If at First you Fail Spectacularly

Fostering cats.  It’s the one thing in life that I can look back on and say, “Well, I sucked at that.”  Last year five tiny baby kittens were taken into my care and four died three different ways.  I broke when the fourth one had to be euthanized and kept the last one to heal my heart.  She has since become a beloved member of our household.

For the past year I’ve held onto this failure.  I have to admit that I have dubbed myself the Cat Grim Reaper.  I’ve lurked on the foster parent group on Facebook and watched litter after litter of healthy kittens grow and thrive under other foster parents care.  I’ve watched sick and hurt cats become sleek and healthy.  Quietly I’ve kept my training up to date in anticipation that I was going to try again.  Once and for all I was going to cement my definition of the kitten event:  bad luck or killer.

Our local shelter just had an influx of animals and needed foster parents to take sick, but not dying, animals home to make room for the new really sick animals.  With little input from my family or friends, I volunteered to take one of the cats.  He has an upper respiratory infection, his leg is bandaged hip to foot, he just got neutered, and he has a heart murmur that needs to be evaluated once he gets over the other ailments.  His name is Bart and he’s a beautiful long haired light grey cat.  He loves my daughter and has a purr that vibrates his whole body when she pets him.

As Bart snores away on the other side of the bathroom door – he is quarantined because of his infection – I’m not confident that he’ll make it.  He hasn’t gotten better in the five days in my care.  We’ve had to change antibiotics, and he’s not eating.  The plan was to take him back to the shelter Tuesday to have his heart murmur evaluated, but already they are saying I might have to keep him longer because he’s not improving.  He is living in a mist of water vapor as I try to keep his nasal tissues from bleeding each time he sneezes.  

Thursday I dreamed Bart was playing with my parent’s cats, and woke with one thought in my head, “This is too much.”  Fostering is just too much for me, for my family, and for my other cats.  I hate saying that.  I feel like some aristocrat looking down her nose at hard work and saying, “Oh no, I can’t do that.  It’s hard and messy and time consuming and inconvenient.”  No part of me doesn’t feel like a failure.  But I’ve had to put a litter box in my bedroom to stop our cats from peeing and pooping on my bed, because the presence of the foster cat near their normal boxes makes them nervous.  My daughter sits stroking his soft fur with tears running down her face. “I’m going to miss Bart,” she says.  I drive back and forth to the shelter to drop him off and pick him up so his bandage can be changed.  I wipe bloody snot off our walls, off of my daughter, and off his fur.  The truth of the situation is that this is not our path, and not our way to help.  Bart will be our last foster and if he dies I will take the mantle of Cat Grim Reaper and wear it, but I will not partake in a third foster experience.  I will find other ways to make the world a better place.

It isn’t all terrible, don’t let me mislead you.  There are moments like this. I hope that Bart recovers and some amazing family gets to enjoy this giant  purr for years to come.

For all those who care for shelter animals, either at the shelter or in their homes, I applaud you. It is the hardest thing I have ever done, and I wish you all the strength and courage to keep doing what you do.


25 thoughts on “If at First you Fail Spectacularly

    1. I hope you are right. One of my friends said I’m like the Grinch at the end of the book, so my heart is too big now. Bart is doing better this morning so maybe I’ll avoid the grim reaper title after all. Man he is a sweet lovable cat!

      Liked by 2 people

  1. I hope Bart gets better. The poor little thing, he sounds so sick. You are giving him such a comfortable and loving place, if he doesn’t make it, his last days were filled with love, comfort and compassion. What you are doing is very special and what you are instilling in your daughter is immeasurable. Thank you 😊

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    1. Thank you so much for your kind words. You made me tear up. He’s such a sweet cat and I’m hoping the new antibiotics turn him around. Today he ate breakfast, which is a huge win, so I’m feeling hopeful. We go back to the shelter today for another evaluation. Get healthy Bart!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Both my sets of cats were supposed to be easy. That’s why I’m afraid I’m the grim reaper. It is hard work, and ideally the good outweighs the bad in the long run, but I don’t have the long run in me. Thanks for the thoughtful comment.


  2. Isn’t it hard to let go of something we believe we should be able to do? I hear maturity in your post; you accept that this is a gift that you don’t have.

    I marvel at the baby whisperers on whose shoulders a wildly crying baby will mysteriously find peace. I accept that I am not that woman! It pains me to say so, but I also cannot do child foster care, as much as I think I ought to be able. Likewise, foster animal care seems to be a gift that some have and others don’t.

    It is good you have learned this about you and your family. I expect you also learning what your family’s gifts really are.

    And yes, there is blessing for you and your children in what you have experienced with the cats. Your kids will never forget the compassion they learned in your home.

    Says this middle-aged mother of six. :o)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I love this comment. As a middle-aged mom of one, I hope you are right that this is a good learning experience for my kiddo. It has been so hard on us all.

      I also marvel at people who foster children. I think if I didn’t have my own daughter that would be a challenge I would want to try, but if I didn’t have my own child I would have never known that I had that capacity. (To foster kids, of course, I’m with you about the crying babies.) Oh, for another lifetime to have more experiences and make different choices, but for now I need to find what is best for us in our life, in our house, and with our skills, and that is not fostering cats or little people.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment. I really appreciate it. You made me cry, in a good way.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Joanna, maybe we can ditch the “cat grim reaper” and call you the “cat hospice”? I mean hospice is where many spend their final hours in as much comfort as possible. That’s what you seemed to have given to these cats. I do understand not doing it anymore. I can hardly imagine going through this repeatedly.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Ugh. I don’t want to be the cat hospice either though. I don’t think my heart is that huge. Thankfully I think this time I’m going to have a success! I just posted my cat fostering follow up. (Spoiler, he actually got better!)

        Liked by 3 people

  4. Pingback: Bart the Cat LIVES – Afthead

  5. Now, you do realize you’ve done the right thing every step of the way? Because you followed your heart and you have a heart that would not lead you wrong. Bart would be alone and bereft without you and every time you do something for him, it is one act of love he would not be getting if you weren’t there. But, I agree, the toll it takes on you is too much. I admire that you’ve tried this. I can’t even walk into a shelter without giving up my heart to every animal there. So, I stay away – it’s called survival instinct. My cats have always lived long lives and in spite of that, I still deal with the sadness that they are gone. I’ve only had to deal with this every 20 years or so, but I still remember each one. There is something else waiting for you that will bring joy into your life. I’ll be reading and following to find out what it will be. (Roxie wants pink leggings like Bart’s. I’ve explained that it is a bandage, but she is insistent and will not be deterred.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are so sweet, and I agree that what I did for Bart was important, regardless of the outcome. That said, this process feels like taking a cheese grater to my heart, and I need to find a way to help that doesn’t hurt so much or at least balances the hurt with some joy. Don’t worry, as soon as I learn what that is you will see it here! Thanks for your sweet words and understanding. It’s been a hard road.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Goodbye Bart – Afthead

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