Pet ownership in Singapore has been on the rise since the circuit breaker, as more people are working from home or having flexible work arrangements, which enable them to devote more time to caring for their pets. In the process of looking for a pet, one can either choose to adopt an animal from shelters or fosterers, or purchase them from pet stores and breeders.
Most potential pet owners tend to choose their pets according to their personal preferences about the type of animal, breed, and whether or not they feel a ‘connection’ to their potential pet.
While we often hear stories about humans forging bonds with their adopted animals, I’ve always wondered how pet fosterers felt after handing over the animals to their new owners. I’m neither a pet owner nor a fosterer, partly because I can’t deal emotionally with the thought of having to part with the animal that I have developed a bond with. I decided to ask two cat fosterers about their experiences.
Shereen, 30, is an operations administrator who grew up with cats. She shares that she has six cats at her mother’s house, but her fostering journey only began in 2020 — when she found a pregnant cat at her boyfriend’s motorbike workshop.
“I was hesitant to take her in at first because my boyfriend is allergic to cats, but when I found out she was pregnant, I bought her a temporary house which I placed at the workshop, just so that she could give birth safely. However, she was reluctant to enter the house because she thought that we were going to trap her.”
However, things changed the night before the cat gave birth. “She was bleeding, and I knew that she was going to give birth anytime soon, and I didn’t have the heart to leave her [at the workshop], so I brought her home. She gave birth to three kittens the next morning.”
That experience inevitably brought Shereen closer to the cat, which she affectionately named Sayang. “I stayed with her the entire night, because I could see that she was anxious. I eventually fell asleep but she woke me up, as if to tell me that she was going to give birth soon.”
Shereen recalls Sayang to be a very sweet natured cat, who would follow her around — and even wait for her outside the toilet at times! Sayang’s three kittens, Ginger, Biggie and Bully also grew on Shereen as well.
“They lit up my days when they were with me. It’s not that I didn’t want to keep them, but I couldn’t commit to taking care of them long term because of my work and my boyfriend’s chronic asthma. I wanted to give my best to them, so I decided that fostering was the best I could do, while I looked for someone that could give them a forever home.”
With some luck, she managed to find someone to adopt Sayang and her three kittens. She has also gone on to foster more stray cats. “There was a kitten that I found near a shoe rack, I took her in temporarily before finding someone to adopt her. I think I’ve fostered around 10 cats so far, and I currently have one with me.”
She adds that the main difference between fostering and adopting is essentially providing the cats with a temporary home, as opposed to a forever home. Given her current situation, she feels that it is best for her to foster, but she isn’t eliminating the possibility of adopting a cat of her own in the near future.
Having taken so many cats under her wing and giving them away eventually, Shereen says that she has gotten used to it. “Of course it’s hard, after you’ve built trust and bonds with the cat, but I try to think positively about the situation, that they will be happier and have a better home after this. I’ll usually cry for a few days, but I still get updates from their pawrents, so that makes me happy. They also allow me to visit the cats from time to time.”
As she becomes a more seasoned cat fosterer, she has also learnt how to better manage the different personalities of the animals that she takes care of. “Naturally I was nervous the first time I did it, especially since Sayang was a stray, and different cats also have different personalities, and act differently when they’re sick. But I love cats, so I always try my best to give them what they need. There’s a lot of patience needed because some cats take a longer time to settle down. They’re like little babies.”
I asked Shereen which foster cat she remembers the most fondly, and without hesitation, she says, “Sayang! She’s my first foster, and I already had a bond with her at the workshop before I took her in. I cried when she was adopted but I take comfort in knowing that she’s in a good home.”
Sayang (now known as Sandy), Ginger, Bully (now Charcoal), have been adopted by Mai Linh and Kenneth, while Biggie (Chopin) has been adopted by Michelle, who is also a fosterer.
I asked what the cats’ new pawrents had to say about them:
“Sandy, Ginger and Charcoal have changed our lives in the best way possible.”—Mai Linh
“Chopin is the monkey I never knew I needed to complete my family.”—Michelle
Michelle, 31, shares that her fostering journey stemmed from her passion “about anything cat-related”. “I’ve seen a lot of injured cats on Facebook groups, so I thought that if I can help, I should.” She explains that animals which require foster care often come from less than ideal backgrounds, such as abuse, illness, or have been abandoned. “Fostering can help to improve their situation by providing them with proper and regular meals, shelter, and security. There are a lot of cats waiting to be rescued, I can’t take in so many myself, so I am happy to let them be adopted by responsible and loving owners.”
She thus reached out to a cat rescuer to see if there were any cats that she could foster. “She mentioned that there was a very friendly stray cat, Oliver, that she would like to save.”
When Oliver first came under Michelle’s care, he had been a stray for two years, and had endured much hardship. “He was all bones, his fur was patchy, and he was infested with fleas. It was a very sad sight. However, he was still extremely friendly. With lots of love, a proper diet and visits to the vet, he was eventually ready for adoption.”
With such a lovable personality, it’s no surprise that Oliver settled in with his new owners quickly. Michelle says the experience was akin to a teacher seeing a student graduate. “I felt very happy for Oliver, as he no longer had to suffer, and would be pampered by his pawrents.”
An owner of four cats herself, Michelle sees no difference in fostering and adopting because “humans are slaves to both fostered and adopted animals,” she jokes. “But for fostering, you make an additional effort to find people that can love the animal better than you can, but until then, you’ll still give them lots of love and ensure that they’re ready for their forever home.”
On her part, she also did a house visit the day Oliver was brought to his new parents. “This was more to check the condition, safety, and environment of the house. As fosterers always say, ‘windows and doors must be fully meshed, if you cannot fulfill this, don’t bother’.” She occasionally still gets to interact with Oliver through video calls and Instagram.
Having given Oliver and Chopin a better future, Michelle hopes to foster more cats in the future, “because all cats deserve a home and lots of love”.
With fostering, it seems like although having to part with the cat is an inevitable consequence, I guess knowing that the cat is going to a better home is a source of comfort in itself. Perhaps bonding with foster cats is an experience that is meant to be relished in the moment, and while we’re not sure if the cats will remember, we know that they will still be loved and cared for by their new owners.