My two cats couldn’t be more different from each other in every way. One is the cat that couldn’t find a home and the other is the one everyone wanted.
First came Kit. He was among the first litter of kittens I fostered on my own, around seven years ago when I first moved to New York. I’d grown up fostering all kinds of animals with my family—neonatal red squirrels in Canada, cats, kittens and guide dog puppies in Ireland, guinea pigs in Portugal, as well as an elderly black lab through the end of his life and an abandoned pony (whom we later officially adopted) in the Netherlands. My father was a diplomat and we’d often foster his colleagues’ animals if they weren’t able to bring them to the country they were moving to.
I knew from my experiences growing up how rewarding fostering is, even if it involved the occasional heartbreak, and I was determined to continue it in my adulthood. I wasn’t quite prepared for Kit, however.Although he’s grown into a handsome tuxedo cat, Kit started out as the gawky one of his litter. All his siblings got snapped up rather quickly, but not this little guy. He was just too awkward. Although he warmed up to me, Kit was cold and standoffish to strangers, with a piercing meow that would make anyone wince. Not exactly what you would call take-me-home material.
I couldn’t find Kit a home, but at the same time, I couldn’t give him back to the rescue as we had both grown pretty attached to one another. As standoffish as Kit could be, I always sensed that he was a secret sweetheart—like April on Parks and Recreation, if you’ve watched enough episodes. After six months, I made it official and adopted Kit.
Kit acted like a loner with a chip on his shoulder most of the time—one who could comfortably live alone on a scratching post- and wet cat food-filled desert island forever—but when nobody else was around, he was grateful for attention. He couldn’t stand being picked up or carried, and if you rubbed him the wrong way, you would sure hear about it, but he clearly liked to settle in on the couch near me and my then-boyfriend (now husband) on Friday nights and watch scary movies with us. Eventually, he started to flop over at our feet when either of us walked in the door, to demand pettings. Kit’s an ice-cold diva and a recluse but he’s part of the family.Meatball, on the other hand, was easy from day one. My husband and I started fostering kittens together through Best Friends Animal Society last summer and this joyful little ginger tabby was among the second litter we took in. Our resolve was pretty strong against foster-failing, but our resolve wasn’t ready for Meatball.
The Best Friends Animal Society volunteers warned us about his tremendous appetite and his habit of hogging meals from his sisters at feeding times. They couldn’t have known that this orange little guy’s hunger was merely a symptom of his overall joie de vivre. Meatball is Kit’s spiritual opposite. He’s the kind of kitty who swipes right on the Tinder of life. He loves to play and scamper. He loves a good snuggle and doesn’t mind being picked up. He loves meeting strangers. And yes, he loves his food. Whole-heartedly, unrepentantly, and considering his coloring, uncannily Garfield-like.Even though he was in a litter of three, and his sisters were both sweet little kittens as well, Meatball couldn’t help but stand out. He was Mr. Personality. Several of our friends would come over to meet the new fosters and leave talking about Meatball. After a while, we realized that Meatball was practically more dog than cat, a dream come true for me in our dog-unfriendly building. He was friendly, sweet and affectionate, and he even fetched! (Mainly coiled, pet-safe springs. He loves those.) Our resistance to foster-failing was no match for Meatball’s natural, unstoppable adorability.We also had no idea what an incredible foster cat dad Meatball would turn out to be. We’ve fostered four litters since we adopted him and he becomes a surrogate parent to all of them. The kittens make a beeline for him every time we let them out of the bedroom (we only allow supervised visits with the grown cats) and he’ll groom, snuggle and play with them all day. We’ve nicknamed him Mama Meatball because he provides so much love and comfort to these orphaned babies in ways that we humans can’t.
Fostering has been one of the most rewarding and meaningful experiences of my life. Not only does it allow me to snuggle kittens all day long but I also get to see our fosters blossom from being fearful and under-socialized to trusting and affectionate. It’s also given us Kit and Meatball, who have brought out the best in each other, even if they forget it sometimes.
It’s not always easy. As my husband likes to say, fostering is 70% sunshine and roses, 20% emotional labor and 10% poop (probably more poop, actually). But it’s one of the best ways to help animals, who might not otherwise have a chance, find loving homes and it helps our hardworking shelters out. I did some math and if just 5% of US households fostered one animal once per year, we could clear the shelters. And who knows, you might also meet the cats of your dreams.
Gabi O’Connor is a software engineer at Etsy and foster kitten mom with @bfas_ny. Aside from cats, her interests include horror movies, surreal comedy and celebrity gossip. She lives in Brooklyn with her writer husband and two cats. You can follow Mama Meatball and his kittens at @mama.meatball.the.cat