In a recent post about art and nature classes we participated in, I wrote about helping kids experience things that broaden their perspective and enrich them. One experience we have failed to give our children—until recently—is having a furry animal in our home to nurture and love.
It’s not that my husband and I don’t like animals, but we have not been eager to add a pet to our family. Here’s why: we have been busy for more than a decade with babies and toddlers, and now that those years are past, we are just coming up for air. We haven’t wanted to add an energetic puppy to the family, and were further scared off when a neighbor posted a picture online showing how her dog destroyed the woodwork in their house.
A cat is lower maintenance, but we have two close family members who frequent our house and are deathly allergic—as in, they will be in the emergency room with breathing issues if they encounter cat dander. I researched the idea of a hypoallergenic cat, but do you realize that those cats cost around a thousand dollars? Crazy!
I was in the throes of researching other, smaller furry animals, when a friend informed me that you can foster almost any animal before deciding to purchase it, to see if it is a good fit for your family. One non-profit near us rescues smaller critters that people no longer want as pets. And then there’s the local Humane Society. I didn’t realize until recently that you can foster both kittens and puppies to help “socialize” them before they go to permanent homes. The Humane Society provides everything the kittens or puppies need, so it’s seamless, affordable and easy to foster.
So, we had a frank conversation with our kids. We asked them if they would like to temporarily take care of kittens, to love on them and provide them with a safe home, until they could go to permanent homes. (We figured we could keep the kittens isolated in one room upstairs to keep dander from getting on our living areas.) The kids were excited and eagerly said, “Yes!”
Less than a week after submitting an application to be a kitten foster family, I got a call from the Humane Society. Would we be willing to take a pregnant stray cat, they asked. “Sure,” I said.
Then, I called my husband. His reaction went something like this: “What?!!!!”
But, see, I figured this would be super educational for the kids. We are homeschoolers, right?! So, he agreed to go along with it. I am a very persuasive person!
The night before the mother cat gave birth, she howled and moaned all night. It was awful. I am not even especially fond of cats, but I fervently prayed for her all night! Finally, at 4:30 a.m., my 12-year-old went into the bathroom where she was confined and started petting her. She calmed down completely and gave birth within two hours. All three of my girls watched her four kittens being born.
Before the kittens were born we researched what would likely happen, and what the experience would be like. There were some horror stories online. I prayed that the mother cat would not eat her kittens, or that there would be no stillborn kittens. I could only imagine the kids’ hysteria if those things ensued. Thank God for a safe and healthy birth of all four kittens. The kids felt very lucky to eyewitness this special event.
After the birth, the kids dutifully weighed each kitten every day, to track growth and progress. They have faithfully taken care of the mother cat, so she can in turn take care of her litter.
As I write this blog, the kittens are just over three weeks old and have more than quadrupled in size. They are adorable, I must say.
Will my girls give them up when the time comes? It will be hard, but I have told them we can get more kittens sometime soon. They will make a scrapbook to commemorate each one that they have loved and cared for.
At some point, we might get a more permanent pet. But in the meantime, this fostering experience has been great. The kids have learned to take more responsibility, to show empathy toward a small creature, to chart and observe growth and changes, and they have also learned a lot about birth and new life.
It’s been both fun and educational.
Photo Credit: Images courtesy of author. Minor edits by Anna Soltis.