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Kittens give foster dad more reasons to be thankful this Father’s Day

By John Tindall

Editor’s note: John Tindall is a father and grandfather who recently became a proud foster dad to six kittens. In honor of Father’s Day, John shares his story of fostering for the very first time, and how the experience taught him to slow down and see life from a whole new perspective.

John Tindall cradling a pair of foster kittens in his armsWhen my wife entered the kitchen with a crate of yowling kittens we’d just brought home to foster, I wondered what we'd gotten ourselves into. These six babies had been abandoned by their mother and were past the nursing stage, but clearly far from being able to fend for themselves.

I had joined Best Friends in Houston just a few months earlier and I’d been asking others to foster, so I figured I’d better experience it myself. I learned that kitten season is a real thing, and it generally falls between winter and spring everywhere. The shelters quickly hit capacity, and we all have to resort to extreme measures to find homes and get the kittens through their first three months. So, my wife and I jumped in.

Following the feeding guidelines provided by Best Friends, we laid out the plates and opened the carrier door. Like little darts to a dartboard these guys all took their spots and lapped up the gravy-like gruel as if they hadn't eaten in weeks. I was soon to find out they always ate like that. After only a few minutes, they were done and ready to explore. My wife plopped a handful of them on my lap and they all started purring, nuzzling and settling into a big sleepy kitty pile. It was gratifying to feel so loved.

[Two cats with FeLV fill an empty nester’s home]

Gray tabby foster kittenOver the next few days, we got their pattern down. It wasn't so much "eat-pray-love,"  as it was eat-play-sleep. I found myself interacting with the warm, fuzzy purr machines instead of scrolling on Twitter and Instagram. One morning, as I transferred a lapful of buzzing, sleeping kittens onto my wife's lap, I realized how present I was. My mind wasn't on the thousand things on my calendar for the day. It wasn't on the barrage of mostly negative news. It wasn't addressing a Facebook post. My mind was calm. I was present. I had spent my wake-up coffee time observing, poking and posing kittens. It was like my mind had just showered.

Of course, one learns a lot while fostering kittens, but the support and guidance from Best Friends made that part seamless. Like, did you know there is a very short window of opportunity when you can socialize the offspring of feral cats? If you get them used to you, they grow up to become wonderful indoor kitten pets in adoptive homes. If you get them a little bit later, their natural survival instincts have a better chance of kicking in, which sometimes makes them better suited for life as community cats (who are spayed or neutered and released back to the place they were found). Either way, it’s a win for the kittens, who without my/your/our help, cannot make it out of infancy.

[Florida sheriff steps up as ‘professional cat wrangler’]

Fostering has made me think a lot about my life, too. What did it take from me to help these kittens? Not much, but for them it may have been the difference between life and death. Handling the tiny cats and making sure they were eating and growing on track (their lives entirely dependent on my wife and me) really connected me to Life (and yes,  with a capital “L”). Fostering takes your focus off "things" going on in your life and lets you briefly, for a few short weeks, focus on “Life” with that capital “L.”

Brown tabby kitten sleeping between the arm and beard of John TindallFostering these little guys has been an unexpected Zen experience. We lost one of our kittens — not lost like she got behind the refrigerator, but lost as in struggling to gain weight and having crashes where we thought she’d died. We got her back purring, but then later she didn’t wake up. Failure to thrive, they called it. But it still hurt when she passed and we wrapped her little body in a dish towel. I cried. We buried her on a hill with her plush toy under a giant pine tree. It was cathartic.

Through fostering I’ve had to reckon with the transient nature of life, to realize that tomorrow is not a foregone conclusion. This experience has made my wife’s coming home from work at the end of the day a bigger deal. Emptying the dishwasher together means something more than emptying the dishwasher. Holding my granddaughter has become even more precious.

Watching the kittens grow, then facilitating their adoptions into eager homes and watching them thrive via the social media posts of the adopters is the icing on the cake. Knowing that my life was made better because of that cat, and also that the forever home of the kitten will be changed forever has made all the difference.

So, that’s how fostering six kittens changed my life. I highly recommend it.

Ready to make a big difference for little kittens?

Sign up with your local shelter or rescue group to foster kittens. Not only will you help save lives, but you’ll learn a lot in the process!

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Photos courtesy of John Tindall