"You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness." Jonathan Safran Foer
I went into the shelter the other day. I didn't really have a need other than to just be there. It is funny how sometimes I'm drawn there even when I have kittens, even when I know my cats would love it if I were at home for them to climb on and have me pat them.
This particular day there wasn't much going on. There were a few cute kitties up for adoption, but nothing that really called to me until I found my way into one of the community cat rooms. This shelter has two cage-free rooms (that are able to be opened up into one big room) where the cats have access to places to climb and places to lounge and places to hide. they also have two big windows to look out onto the parking lot and the woods beyond. This particular day they had placed a handful of semi-socialized kittens in one of the rooms. The poor kittens were quite frightened and were all hiding. I spent a little time with them, but I had the feeling that they needed a little space, so I wandered off to do something else.
As I was walking back through I saw the shelter worker who takes photos of the animals for the website. He had his camera and he was in the room with the kittens, so I thought I would stop in and see if I could help. There were also some people in there looking at kittens, so we had to work around them, and also answer questions they had. In the end, he was able to get the photos we wanted, and I was able to be helpful, but I ended up with a scratch for my efforts..
Being scratched hurt, but no so more than the other countless times I have been scratched over the years. Surprisingly I am not usually covered with scratch marks, considering that a good part of the year I have kittens in the home who have absolutely no manners and don't realize that human skin is frailer than a furred up kitty.
The scratch was fairly minor. I think it drew a drop or two of blood. I cleaned myself up and when I got home I put a little coconut oil on it for its antibacterial properties and because it is quite soothing. I forgot about it until it started to heal up, at which point it itched. I put a little more coconut oil on it and in time it healed up so you wouldn't even know I had been scratched.
This incident took place a while ago, but something struck me when it happened. The pain of fostering is a bit like the pain of a kitten scratch.
The pain of fostering?
Yes, you know, when asked why you don't foster kittens, what do you say? 'Oh I could never do that, it would hurt too much to give them back'. Or when you hear of a foster kitten dying, and you wonder how someone who fosters could sign themselves back up for another litter after that.
I will admit, it took a lot to take home another litter after my first fostering loss. I did it more so I could heal than to help out. I figured there was no way on earth I was ever going to be of help ever again if I didn't 'get back on the horse'. I ached. I cried. I ugly cried. Even when the new kittens finally arrived I was so sure that it would go horribly wrong. I knew so little back then. I was so green. I also didn't have the support network of other foster homes and cat people that I do today.
It hurts when I let go of every single kitten, most of the times when I give back the mothers too. I have to fall in love with them in order to do them justice. Each time. Every time.
But I subscribe to the "it is better to have loved and lost" philosophy, especially considering the fact that if I do not open myself up to that pain, there is a darn good chance that kittens will die.
Okay, maybe not so much today, since the shelter's incoming rate has dropped dramatically and their foster program is very robust and people are generally scrambling to find kittens to foster. But by continuing to foster, I provide a place that the shelter can put incoming kittens who aren't ready for adoption and thus freeing up space to bring in other animals. Maybe they can grab a pregnant cat from another shelter knowing they have access to someone who will care for her. I am lucky enough that the shelter I volunteer for isn't putting kittens down because there is nowhere for them to go, but I know that a vast majority of the shelters don't have that luxury.
I would rather cry because they were adopted, then cry because they were killed for lack of space. I would rather cry over a foster kitten who didn't make it then know that if I hadn't tried, they probably would have never known love and the joy of a human slave. That is the gift I give them. The gift they give me is immeasurable.
and so very much worth it.