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And Mom Makes 200

In the fall of 2011, we decided to foster cats. What led to this decision is complicated, but at the heart of fostering remains a compassionate desire to help the world in some small way. So we answered an ad for a foster cat family—thinking there would be a month or more of some application process. Instead, within two days we had five kittens through Feral Fixers. The kittens were about 6 weeks old, and my daughter Nora was 8 years old and my son Toby was 6 years old at that time. We were drawn into the process immediately, and with a quick commentary of what to expect at this age and some food, litter, cat toys, and cat beds, we started naming the new babies: Andy, Callie, Jet, Lucy, and Pablo. When we weren’t at school or doing homework, we were playing with kittens. Sometimes we played with kittens while doing homework. As the kittens grew, we took pictures and sent personality descriptions to try to get the kittens adopted. However, we were warned not to do too much until after the kittens had their neuter/spay surgery around 10-12 weeks of age. When our foster coordinator came to our house to pick them up for surgery, we said goodbye to the kittens. Unfortunately, Pablo did not survive the surgery due to health issues we could not have known about in advance. There is so much we don't know about our fosters, but we do the best we can. Lucy was the first to find a forever home, followed quickly by Jet and Andy. Callie, an adorable tabby, was sweet but shyer than the rest. When any cat is shy, the challenge to get them adopted is compounded. She would hide from visitors, even though she was always playful with us. So Callie became our first foster failure, which we call our foster triumph. Nora wished for Callie for Christmas, and Santa delivered. From that point, we moved on from kittens to older cats. We worked with truly feral cats, ones that were hard to catch and did not want to be touched. We had one that had to stay in the cage and growled at us for weeks before being neutered and released back outside. Despite dealing with ear mites, infections, and even escapees (one cat escaped outside, returning a week later to our back door), the cats brought joy to our home, so we kept fostering. After five years, we had fostered over 130 cats and kittens. By the time we hit #133, we felt another foster triumph approaching. Few cats were allowed to walk around our house, especially ones that had not had their shots, but Atlas (#133), a sleek black 6-month-old, had already been vetted and was ready for adoption. When he walked around our house like he owned the place, our three female cats did not know what to do. So Toby got Atlas for his 11th birthday. As our schedules changed, we had less time to help and adjusted to fostering more in the spring and early summer. With the “kitten showers,” we would start fostering in March or April until June. It became our foster cycle, helping in what ways we could, even if it meant waking up at 5 in the morning before our days started. Though difficult in many ways, fostering is rewarding work, and even though the cats come and go, we love each cat and kitten for the individual personalities. Many ask how we can foster because it might be so hard to give the cats up once we get to know them, but with four of our own cats, we cannot adopt anymore. Yet there are kittens that stand out from the rest and pry at our heart, and when they knead us, we realize we truly need them. Almost two years ago, we had the pleasure of meeting five older kittens, one tortie, and the rest with the same grey tabby coloring, clearly four brothers. A couple weeks later, we got two more from the same colony, and we found ourselves with a troop of cat cousins. This was an unusual group from the start, because no matter our schedule, we had never previously started fostering over the summer, but these kittens came to us on June 30, 2018. They still came and went fast. People fell in love with Post, Herald, Winston, Gazette—and four of the kittens were off to their forever homes, and we were left with three: Winona, York, and Onion (aka “Chex”). They climbed into our lives, becoming like our own cats, breaking free from the kitten room and wandering our house. They dashed through the house and would curl up with us when they finally crashed. They made acquaintance with our own cats, and every one of us (human and cat) formed a bond with the three kittens. When it comes to sanity and inviting guests over, we do understand how seven cats seems excessive. Winona, York, and Chex stayed with us for six months, and every day was an exhausting joy. In January, 2019, York, Chex, and Winona went together to a kind woman who adopted some of the best cats we have ever known and, thankfully, kept the three together. We miss them, but are grateful they went to such a loving home. Like all good things, the challenge comes in letting go, because the cats do go. When fostering so many cats, we can never know where they all will end up, and adoptions do not always work out. We help our feline friends the best we can and do all in our capacity to give them a loving forever home, which rewards us because we get to work with amazing cats, seeing so much personality, so much variety, and we get to learn and grow from the experiences, which surprises people when we tell them, “We’ve fostered over 200 cats.” We’ve added each cat carefully to a list on our “kitten room” wall, and this mom makes 200: our first pregnant mom, Weaver, had a litter of five adorable, playful babies in the safety of our garage. In fact, we have now fostered 208 cats. This does not seem very remarkable to some, as there have been over 11,000 cats that have been neutered/spayed through the Feral Fixers organization. But this is a personal achievement for us. We are grateful for the 208 foster cats that we have had the good fortune to help. We are grateful to the moms because—while it’s not always easy, they make it easier on us. We are grateful that, through Feral Fixers, we can give back to cats and people alike. We have met some wonderful felines, and of course, some wonderful fellow volunteers. We are grateful to them because, in today’s world, compassion remains at the core of all the work we do.

Gillian and Nora Schneider