Social interactions have continued to dwindle ever since the pandemic hit in March, and nearly all in-person social gatherings — whether that means class, dinner with friends or workout groups — have been replaced with Zoom calls and screen time. Due to decreased socialization, some University students have decided to provide temporary homes for furry friends this semester.
Through the Charlottesville Albemarle Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, students have applied to foster cats and dogs from the local shelter. The application process to foster is simple — fill out the online application found on the CASPCA website or email about inquiries to volunteer. If the application is accepted, students will be placed on an on-call list to be matched with eligible animals that require a foster home — usually kittens and dogs too young for adoption, animals recovering from injury or pets who may just need a break from the stress of living in the shelter.
Fourth-year College student Nancy Kurtic has been fostering for CASPCA since her second year. While fostering during the pandemic, Kurtic has noticed that the amount of time she keeps her foster animals has been shortening, as animals have been adopted a lot faster than normal. As adopters look to find pets to have companionship during these turbulent times, many students have similarly applied to foster out of an inability to permanently provide a home to the animals at the shelter.
For fourth-year College student Annie Heath, fostering cats was a way for her to volunteer her time for a good cause and keep her occupied during quarantine.
“Something I think really helps with mental health is caring for something else and [just] having some sort of purpose,” Heath said. “[My roommate and I are] both struggling with COVID [and] just being stuck inside all the time. Having something to look after is very helpful [in dealing with COVID-19], so I think that's partly why we decided to keep doing it.”
One of the many types of animals in need of temporary shelter are often stray litters that are brought into the shelter and are too young for spaying and neutering. For third-year Education student Kacie Park, there was a learning curve that came with her first fostering experience, as she is taking care of not just one, but three of these kittens.
“This was my first time ever raising cats or kittens, and so I definitely had to do some research on how to take care of them … even [carrying] out simple stuff like cleaning their litter box,” Park said. “I think one thing that [was] difficult was … I thought that kittens were more independent and they're just meant to be alone, but the kittens that we got were very affectionate … requiring a lot of attention.”
It is important to note that while taking care of animals can be fun and provide companionship, there is a lot of responsibility and commitment that comes with taking up the task to be a foster home. Luckily, CASPCA takes care of some of the financial responsibilities that arise during a volunteer’s time as a temporary home, including medical fees to food provisions, to make sure that the new foster home has everything it needs to become a place of comfort for the animal. However, for those who are fostering in apartment complexes, there are other factors such as pet fees and noise levels to consider during the length of the animal’s stay. There are also some exceptions to the availability of provisions that may restrict access to some of other necessities for the foster animals.
“What they actually say on the website is a little misleading, I think, because they say [they’ll] provide all the materials, and that's true if they have the materials available … they'll have dog food, and cat food but [food for] kittens is harder to find,” Heath said. “The litter box we had to get ourselves, and then litter as well … a good place to look for materials are thrift stores. So SPCA has a rummage-through store ... but we have had to pay for some stuff out of pocket.”
Even if volunteers may have experience in fostering numerous animals, the learning curve is always present, Kurtic said. Each dog and cat has its own unique personality, which makes the commitment, care and attention that each animal needs different. Kurtic, who has fostered eight dogs for CASPCA, has had plenty of unique challenges and rewards from her long-term experience.
“I think the hardest part is always the first couple days, because they are very scared and confused … [But] I get pretty sad once they get adopted,” Kurtic said. “I mean I'm happy for them, but it's still a little hard to let them go. I guess that's the hardest part, [but] the most rewarding part is definitely seeing how much they grow … and seeing them be able to trust people again … and how far they come in the short time that they live with us.”
As students weigh both the hardships and rewards they gain from being a new or returning foster parent, the responsibility that comes with each application should not be forgotten, according to Park. Although it might be a temporary commitment, each moment an animal spends in a new home is a defining part of their lives and students should understand the duty that comes with the commitment.
“I think a lot of college students kind of just foster for the heck of it, and I think that's great because it definitely gets animals out of the shelters and gives them a place to be in a family,” Park said. “But students [should be] aware of responsibilities that come with it — in terms of really trying to find a loving home for them as foster parents [so] that they can get adopted [and] also making sure that your home environment is a place where they can receive affection.”