Lisa Hanes's kids have always been animal-crazy. Even with a cat, two dogs and two guinea pigs in the house, Paige, 8, and her brother, Hunter, 11, often stop at the local pet shop in Monterey, CA, to visit the animals. Paige declared she wanted to be a veterinarian when she was in preschool. So Lisa wasn't shocked when two years ago, the kids suggested that their reward for completing chores be volunteering at Animal Friends Rescue Project (AFRP) in nearby Pacific Grove. Kitty love: (from left) Lisa, Paige, Hunter and Mark Hanes
Eager to encourage their passion for animals and their desire to contribute to the community, Lisa and her husband, Mark, drove the kids to the shelter to sign up as volunteers. But they soon realized that with their work schedules and the kids' baseball, soccer, basketball and ballet, there just wasn't any spare time. That's when they decided to foster and care for cats at home.
"There's a need for foster parents, since shelters often don't have enough room to house all the animals they take in," says Lisa, who hadn't realized that most shelters offer this program and they're eager for people to sign up. After filling out an application and attending a seminar on the responsibilities the family would be taking on, they brought home their first two cats. Hunter and Paige take turns with feeding and litter duty, and everyone in the family holds the little ones, since the more the kittens are handled and get used to people, the better candidates they are for adoption. Even the rest of the household's pets don't mind them, though Sugar, the family cat, mostly steers clear. With the first two foster kittens, Sugar hardly came home except to eat and sleep, but she has slowly become more welcoming.
A kitten stays with the Haneses until it recovers from being spayed or neutered, which happens at about eight weeks old, with a few days of healing afterward. Then it's back to the shelter for adoption. "Most of our babies are adopted within a few days," Lisa says proudly.
But one of the cats the family fostered, a Siamese named Neela, won a special place in the heart of Lisa's father, who had Siamese cats as a boy. "My dad would come over and ask, 'Where's my baby?' And he wasn't talking about his grandchildren," Lisa jokes. So, as a Christmas surprise that year, she officially adopted Neela for him. "I gave my dad a basket of cat toys, and he had tears in his eyes," Lisa remembers. "Neela makes him really happy."
Their most recent charge, Shyla, got her name because she hid under Paige's bed for the first three days. After two months, she blossomed, even working her way into Sugar's good graces.
Sometimes it can be tough to say goodbye after bonding with the kittens. But, says Lisa, "I tell my kids that we're training the kittens to be good cats, and another family benefits from what we've done." Paige makes a scrapbook with photos of their foster cats to keep as a memento. "We fall in love with every one," says Lisa. "It's so rewarding to see how we've helped them grow that we look forward to each new kitten."
ILISA COHEN is a writer in New York City.
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