Jacki Murphy

Half-Heartedly Trying to be Famous on the Internet Since 1999

The Heartbreak of Fostering Animals

You grow up loving animals. When your dad takes you fishing as a little kid up in New Hampshire, you scoop them up and hold them in your tiny hands and talk to them before you toss them gently back into Winnisquam Lake. When you forget to feed the family goldfish one day - one day out of months of faithful feeding - and one fish dies a few weeks later, you confess that your "neglect" was the cause of death.

When you're 12 your neighbor gives you two baby rabbits. A couple years later your family gets a dog, which quickly becomes two dogs, and then three. Your youngest brother has a series of hamsters, and there's even a parakeet for a while. Your household is a happy, animal-loving place.

Then you go to college, where there are absolutely no dogs allowed in dorm rooms. Then you spend a year abroad. And then you live at sea for six long years. So after a childhood of growing up in a veritable menagerie, you find yourself petless for over a decade.

You live in an apartment now. An apartment in a pet-friendly complex. It's the perfect time to have a pet. But - you think to yourself - it's been so long. You never really took care of those animals when you were a kid - that was all your dad. Sure, you fed the fish and gave treats to the rabbits and took the dogs out for walks, but the real work? That wasn't you. Maybe you aren't cut out to own an animal. Maybe you won't like it.

Have you thought about fostering?, someone asks. To be honest, it's not something you are very familiar with. But you go to the orientation at the local shelter, and it sounds like something you'd enjoy. Animals that are a bit too young to be adopted, or need a few days of medication, or need to be removed from the shelter for a bit. No long-term commitment. Just an animal that you get to love for a couple weeks.

First is Sparky. Sparky was a 5-year-old terrier mix with a case of canine infectious tracheobronchitis - kennel cough. You can barely tell he's sick, though. He loves to go for walks, and to play, and to snuggle on the couch. He's sweet, and well-behaved, and you are excited to have him for 10 days.

Day 7 rolls around, though, and Sparky isn't himself. He won't eat, he doesn't want to get up, and he has pooped all over your apartment overnight. He should be better, you think, and you panic. You take him back to the shelter, because you can't handle it by yourself, and you feel like a failure. You write to the shelter a few days later to find out if he's doing okay, but nobody ever replies.

A few weeks later you decide to try again. Lisa and Marie - 6-week-old kittens, eating on their own, just need a place to hang out for two weeks until they are old enough to be adopted. You can tell right away that Marie isn't okay, though. She's lethargic, and she won't eat. It's already late, though, and the shelter is closed. They had just been seen by a vet before you took them home. Maybe they just ate, you tell yourself. She had a long day. But at 3:30am she wakes you up crying. You put her up on the bed with you, you try to get her to eat something. Drink something. But she won't. She cries for a minute, and then she's gone. Your first ever foster kitten, dead in your lap.

You still have Lisa, though. A perfect joy of a kitten. She runs and plays and snuggles and brings you five days of complete and utter delight. But then she starts to get sick, too. She's lethargic, not eating quite so much, lots of diarrhea. You take her to the clinic at the shelter and they say it's coccidia, a parasite, and give you some medicine. It doesn't help. The diarrhea is out of control. There's no suitable place in your small apartment to confine her and so again, panicking, you take her back to the shelter. Tell me when she's better, you insist. I'll take her back again.

You email a couple times, asking how she is. There's no reply. You hope that she's fine, that the shelter is just busy - maybe she's even been adopted! But then an email finally comes. Turns out it wasn't just coccidia - it was feline panleukopenia. A death sentence for a kitten that young. She was suffering, and she had been euthanized.

At this point, it has got to be you. You are 0 and 3 for fostering animals. Clearly you just aren't meant to have them. Can't even entertain the idea of adopting someone now - you can't even keep a foster alive. And this is devastating. You know rationally that these were feral strays, you did the best you could, but deep down? You're terrified. Terrified that the animals you love so much just die under your care.

Will you try fostering again?

You hope so.

Tags: foster . animals . my life
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