Congratulations to Jessica F., nominated and chosen as the October 2020 Volunteer of the Month. Volunteering as a foster home for shelter animals is a family affair for Jessica, her husband, Andy, and twin daughters, Elle and Liv.
In 2018, Jessica F. and her family had reached a pivotal moment for their companion animals. They wanted another pet to join their two dogs and two cats, but they weren’t quite ready to commit to a permanent member of the menagerie. A friend of the family volunteered at Multnomah County Animal Services (MCAS), and upon learning of their predicament, helpfully suggested fostering as an alternative to adoption.
During Spring Break, Jessica took advantage of her time away from teaching grade school, and attended a volunteer information session to learn the basics of volunteering, set expectations, and sign up to foster.
About a month later, the foster coordinator called with a request to foster three young kittens. They were about four weeks old, and had been bottle-fed by another foster volunteer. The strategy is that experienced bottle-baby volunteers care for kittens until they’re weaned, and then pass them along to foster homes that can care for them until they’re ready for their spay or neuter surgery and adoption.
Jessica readily admits that the first foster kittens were the hardest, and she wasn’t sure if she could do it again. After taking the plunge into fostering a second group of kittens, she discovered that the major challenges of the process had already been sussed out, she had found a rhythm, and it was a lot easier.
Tricks of the Trade
Jessica and her family love to foster mama cats with kittens, often taking on the mama cat to foster before the kittens are born. It’s the best scenario in terms of feeding and cleaning the kittens, because mama takes care of most of it.
For those interested in fostering kittens, Jessica recommends keeping all your feeding and cleaning supplies close by where the kittens are kept. Try to confine them to a small designated area while they’re young to keep track of them and minimize your cleaning footprint. You won’t believe the mess a tiny kitten can make!
For her designated kitten area, Jessica keeps a six foot by six foot gated dog run in the basement, with cement floors for easy clean up. They have a cat tree, toys, and plenty of spare bedding, with loads of laundry moving at all times.
For feeding bottle babies, foster volunteers have a feeding schedule, so they know how much milk to give at all times. Jessica likes to keep bottles of milk in the fridge, ready to warm up when needed.
“There are times when I’m getting tired, and fostering feels so hard and so overwhelming,” Jessica says. “You may think you can’t do it, but you can, and it gets easier. It’s one of those things where it’s not addicting, but once it's over, it's not as hard as you think it is, and you feel a great sense of accomplishment for how you’ve cared for them.”
“Some things do get harder over time,” she adds. “What’s hard is that not every animal survives, mostly the young kittens who fail to thrive. I knew that going into it, but it never gets easier when you lose one. Giving them up for adoption can also be really hard. A lot of fosters will adopt from the first batch- but don’t. You feel sad, but it feels alright because they’re going to a good home, and you’ll still have the capacity to foster other animals. You may tell yourself you’ll never love the next foster animals the same, but you always do.”
Fostering as a Family Affair
Jessica has lots of help from her family to care for foster pets. Her husband, Andy, works close-by and sometimes comes home for lunch and to help out. Her parents also stop in to lend a hand, or to help bring the kittens in for checkups with a veterinarian. Twin daughters Elle and Liv each take a kitten to bed, to socialize and give them individualized attention. The neighbor kids come over to visit with the kittens, and sometimes Jessica’s class of third graders help out too.
Some of the best helpers in the family are the other animals. The kittens follow the dogs, Sissy. Boo, and Rascal, all around the house. They play chase together. The dogs clean their messy faces after they eat, and nudge the kittens into bed with them to snuggle. It’s great for her pets, and great for the foster animals. Every kitten that comes to the house gets socialized by all different sizes of dogs, cats, adults and children. It helps make them more resilient in their adoptive home.
Jessica kept rabbits growing up, and has recently started fostering rabbits. They even play with the rest of the dogs, cats, and kittens. Sometimes all the animals are gated in the kitchen, and they chase each other, or just lie down together.
While Jessica only recently started adopting foster pets from her home, she has always sought out friends and neighbors to adopt her foster animals, whether they went back to MCAS or were transferred to community adoption partners like Oregon Humane Society and Cat Adoption Team. It’s her favorite thing, because it often means that foster pets can come back to visit in the future, or she can see photos as they grow up. Jessica’s neighbors watched kittens being born at her house, and later adopted them.
“it’s hard to give them up,” Jessica says, “but just knowing someone is getting a great pet makes me feel good.”
Support Around the Clock
Nothing creates strong trust and bonds quite like helping to save a life in the middle of the night. Jessica has been up many a night with a kitten in distress, not eating, and with troubling vital signs. She’s grateful for the staff and other volunteers who have helped in those times.
“Jackie V. is the biggest support for kittens,” Jessica says. “I know I can call or text day or night with any questions, and she’ll help. If I’m worried about a kitten, I can bring them in and Jackie will watch them. I’ve learned so much from her. I’m grateful to Sue, Roberta, and all the other vet techs at the shelter when I show up at 6 am with a kitten I’ve been worried about. I’m always confident that I can find someone to help me.”
“Jessica is wonderful to work with,” says Jodi L., MCAS Foster Coordinator. “She is easy to communicate with, and punctual on the needs of her foster animals. Jessica is always willing to help us out in any way she can and never hesitates on asking questions if she is unsure about something. Whether it's kittens or bunnies, Jessica is a top notch foster parent in every aspect!”
In the safe refuge of her home, surrounded by a caring family of volunteers, many lives have been raised and saved under Jessica’s careful watch. The impact of foster volunteers like Jessica cannot be overstated.
Thank you, Jessica, for your volunteer service to the pets and people of Multnomah County.