Couple converts RV into foster pet crash pad

Chris Alton sitting next to a dog in their RV
Cat’s fear of dogs prompts Los Angeles family to get creative in order to continue fostering pets.
By Diane Barber

It’s said that necessity is the mother of invention. It turns out that in a California couple’s home, necessity is a cat named Jane. Jane is a little high-maintenance and she’s proven herself to be a bit of a loner who much prefers limiting her social circle to a few familiar faces.

Jane is also no fan of dogs. In fact, they make her so anxious that her first reaction upon meeting a dog is to vomit. That particular trait proved to be a challenge when she moved in with a couple with an open-door policy to animals in need.

For the last six years, the home of Cori and Christopher Alton has served as a crash pad for a long line of dogs and cats from the Best Friends Lifesaving Center in Los Angeles, as well as a handful of neighborhood strays. Fostering animals has become an important part of their daily life. But when they adopted Jane in early 2020, they quickly realized that their ability to continue fostering was in jeopardy. Jane simply couldn’t handle it.

A passion for fostering pets takes root

It seems fitting, too, that Jane was once a foster pet of the Altons. Cori and Christopher took her home in the summer of 2019 in response to a call from the Best Friends foster team about a seemingly feral, reactive and extremely fearful cat who had stopped eating. They were told that Jane was put on a feeding tube, but she had chewed it off three days later and unless she started eating, her prognosis was not good.

Given Jane’s current state, Cori and Christopher knew that there was a chance they would be providing hospice care for her, so they prepared themselves for that possibility. Remarkably though, Jane regained her footing almost immediately after moving in with them, and she began eating the very next day.

[Healing help for scared, blind cat]

Jane wasn’t the first animal to make a turnaround in the Alton home. Earlier that same year, they fostered Lil Mabel, a surly senior terrier-Chihuahua mix with a whole host of health concerns and a reputation for being a feisty, cranky, cat-chasing dog with a penchant for growling. (She didn’t have what you’d call a winning personality.)

Mabel was in and out of Best Friends’ care for three long years and that included a couple of adoptions that ended in returns. Things weren’t going her way and it was clear she needed a break from the stress of it all. So, despite her reputation, the Altons decided to have a go at fostering her.

In the weeks that followed, Lil Mabel’s guarded demeanor softened and she blossomed into a cuddly “cat dog,” (as Cori calls her) who loves human companionship and likes getting raspberries on her belly. The Altons shared adorable photos online of their no-longer-cranky foster dog, and within three months, Lil Mabel, who had waited for years to find her match, was adopted by a family just a few streets away.

From foster cat to family cat, an idea is born

Finding an adoptive home for Jane, however, would be more of a challenge. Although she had settled into their home and had even begun to warm up to their other cats (Houdini, Monster and Quinn), there was a high probability that another move might upset the balance achieved by Jane while in the Altons’ care.

“She was a tough one and we knew she would have a hard time finding the right home,” says Cori. “So, we decided it was up to us. I guess you could say we were pleasantly stuck with her and we absolutely love her to death.”

Adding Jane as a permanent family member meant that they’d have to make some major adjustments if they were to continue fostering. “When we adopted Jane, I felt like we were just getting the hang of fostering,” says Cori. “I really wanted to continue but we knew how stressful it would be for Jane, so that’s when we started to get creative. We considered converting the garage. Then COVID happened and everyone started getting RVs and I thought: Why don’t we just get a camper? We can create a little studio apartment for dogs and Jane won’t have to see them at all.”

[97 kittens, an RV and one lifesaving mission]

Once the decision was made, Cori and Christopher began the hunt for what they hoped would become their very own “Pet B&B,” and in January of this year they made the big purchase. Their vision for the camper is a grand one and Cori says planned upgrades include new paint, reupholstered cushions, white cabinets, comfy beds and a large supply of bowls, leashes and new toys — everything dogs or cats might need so that they can take in any animal on a moment’s notice.

In fact, before the renovations to the trailer were even underway, the couple took in a dog that a neighbor found wandering along a nearby freeway. More recently, the addition of a 30-amp power outlet (that allows the RV air conditioning to run nonstop) has made it possible to foster two Chihuahuas from Best Friends during the heat of the L.A. summer. Although the renovations may take months to complete, the lifesaving has already begun.

Big plans for the future

The next step will involve a complete renovation that transforms the somewhat dated late 90s-vibe camper into a modern, posh pad with features tailored to the needs of the Altons’ canine and feline guests. Not only will the trailer be used to host foster animals for short and long-term stays, but it can also serve as a comfortable, quiet recovery room for community cats following spay/neuter surgeries. Given the Altons’ commitment to fostering and their recent involvement in neighborhood TNR efforts, it’s clear that their custom pet pad will be in high demand.

[Top 10 reasons to foster a pet]

Like so many others who foster animals, the Altons’ passion for helping animals in need continues to grow with every animal taken in. Thanks to a super shy cat named Jane, they’ve completely upped their fostering game. Their new canine and kitty crash pad allows them to continue the important work of fostering, while maintaining a stable and stress-free home for Jane. And there’s no doubt that many lives will be saved as a result.

Well done, Jane!

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