College students save cats’ lives through fostering

Foster volunteers Lauren Burgess and Jill Church together on a beach
Lauren Burgess and Jill Church planned to adopt a pet and instead signed up to foster. Now they’re giving cats with special needs a second chance.
By Andrea Pitts

Lauren Burgess and Jill Church are college roommates who share an immense passion for helping animals. After taking in their first foster cat from Best Friends in June 2023, they have since fostered three other cats, one of whom Lauren decided to adopt herself. Lauren says, “Fostering while going to college is good for us because our schedules can be flexible enough to meet the needs of the cats, especially during the summer.”

[Volunteer makes a big difference for tiny kittens]

Lauren and Jill are dedicated to helping their foster cats put their best paws forward until they’re adopted. They've even donated professional grooming sessions for the cats. And once one of their feline houseguests is matched with a home, his or her picture is given a coveted space on the Foster Cat Wall of Fame that graces Lauren and Jill’s living room wall.

Below is an interview about how Lauren and Jill first decided to make the leap into fostering and what it has meant to them (and the cats) along the way.

What made you decide to start fostering cats?

Lauren: After we had just finished playing with some cute puppies, Jill and I talked about getting a pet, but we wanted to get one from an animal rescue group or shelter. We weren’t sure what kind of pet we wanted. We were open to getting a cat or a dog. Our first stop was the local humane society, but they were closed. Next, we turned to Google, where we found a website for Best Friends. We drove there without knowing what to expect at all.

Jill: I was nervous about adopting an animal, so the staff suggested we try fostering a pet before deciding to adopt. Two cats named Rudy and Marco were the only animals there that day who needed a foster family. That made the decision for us: We were going to foster a cat.

[Cat-loving L.A. volunteer donates over 5,000 hours]

Lauren: Best Friends suggested we take in Marco because Rudy had an ear issue they wanted to monitor closely before placing him in a home. So Marco was our first foster cat. He was our baby. We loved him. We did end up fostering Rudy as well after Marco was adopted. So really, a simple Google search and two cats who needed a place to stay were the reasons we started fostering cats. We had no idea it would become “a thing.”

Tell us about one of your favorite moments when volunteering.

Lauren: I volunteered at the Best Friends center in Atlanta. I was going through the donations area sorting out things for them. Just seeing how many resources are donated was probably one of my favorite moments. I love seeing the animals getting the help they need.

Jill: I love how well the staff knows every cat who comes in. Every time I go in there, there is a different cat, but the staff learns about them so quickly. Even when we ask for updates on the cats we’ve fostered, they always have a detailed update for us. It really shows just how much they care about the animals.

What are you most proud of in terms of your volunteer work? Why?

Lauren: We tend to find ourselves fostering cats with special needs. Marco was (a cat with feline leukemia virus). We only had him for three days, but we loved him. June, the cat I adopted, had a broken pelvis. When they told me about her medical issues, I said, “I’m ready for the challenge.” It’s so rewarding to see them get better because of what you did to help them. Plus, the experience brought me June. I just love her.

Jill: We are fostering a cat right now named Cinnamon Toast Carl. When we first brought him home, he was losing hair and very malnourished. He looks much better now. I took him to the vet recently because he still has a lot of scabs on his underbelly, but Best Friends has paid for all his medical bills since he is being fostered through their program. We love working with Best Friends to help make a difference for the cats.

What is something unique about both of you?

Lauren and Jill: We are not related, but everyone thinks we’re sisters. We get mistaken for each other all the time.

If you could have a superpower, what would it be and why?

Lauren: To read animals’ minds. I would love to know what they are thinking. I wonder sometimes how animal behaviorists seem to know the inner thoughts of animals so well.

Jill: I would love to have X-ray vision. I think it would be cool to be able to see what is going on internally within animals and even people.

What would you tell others who are thinking of fostering a pet?

Lauren: The process of getting a cat to trust you can be slow, but it makes it that much more rewarding when they do let down their guard and let you into their world.

Jill: When you are considering a pet to foster, take into account what type of pet best fits your lifestyle. Best Friends does a great job at matching both adoptive families and foster families with the right pet for them.

Lauren: Also, just enjoy the experience. It can be hard to say goodbye, but you help them so much that it’s worth the hard part.

Jill: Yes, enjoy your time with them. It’s so fun to watch them grow.

Let's make every shelter and every community no-kill by 2025

Our goal at Best Friends is to support all animal shelters in the U.S. in reaching no-kill by 2025. No-kill means saving every dog and cat in a shelter who can be saved, accounting for community safety and good quality of life for pets. 

Shelter staff can’t do it alone. Saving animals in shelters is everyone’s responsibility, and it takes support and participation from the community. No-kill is possible when we work together thoughtfully, honestly, and collaboratively.

Silhouette of two dogs, cat and kitten

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You can help end the killing in shelters and save the lives of homeless pets when you foster, adopt, and advocate for the dogs and cats who need it most.

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