What originally drew you to PAWS Chicago?
I've known about and contributed to PAWS for years. After the last of my two cats passed away and I began sharing Petfinder.com links on Facebook for animals I maybe wanted to adopt, a friend of mine sent me a post from PAWS urgently asking for fosters. After reading more about the foster program, it seemed like the perfect fit for me. I like the idea of helping animals when they are at their most vulnerable and also that PAWS sets up foster care for finite amounts of time, which helps me plan and balance pet care with my career and life.
Do you have a primary focus when you volunteer?
I am a PAWS foster parent, rather than a volunteer who comes in to the shelter regularly. I take quarantined and ill cats and kittens, as well as litters who are not yet big enough for spay/neuter procedures, in to my home for two-to-eight weeks, before they are ready to be adopted. I do everything from administer medications, teach them "pet etiquette" (litter training, curb bad scratching behaviors, not playing with my pet goldfish, etc.), and allow them to comfortably interact and bond with humans so they become even better pets for their permanent fosters.
As a volunteer, I drove to Oklahoma earlier this summer to help rescue animals displaced by the tornado. I would like to eventually get more involved in community outreach with PAWS. If we can give people better resources, funding, and information about pet ownership, our stray, abandoned, and animal abuse problems will go down even more significantly.
Is there a favorite experience that has stood out during your time as a volunteer at PAWS Chicago?
I think I've fostered about 30 felines now—each with a unique set of issues, personalities, interests, and levels of affection. As a foster who spends quality time with each kitty, ALL the fur babies have a special place in my heart! There was one adult cat, James Baxter, who was abandoned outside the Adoption Center. After getting to know him, I could not fathom why anyone would just dump such a hilarious, intelligent character. If it didn't hinder my flexibility as a PAWS foster, I would have adopted that big guy. Of course the litter of five kittens I hand-fed and raised grew on me, as if they were my own babies. But knowing what awesome little kitties they were, assured me they would quickly charm adopters and easily find great homes. On a sadder note, I fostered a litter of three babies from the day they were born. They were so tiny and so ill, they didn't survive despite the best efforts and medical attention of myself and PAWS. Even though they were the shortest length of time I've fostered, I mourned their passing the same as the cats I owned for fifteen-plus years. A consoling friend reminded me, I was more than a foster for those three—I was the only human mama they ever knew. They'll always be special little angels to me. It's been cool to see some of the pets we rescued from Oklahoma find new homes in Chicago. I enjoy reading people's adoption updates online.
How does what do you do for a career apply to what you do as a volunteer?
I am a professional Photographer, Photo Editor, and Writer. I often work from a home office, cameras always at the ready. When my foster cats are being ridiculously cute, it's a nice thirty second diversion to my stressful workdays to snap a few sweet photos. It's a very different experience to snap one cute photo for fun than shooting for clients with specific expectations, budgets, art direction, and deadlines driving my work. While some people share photos of their children on social media, I share pictures of my foster kitties (mostly on my private Facebook page and a few on Instagram). Many of my friends like to follow the fosters' health and growth progress, or just see who I get next! PAWS has shared a few of my photos, which seems to solicit positive responses and attention toward fostering and other PAWS programs. So that's wonderful, too. The social media sharing I do has resulted in at least four friends (so far!) adopting from PAWS, three becoming fosters themselves, and some wonderful donations.
Why do you volunteer for PAWS Chicago?
As a single person with no children and no other mammal pets (I have three fish, but they don't really cuddle or go for walks…), fostering allows me to fulfill my nurturing side and give back to one of the best causes I can think of. Domestic animals come in to the world helpless and with the odds against them. It is our responsibility to care for them. The compassion we bestow upon animals (or lack thereof) reflects on who we are as individuals and as a people. Personal involvement with animal rescues is also a great way to demonstrate activism and volunteerism to my niece (who also adores cats).
Do you have any pets at home?
As I stated above, some of my friends have adopted from PAWS, and my sister's family adopted one of my fosters. But I have chosen not to adopt permanently yet. So long as my home is pet-free, I am able to take in a wider variety of cats and kittens with special needs for foster care. And, I like that I don't have to worry about scheduling a pet sitter if I need to travel.
Have you participated in any PAWS Chicago special events that support animals?
When I was in to running years ago, PAWS was always my fundraising recipient of choice. But nowadays, I do not have a lot of free time for social events and fundraising, which is another reason I like fostering. I can sort of "multi-task" cat fostering into my daily life.
Anything else you'd like to share regarding your experiences as a PAWS Chicago volunteer?
When I first decided to foster for PAWS, I was excited to have a pet back in my life. I thought this would be about fulfilling my desire to have something cuddly at the end of the day. It turns out, it's much much bigger than me. Fostering is a vital part of the PAWS program. The more cats that go in to the foster program, the more room PAWS has to take in new rescues from the streets and animal control. But it's more than a numbers game. Most felines are scared, sick, and need some sort of rehabilitation and TLC in a quiet home with lots of patience and a sense of humor. They need undivided attention busy clinic workers cannot provide, to monitor their well-being. They need room to stretch, play, lie in the sun, and watch the world go by. Fostering also allows me the opportunity to observe and document the unique needs, preferences, and habits of kitties in a comfortable home environment—which helps PAWS better match them with potential adopters. It is endlessly satisfying to see a sick kitty get the spring back in her step, grow big and strong, and see them blossom into wonderful pets that will add so much to new families' lives. And as soon as I think I've fallen in love with a kitty too much to let it go, I remind myself there are always more that need saving, healing, teaching, some new toys, and a scratch under the chin.