COLUMBIA — Becca Wholey greeted people as they walked into the Central Missouri Humane Society on Tuesday while a three-and-a-half-week-old black kitten meowed softly in her hands.
Wholey, a staff member at the shelter, has been fostering the kitten for three days since it was rescued alone and covered with fleas. The Humane Society relies more heavily on volunteers to foster kittens during the summer, known as "kitten season" to employees, when cats breed more often and many litters end up at the shelter.
Starting in the spring, kitten season usually peaks in early summer and ends in the fall, according to the Humane Society of the United States. In just a 3-day period in July, the shelter received 70 kittens, said Jennifer Romesburg, Central Missouri Humane Society Foster and Rescue coordinator.
Kittens have to weigh at least two pounds before they can be adopted, which usually happens about eight weeks after birth. In the meantime, the only options for them are cages or foster homes.
"You don't want them in cages for two months," Romesburg said.
She realized there were no empty cages Monday morning, so she asked for more foster volunteers on the Humane Society's Foster Care and Rescue Facebook page. Even when the shelter runs out of space, it does not turn away anyone wishing to drop off an animal.
Both new and old volunteers responded, resulting in foster homes for 10 dogs and two new volunteers for the program.
Aiding the adoption process
In addition to creating space in the shelter, foster care also helps to socialize the animals before adoption.
Steve Sample already has his own dogs at home, but he still wants to be a foster volunteer. He said fostering helps dogs get adopted if people know how they interact with other dogs and young children.
"It helps more than one dog," Sample said as he and his two sons picked up two puppies Tuesday afternoon. "This way we can continuously give them a better home."
Knowing the behavioral history of an animal is especially helpful for families, Romesburg said. Personality profiles and meet-and-greets with the foster volunteers facilitate the process of adoption.
"The more foster homes we have, the more lives we save. It reduces the amount of returns.," she said.
The Central Missouri Humane Society has about 100 foster homes currently, but not all are constantly available for hosting animals because some take off for the summer.
Many veterinary school students like to foster, Romesburg said, because it gives them first-hand experience caring for animals. Food, medical and other expenses are covered by the Humane Society, leaving volunteers to only pay for transportation to and from the shelter.
"Fosters are kind of like a family," she said, adding that she knows all of the foster volunteers by name. The Central Missouri Humane Society throws a banquet for them each year where they award six "Fosters of the Year" to three cat foster volunteers and three dog foster volunteers.
Despite only having it for three days, Wholey said she can already see a change in her kitten. Now it plays with a stuffed shark and meows around the house.
"The change is so rewarding," she said. "It's a nice short-term mom feeling."
To become eligible to foster an animal, fill out a two-page application at the Central Missouri Humane Society. For more information, go to the shelter's Facebook page on fostering or call it at 443-7387.
Supervising editor is Jake Kreinberg.