101 kittens: a foster story
At five years old, Sara Vincent found a tiny, starving kitten in her family’s barn. There were no signs of siblings and the momma cat was nowhere to be found. The little ball of fur was all alone. Sara’s mom tried to persuade her to leave the kitten alone, saying the fragile feline probably wouldn’t make it. But that simply was not an option in the young girl’s mind. She was determined to save the kitten’s life, even if she had to do it all on her own.
“I was just a little girl and she wouldn’t help me,” Sara recalls, looking back on her very first kitten caregiving experience. “So, I just got that kitten going, and Tinkerbell lived for years and years and years.”
There was something magical about seeing the tiny kitten grow up and blossom into a healthy, happy cat. It sparked a passion in Sara and there was no going back. From then on, she always had a cat or two in her life keeping her lap warm and her home full of purrs.
When she retired, Sara decided she wanted to spend every day doing what she had loved since she was five years old — playing with and caring for kittens. And living in Kanab, Utah, just south of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, gave her the perfect opportunity. There are always kittens needing somewhere safe and warm to stay until they’re old enough to be spayed or neutered and adopted. Best Friends provides all the necessary supplies, as well as medical care. And when the time comes, Best Friends places the kittens with new adopters. It’s a pretty good deal for cat lovers.
Sara signed up as a foster volunteer and in the three years since, she’s lovingly raised more than 100 kittens. In fact, she just celebrated No. 101 – and she’s already looking forward to the next litter.
A kitten routine
“I’ve had just about every batch combination I can think of,” Sara says. “I’ve had everything from one little single (he was pretty hard, because he’d never played with other kittens) all the way up to a momma with seven babies who were just real tiny."
The foster kitten routine at Sara’s house is now a familiar one. She has her large laundry room all set up for new arrivals, and every kitten gets a refreshing bath to start the stay off right. “It’s surprising,” she says with a laugh, “(but) kittens love to be bathed.”
Once clean and dry, kittens have their pick of beds and blankets. (Everyone ends up with a favorite, Sara says.) And the tub full of toys quickly gets dug through and scattered everywhere as the feisty felines pounce, tumble and run around. When they’re big enough and she’s sure they’re all eating and using the litter box regularly, they get the run of the house during the day before settling back into their room for bedtime.
If any of her tiny charges needs extra care because they are sick, losing weight or require some special treatment, Sara is on top of it. “I’m a nurse,” she says. “It doesn’t bother me a bit when I have to do some of the ‘nurse-y’ stuff. They’re little and furry, instead of big people. I can do that.”
Of all the kittens coming through Sara’s front door, the only one who stayed was from one such struggling litter. Little Ella was the only survivor of her siblings and Sara fell hard for the sweet kitten. Ella’s mother ended up nursing several orphaned litters alongside her remaining kitten, and Ella quickly took up the role of “best big foster sister.”
“It really helps the kittens, I think,” Sara says, “because she plays with them and she bathes them, and when one batch leaves, she’s like, ‘But you promised me more babies.’ And she’s so excited when we come in with more. Even those who don’t have a momma get a big sister, and that’s just fun to watch.”
Foster fun for the whole family
Sara and Ella aren’t the only ones getting excited about new kittens in the house. “My husband says it’s the best of all worlds,” she says, “because I do all the work and he just gets to love them. He thinks this is pretty swell, too.”
Then there are the kids. Sara says her grandchildren Facetime every week to check in on “the babies,” and they delight in picking names for the fluffy new felines. Sara saves cardboard boxes for when one granddaughter visits, to be made into elaborate forts for the kittens to play in. Another little granddaughter comes to snuggle and play with the kittens regularly, to carry them around and to give them all the attention they could want. There is definitely no shortage of love for Sara’s foster kittens.
Watching kittens get healthy, relax, open up and grow into their personalities is just as fascinating and wonderful now as it was all those years ago when Sara found that first orphaned kitten in the barn. And when they start purring curled up in her arms, Sara says she knows she’s done her job.
Now that the brief lull of winter is over and kitten season is rolling back around, the Sanctuary, shelters and rescue groups around the country will be full of kittens needing a place to go. And Sara is eager to get back into the kitten routine.
“It’s been an amazing job, the best job I’ve ever had. I want to keep doing it,” she says. “It’s so rewarding. I love to take a little kitten who is too skinny or very afraid and turn them into this little loveable thing that is adoptable.
“When I first started, somebody said the goal is goodbye. And I think that’s true because once they leave me, I know they’re in good shape.”
Play with kittens every day
By fostering kittens, you are saving lives and spending time with kittens. It’s win-win, really.