet, however if you are unsure, it could be a bathroom or maybe even an organized storage room.

Tip Number 3:
Just like when  guest enters your house and you welcome them and pay attention to them, your cat needs similar treatment.  Coming to a brand new place can be scary.  It's good to help them feel that you are taking care of them, and they will be okay. They need lots of reassurance, we may or may not know their stories or backgrounds but they could be from abusive homes or were neglected, or just from the streets.  Don't assume that the cat will feel comfortable in its own time, you need to go out of your way in the beginning to attempt to pet the cat, play with the cat, talk to the cat.  This will open the cat up so it feels more comfortable in this new place.  Chances are, your cat will remain in the carrier box, or find a really good hiding place straight away, or continue to find hiding places the whole while. This is perfectly normal behavior, but don't forget about them. These animals not only need food, water and shelter, but also human contact to help them feel more comfortable.  Coax them out of hiding with a toy or a gentle hand.  Don't expect them to be super cuddly at first, or want to be held or carried. they typically don't in the beginning. They take their own time as to what they are comfortable with.

If you are away from multiple hours, try to spend at least 15 minutes of quality time with them in a place in the house they are most comfortable.  Pet them, and try to play with them.  Sometimes if they don't get this attention to begin with they will take much longer to adjust.  As you give them attention you might notice that suddenly they will go for food, or maybe they will feel comfortable to go to the litter box. Reinforce this behavior, by staying still or letting them know they are doing a good job. It sounds weird, but sometimes they will start to do a behavior, and they are waiting for you to tell them it's okay or not.  Mostly these animals, just love having you around and love getting attention.

Tip Number 4:
Make sure your actions are slow and steady. This way to limit the chances that the cat will want to go into hiding.

Tip Number 5:
Keep doors closed that are off limits to the cat, over time they may be allowed into all rooms, but to begin with, it's good to keep bedroom doors closed, to keep the cats out of personal belongings and perhaps even accidents that could happen. This is really important because as you and the cat are learning each other, rules are also being learned, and opening up the entire house at once can end in a really bad situation for everyone if the cat does something its not supposed to.  Until trust has been earned, a cat be limited in its access to different areas of the house.

Tip Number 6:
Keep the litter box as clean as possible.  Just a good practice to have to make sure the cat knows you are taking care of them, and keeping them in a sanitary place.

Tip Number 7:
Enjoy the time you have with them, take lots of pictures, videos and write about the animals. These are all very valuable feedback to your local animal shelter and really helps these animals get adopted to their final homes :)

Animal rights and Sustainability

So many of our systems largely depend on animals, and this has created many negative repercussions.
1- We treat living beings as machines, their food and shelter are inputs, and their body parts and secretions are outputs. Our educational programs are about optimizing and cheapening the inputs for more and more 'efficient' and commodified outputs.

2- Destruction of our ecosphere.  Depending on organisms further up the food chain, makes us less efficient in our use of planet earth.  Is the biggest contributor to global warming, ocean dead zones, ground water pollution, soil compaction, destruction of rain forest.

3- Animals without homes, sentient living beings with personalities, emotions, wants and needs, treated as objects, tortured, killed, contained, and homeless.

Something that can significantly help in our wrongs we have committed to the planet and fellow beings is being vegan.  Choosing to refrain from eating and using sentient beings and higher trophic organisms, for any purpose.

But just as the human family has done many atrocious things over the years, merely 'stopping' doing something, isn't always enough. we need to take an active effort in undoing and fixing what has been wronged.

For example, merely ending slavery for African Americans living in the USA, although an important step isn't enough. Support is needed to help balance the power/control/patterns that had been created for so many years.  Active involvement and participation needs to be taken on all levels to adequately provide buffers to subjugated peoples, in order to level the playing the field.

Basically we need to take responsibility for the wrongs that have been committed and do whatever we can in our power to not only stop the actions that subjugate, but also support to the extent that is beneficial and distributes equality among all living beings.

So in taking these animals off of our plates, out of our clothes and household products. As far as possible each of us, needs to take consideration how we can further support equality for animals.

Sustainability is important, and to me sustainability includes how we can care for all of our current living being adequately.  This doesn't mean to live lavishly, but to reduce our own consumption as much as possible and share our resources as much as possible with those without power to obtain resources, or those with little power.

This means to donate as much as possible to worthy causes. Ideally causes that address multiple key issues at once.

For example, Sadhana Forest, is a vegan community who also delves into local food, water and sustainability issues.  In Kenya, they work with communities in helping them plant and maintain trees, become more food sovereign, raise ground water, provide alternative energy to the community.  Several issues are being tackled at once, these are awesome programs to support.

Also contributing to wildlife reserves, to help pay for security guards, wildlife rangers, etc.
In supporting locals to protect the area and support wildlife aids local communities by all of the services provided by wildlife -- rainwater capture and filtration, medicine, food, etc.

Contributing to organizations working in animal rights, Animal Defenders International, who work in several countries rescuing and lobbying against animals kept in abusive situations, zoos and circuses.
Animal rights organizations, and all and any type of animal sanctuaries, where abused and neglected animals have the ability to live out the rest of their lives in peace.

There are other ways to contribute, when cash is low or you just want to do something more.

Organizing vegan meetups, establish a community in your area.  Hold pot lucks, host vegan videos to share the message, contact restaurants on vegan options.

Another way to support animals is to stop buying animal breeds. This one often is not spoken about enough, especially among people who adamantly 'love' animals.  Cat and dog breeding only adds to the 7-8 millions of abandoned pets every year, and that's only in the USA.

We need to be more responsible with the way we think about animals.  They are not objects, they are not status symbols, they are sentient beings with their own personalities.

The best thing we can do for animals is to adopt from animal shelters.  And if you are fond of a particular breed, many times those breeds end up in shelters, may take a bit of scouting, but you will probably find what you are looking for.

Consider adopting an older animal.  Babies are usually the first to get adopted out.  But animals of all ages need home and love.

If your lifestyle is such that adopting an animal is out of the question, consider fostering an animal for or a week or two when you can.  You will learn the joys of having animals around, and you can also see just how supportive that action is for your local animal shelter.  Many animals in shelters just don't get the personalized attention that they need.  And is really crucial that they learn to become social and used to households, it really increases their chances of being  adopted out, especially as the shelter can learn more about their personalities through you!

It may seem weird to have the animals for a short amount of time, but as a community, I envision that our society can collectively take responsibility for the pain and suffering we've inflicted on animals for so many years, and open up our homes to either permanently or temporarily care for animals.  I think it's the least we can do as a community to help the situation.