How can I bear to part with my foster kittens?

This is the question I tried to answer again this week when my husband Dillon and I gave back our third batch of foster kittens. I tried to research better methods to cope with saying goodbye on the Big Day (surgery and adoption day) but each article only gave advice like “find them a forever home.” While it can help some people, that type of thing just doesn’t seem to work for my family: a couple of introverts whose animal-loving friends have as many pets as they can handle, and probably more. And since I couldn’t find any better methods I’ll be sticking to the simple, yet not easy, goodbye ritual I’ve honed in the past six months.

Here are the steps I’ve developed to guide you through those inevitable feelings of loss and help you move on:

Saying Goodbye

  1. Always focus on goodbye. If at any time you catch yourself thinking “if I keep this kitten…” STOP! Thinking this way only hurts your heart. Remind yourself that you foster to save lives and if you fill your house and time up with adult cats you do a disservice to your future foster babies.
  2. Raise them well. Do your absolute best to raise them to be independent yet loving. Get to know them and trust in their strength to get them through life.
  3. Have quality time. Spend as much time with them as you possibly can in the week leading up to the Big Day. This helps to create a feeling of closure, especially once you’ve performed this part of the process with multiple litters.
  4. Have a family portrait made. I always have my photographer mom come over and take a picture of all the foster kittens with me and Dillon. This is the only moment before they’re adopted that I take time to think “We’ve done it! We’ve raised some great mini-cats!”  
  5. Talk to them. Maybe it’s just because I’m a crazy cat lady but I like to tell my foster babies exactly what the next few days have in store. I tell them about early morning drop off at the Humane Society, surgery, the adoption room, and being taken home by their adopters. I tell them that there might be dogs, other cats, and kids, and to be nice to them. I tell them that it’ll be fun to have an entire house to run around in instead of only one room at our house. I tell them everything I can think of to prepare them. And, even though they might not understand a word I’m saying, it does me a world of good to know I’ve done everything I could to prepare them.
  6. Write a note to their adopters. I haven’t tried this yet but the foster office recently told me that foster parents can have notes put into the kittens’ files. The notes will then be read aloud by the adoption counselors to their new families at the time of their adoptions. Consider conveying the kitten’s likes and dislikes, what they were like as a baby, and your gratitude to the family for adopting them.
  7. Reach out for support. I text my family or post on Facebook asking for prayers or positive thoughts for us and the kittens on the Big Day and, even though they can’t quite understand why I put myself through this, my family does their best to cheer me up. A good support system is crucial when you foster.

Moving On

  1. Put in the spiritual and emotional work. This could look like praying for safe surgeries and quick adoptions or journaling about your time with them. Most likely it will include lots of crying. Through it all, do your best to believe that the surgeons, Humane Society employees, and the kittens’ new families want the absolute best for your babies and will work hard to provide that for them.
  2. Check on them. I’m always pleasantly surprised at how quickly people at the local Humane Society’s foster program get back to me with answers to my questions. I message them on the evening of the Big Day to make sure my babies got through their surgeries alright. Then I check the Adoptable Cats page on the Humane Society website to see if their pictures, stats, and location have been put up. I message again after a few days to make sure they’ve been adopted. Thankfully, kittens always go quick.
  3. Clean up. It usually takes me a few days to bring myself to clean up after they’ve gone. Luckily, I’m blessed enough to have a separate room for kittens where leftover toys and messes can be left alone without getting in the way. Once I do clean up, the last chapter of my life feels complete and a clean space gives me hope that I’ll be ready when the next batch needs me.
  4. Relax. Take time between batches to be grateful for the sleep and silence. Make sure to practice self care to fill yourself back up; you can’t pour from an empty glass.

Giving the kittens up has been the worst part of fostering so far. If you can do this, you can do a whole lot!

In the comments, let me know your tried and true methods for saying goodbye.