CAPE GIRARDEAU — A 3 a.m. daily wake-up call of fur in the face is one of Christine Spanley's favorite rituals with her adopted cat, Zoey.
Spanley, a Jackson resident, first met Zoey last year while serving as the foster caretaker for a litter of kittens from Safe Harbor Animal Sanctuary in Jackson. Spanley has served as a volunteer at Safe Harbor since 2007 and has been fostering animals since 2008. She has fostered numerous cats and dogs through the years and has adopted some of them as a result. Zoey, three other cats and a dog all started as temporary residents in the Spanley home.
"It's a great experience," Spanley said. "Once they're gone, I really miss it. There's nothing sweeter than little kittens."
Spanley said she has been a cat lover all of her life thanks to being exposed to animals at a young age. Living in the country, her family had an abundant number of cats and dogs that were not always able to receive medical attention.
"I always swore to myself I would never let that happen to my pets," she said. "It's rewarding to me to see kittens in a nice safe environment. I do what it takes to make them into good, healthy kittens."
As a foster caretaker, Spanley receives help from the shelter to provide for the animals.
"We can provide medications, veterinarian care and food for any fosters," said Alice Wybert, director of Safe Harbor.
Wybert said individuals who wish to foster should be compassionate, caring and patient. Caretakers must be at least 18 years old. The process of becoming a foster with Safe Harbor includes a home visit, a background check and paperwork.
"You want to provide a safe environment for your animal like you would your children," Wybert said.
Fosters can choose what type of animal they would prefer and how long they wish to care for the animal.
"We would like for someone to try it for a week or two," Wybert said. "Overnight doesn't work. You have to give things a little time."
Currently, Safe Harbor has 223 cats and kittens and 16 dogs available for fostering. Putting the animals with a family — even if it's only temporary — helps socialize them and frees up space at the shelters.
Along with Safe Harbor, the Humane Society of Southeast Missouri also has a fostering program.
Cheryle Dillon, director of the Humane Society, said individuals interested in fostering an animal can fill out an application at the shelter. The Humane Society requires veterinarian checkups for the animal and the foster caretaker to be at least 21 years old.
Dillon said a suitable individual for the fostering program is a person who wants a companion but cannot afford to adopt with the medical expenses.
"The foster fills that gap," she said.
Rochelle Steffen, a Cape Girardeau resident and eight-year volunteer at the Humane Society, became a foster for her first litter of kittens last year and since has fostered three litters.
"I can't have 40 dogs, but I sure can help 40 animals," Steffen said.
Establishing a larger volunteer base is crucial at both Safe Harbor and the Humane Society in order to help prepare the animals for adoption.
"The public appreciates us taking the next step of trying to make the animals more adoptable," Dillon said. "The more help we get from the community the more help we can give the community."
Currently Safe Harbor has an average of 20 volunteers, and the Humane Society averages around 10 volunteers for fostering.
"I have some people come out here and they just work and work and work. They are few and far between," Wybert said. "I just wish more people would volunteer or foster. What expense do you have other than your love and your time?"
On the first Saturday of every month, Safe Harbor and the Humane Society team up with other rescue centers in the area for Fostering Hope at PETCO in Cape Girardeau where people can see some of the animals available for fostering and learn more information about the programs.