My fostering journey started back in 2016 when I was a junior in high school. I was scrolling through the website of my local animal shelter looking for volunteer opportunities and was greeted by a pop-up that read “foster homes desperately needed!” I read through the description of what a foster home was…a temporary landing place for animals who are too young, too old, too sick, or too fearful for the shelter environment. As someone who has been an animal lover my entire life, I was immediately interested. After some convincing, my parents allowed me to bring home Kansas, my first foster kitten.

When I brought Kansas home, I had no previous experience with shelter animals or kitten rescue in general. All I had was a spare room, some basic cat care supplies and a commitment to give this little kitten everything she could ever want. There is a saying that fostering a kitten is the gateway drug to animal rescue…there is not a truer statement! I started out with Kansas, a single older kitten, and a year later I was taking in neonatal kittens and nursing moms. Neonatal kittens are 4 weeks old or younger and, if orphaned, cannot eat or potty on their own. These kittens are fragile with underdeveloped immune systems and a round-the-clock feeding schedule that can make them more challenging cases for fosters to take on.

In 2019 I took in a group of flea-infested three-week-old kittens who had been pulled from a local animal control facility. They were filthy, underweight and struggling with digestive distress. I named them after apples, Gala, Braeburn, and Cameo which was a fitting theme for September intakes. This litter was new territory for me. I had taken in bottle babies before but had not cared for kittens in a condition this rough. Although the shelter provided medication, I was not experienced in providing supportive care. I wanted to make sure I was giving them the best care, so I sought out information from other sources.

One important thing to note for new fosters is that communities, including my own, often lack veterinarians who are experienced in pediatric and neonatal care. This presented me with my greatest challenge. Without local resources and education on kitten care, I was on my own to try and increase the survival rates for my foster kittens. I quickly learned that trusted online communities and organizations like The National Kitten Coalition were going to be an incredibly valuable resource.

Fostering kittens is one of the most engaging and fulfilling things I have ever done. What started out as a way to play with adorable kittens turned into a life’s passion. My advice to anyone who is looking into fostering is to take the leap! Shelters across the country are desperate for kitten superheroes and you can be one!

I get to wake up every morning knowing that I am saving lives. There is no greater feeling.

Follow Alyssa and her foster kittens on her Instagram page @windycityfosters! Instagram.