Fostering cats as an introspective exercise

The process of fostering a cat begins with reading a description: A female rescued from a kitten mill, vet work in process; a friendly grey female cat of two months—not yet vaccinated but treated for fleas.

When you make the decision to foster a cat, you go in with no expectations of commitment; the rescue organization may have already found a permanent home for it. The process of your local shelter is equally simple, requiring some paperwork and a meeting. Once a cat has been assigned to you, the only thing left to do next is to wait, and before long, a majestic creature will come swishing its tail through your door and into your heart.

I chose to foster rather than adopt due to career and financial instability. As my time as an undergraduate student at McGill comes to an end, I am still uncertain of whether I will return home to the West Coast, remain in Montreal, or move overseas in my next step of life. I would be devastated if I had to give up a cat because I could not take it with me. I also have limited financial resources as a student and would not be able to afford treatment if the cat became sick. Fostering takes the stress off of permanence, but, as with all temporary things, it also teaches the importance of letting go.

I once took in a green-eyed tortoiseshell cat named Sophia who would creep out of hiding on cautious paws then bolt back beneath the bed as soon as I turned my gaze in her direction. We tangoed in this manner for eight months—a slow, wary step forward followed by a fast, frantic scramble back, then a tense and dramatic pause before the dance repeated. My frustration mounted as the days inched by without any show of affection from her. It was like living with a roommate who actively avoided me and, worse, was also scared of me. I missed the affection of my previous foster cats who set about exploring and even snuggling in my lap within minutes of opening the carrier door. 

Sophia embodied all the qualities that anti-cat people find fault in. She was aloof, indifferent,  even impertinent. She recoiled from my attempts to befriend her and her only response to my gentle coos was a frightened stare with her cavernous black pupils. For god’s sake, I just want to love you, I wanted to shout. It took months of gentle cajoling before Sophia eventually warmed up to me. I cannot adequately describe the whirlwind of emotions that churned in my heart the first time she leapt into my lap, purring and butting her head into my hands. It was a mix of relief, joy, and validation.

Our period of unfettered friendship was short-lived. Sophia was adopted a year after she came to me, just weeks after she first opened up to the idea of snuggles. I was sad to let her go, but I like to think I played a part in showing her the better side of human nature. She entered her new home with more trust than she arrived with at mine.

The fostering process ends with letting go. It’s the last and essential step, and the one that I hate the most. It teaches you that it is impossible to force a good thing to last forever, momentous tides of change, such as moving away after graduation, means both the humans and furry friends in our life, may go in separate paths. It teaches you that it will be alright; the love and memories were worth it.

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