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Cat’s Cradle Featured in Richmond Times Dispatch!

~ Sunday, July 17, 2011

Foster felines waiting for a purr-manent home

By Holly Prestidge
Published in the Richmond Times Dispatch: July 17, 2011

Sweet Pea lounged contentedly on the bed next to JoLayne Webster as thunderstorms threatened outside. The approaching storm didn’t bother the 4-year-old domestic long-haired calico, who had been a guest in Webster’s home for about a week.

She clearly had made herself comfortable. She had her own bedroom upstairs

This mother and seven kittens were taken out of the Henrico Animal Shelter by the director of Cat’s Care, Sue Vesely. She works to find a permanent home for felines

with toys, a bed, a warm blanket and all the feline comforts a cat could want.

Sweet Pea is blind, but she gets around with the feline nimbleness inherent in her kind. She’s not entirely comfortable with being held, but she won’t turn down a backrub, a scratch behind the ears or a little nuzzling.

Webster took in Sweet Pea through a feline foster program called Cat’s Cradle of Greater Richmond. Sweet Pea was rescued from Richmond Animal Control and will stay with Webster until a permanent home can be found. Cat’s Cradle provides Webster with anything Sweet Pea needs, from food to veterinary care. All Webster has to do is provide a safe place for Sweet Pea to live, her basic necessities and plenty of TLC.

The latter, in particular, hasn’t been a problem.

Webster said she has fostered nearly 70 cats and kittens in the past year and a half. Some stay as little as a day or two, and others live with her for several months.

As an animal lover, she can’t help but get attached to her feline visitors. In two cases, she adopted the foster cats in her care, but she has reached her limit. “The more (cats) you keep, the less you can foster,” Webster said.

Those who work on behalf of cat rescue organizations are busy this time of year. It’s peak season for cats and kittens, which means the animals show up at shelters and rescue organizations faster than homes can be found for them.

Cat’s Cradle is one of several organizations in the metro Richmond area that facilitate feline foster programs. Among others are Cat Adoption and Rescue Effort, the Richmond Animal League, Richmond Animal Care & Control, Henrico and Hanover humane societies, West End Cat Rescue and the Richmond SPCA.

The programs allow adoptable pets to live in a home environment with a foster individual or family until a permanent home can be found. It takes them out of overcrowded shelters and off the streets, and eliminates their chances of being euthanized if they live in an area where that occurs.

Sandy Schneider, a board member for CARE, said the organization has helped more than 7,000 animals since 2001. This year, about 100 cats and kittens have been adopted into permanent homes, though another 125-plus are in foster homes.

It sometimes seems like a never-ending battle.

“There are so many,” Schneider said about the needy cats.

Paula Ritter, outreach coordinator for Richmond Animal Care & Control, said the organization is working to develop a foster program as the number of cats and kittens that need homes continues to grow.

Staff often will foster felines, she said, even underage kittens that need to be bottle-fed and socialized before they can be considered for adoption.

In other words, it’s around-the-clock care, she said.

“We’re trying so hard … to let people know that this is a caring, devoted, passionate program,” Ritter said.

Sue Vesely is the director of Cat’s Cradle. She, like many other animal-rescue volunteers, spends countless hours visiting local shelters from Amelia to Hanover searching for animals that can be fostered.

Saving cats is not her day job — she’s a hair stylist — but it might as well be.

Vesely keeps tabs on cats she knows are coming up for adoption at local shelters and pounds, and is always on the lookout for new animals. In some cases, the shelter staff knows her so well that they call her when they have an animal that she might be able to help.

On a recent Tuesday, she visited the Henrico Animal Shelter off Woodman Road. As she peered into each cage in the cat area, the wheels were turning. When she’s in a pinch or knows that she will have a foster home opening in the near future, she will take the cat out of the shelter and board it for a short time at Betty Baugh’s Animal Clinic, where the cat is checked by a veterinarian and housed before going to a foster home.

Vesely’s other option is to work the network of local rescue organizations until she finds one that has an open foster home.

On that Tuesday, among those available for adoption were a laid-back adult male and a fluffy black female kitten. After a quick phone call to Betty Baugh’s, she loaded the cats into her car and dropped them off at the clinic. The cats were boarded for a few days before being placed in a foster home.

Two down. Many more to go.

inding foster homes for the cats is just half the battle. Vesely and other volunteers work around the clock to find permanent homes for them. That means spending time nearly every weekend at local adoption events or organizing meetings between foster owners and potential adopters.

It’s the public events where Vesely said she educates people on foster opportunities. Many people don’t know about pet foster programs. Others say they can’t do it because they don’t have the time, the space or the financial means.

However, many foster owners find the experience rewarding, Vesely said. It’s a way to help an animal with minimal investment and cost, and the foster owner can do it as often or as little as they like.

“That’s what so great about it,” Vesely said. Some foster owners “will foster something, then go on vacation, then come back and foster again. It really brings people a lot of joy to do this,” she said. “I’ve seen it.”

She said almost anyone can be a foster owner: families, college students, seniors who seek companionship but don’t want a long-term commitment to a pet, even people who are on a short-term corporate assignment.

Cat’s Cradle and other foster organizations typically cover any expense for the animal, from food, toys and a litter box to medical care.

And it’s more than just saving an animal, Vesely said. Foster owners provide feedback about the animals so Vesely can find the right permanent home for them.

Carla Davis volunteers and fosters with Cat’s Cradle and serves on the board for CARE and Friends of Richmond Animal Care & Control. She adopted a fostered cat and said foster owners are beneficial because they know their animals’ personalities.

“As the adopter, I was so grateful for that,” she said, noting that her cat “is exactly what the foster said she would be.”

Vesely said potential foster owners sometimes tell her that they can’t do it because they would become attached and wouldn’t want to give up the animals.

Webster, who is taking care of Sweet Pea, acknowledged that it’s hard to let them go, but only in the beginning.

“The first couple are tough,” she said. “There were some tears.”

But “it’s like babysitting a child,” she added. “You can’t think of (the cat) as your own.”

Being a good foster owner means looking at the situation as temporary and knowing that you’re making another family happy by giving them a healthy, socialized animal, she said.

“You learn to get joy out of helping them for a little while,” Webster said. “I always say I love a happy beginning.”