5 Life lessons humans can learn from fostering young kittens

 Susan Roberts's avatar

Susan Roberts

I'm an educator, traveler, vegan, and animal welfare enthusiast. I'm originally from America, but have been living in Japan for over 20 years.

Those who have fostered very young kittens, know what an intense experience that can be. Kittens who are left motherless, for one reason or another, require round the clock hands-on care. Volunteer foster parents regularly take on this important effort, raising the kittens until they can more safely go to shelter or to adoptive homes. It’s been said that saving a life will change yours, but saving the lives of orphaned animals is particularly impactful. Here are some life lessons we can learn from taking care of kittens and helping them get their little lives back on track.

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1. Adapt to change

While human caretakers can provide food and other aspects essential for survival, they have to do so in significantly different ways than mother cats do. Some kittens have great difficulty adjusting to even the best attempts made by a human guardian. Kittens must adapt to feeding from a bottle, bathing in water, and other essential care strategies which are very different from what they are prepared for. However, if the kittens can adapt to these significant changes, not only can they survive, but things might actually turn out better for them. Life on the streets, even with a mother cat, can be tough. Now rescued, the kittens have a real chance at a comfortable forever home.

Change is a regular and inevitable part of life. This is not a bad thing, but it can often seem very disturbing, especially at first. When we face sudden or unexpected change, our first instinct could be to panic. We might be tempted to resist moving forward, and to instead focus on trying to get back what we have lost. That's not always possible, and even if it was, it might not result in the best outcome. When we decide to accept that changes happen and are determined to make an effort to adapt, this helps us to move forward. We might also see that there are indeed added benefits.

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2. Helping others helps us.

Orphaned kittens are helpless. They have no chance of survival without a dedicated caretaker. Being the one who is entirely responsible for their care is somewhat daunting, but also incredibly rewarding. Watching the kittens grow, and knowing that you have helped to make that happen, is a joyful daily process. This results in less of a focus on our personal problems because it’s hard to do that while continuously giving attention to those who desperately need it. Being such an important part of saving these little lives adds meaning to our own lives.

It’s easy to get bogged down with our own challenges, but If we take a look around, we’ll see that there are others whose lives we have opportunities to positively impact. Reaching out and doing something kind for someone else makes us feel good. It allows us to worry less about our own problems and it reminds us that we have the power to make a difference.

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3. Love is a necessity.

It takes more than food, health care, and a safe place to sleep for kittens to really thrive. Kittens need and actively seek a connection with their caregiver. While they might expect the kind of love a mother cat would dispense, kittens quickly adjust to other affectionate interactions. The important point is reassurance that someone is nearby looking out for them, and human caretakers can offer this just as effectively. Gestures like a gentle pat on the head, let young kittens know that they are cared for, and the kittens respond in turn, with a purr or rub against a hand.

It’s good to love and be loved. There are lots of ways to make loving connections in our lives, in many different forms. This can include positive interactions with family members, friends, and animals. Letting someone know that they are cared for and being cared for in return is an important life experience, which can have a strong impact on our well being. Making an effort to connect with others and to form positive relationships, helps us to do more than just live. It helps us to thrive.

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4. Learn to let go

Raising kittens temporarily, loving them, and knowing that they love and depend on us, comes with an eventual hurdle. As foster caregivers, our time with these babies is limited. Our job is to keep them safe until they can go to their next place. When it’s time for them to move on, the sadness of letting them go should balance out with the happiness of the better chance at life that we were able to give them.

Goodbyes are rarely pleasant, but they will always be a part of life. Those who remain afraid of the pain that comes with every goodbye, will seek far fewer hellos. If we can learn to face letting go when it’s time and then resolutely move on to what comes next, we open up the possibility for more wonderful adventures. While we might never be comfortable with goodbyes, we can learn to bravely face them by not avoiding the experience at all costs, and instead, embrace new connections--even if those connections have a limited duration.

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5. You’ve got to have faith.

Foster caregivers work hard getting kittens to wherever they need to be, but they can’t protect the kittens from potential danger to come or know how everything will turn out in the future. It’s difficult not to worry about their ongoing safety and wellbeing. Beyond choosing a responsible organization to work with and/or follow up caregiver, foster caregivers have to focus on the things they can control, and trust that the things beyond their control will work out.

We can’t control all aspects of our own lives or futures. We just have to make the best possible choices and then trust that things will be OK. It’s not useful focusing on what we can’t control, and in the process, losing sight of what we can. Having faith in things working out for the best allows us to stop worrying so much about the future, and instead, lets us focus on managing the present.

Fostering rescued animals of any age can be an extremely worthwhile experience, but when taking care of young animals, you get to watch the magic of growth and development. Shelters are always in need of volunteers willing and able to provide the specialized and focused care that young animals desperately need. You can find opportunities for fostering at your local shelter, and if that shelter is not listed here on Animal Rescue Guide, please take a moment to add it to our growing database. For more information about caring for orphaned kittens check out our article on orphan kitten care and rescue, as well as our travelers guide to rehoming a rescue, There’s No Place Like a Forever Home.