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Behavior Department: Kitty in Their Hands

Bringing out the best behaviors in kittens

  • Giving up kittens they’ve raised is difficult even for longtime fosterers, but the separation pangs are worth it. They know once they’ve given one group of kittens a good start in life, they can open their homes to the next ones who deserve the same chance. Nancy Peterson

Theresa Foley’s introduction to fostering started 15 years ago when she trapped feral cats and kittens on her street in old town Key West, Fla. Foley fostered several six-toed kittens—perhaps relatives of the felines who still roam Ernest Hemingway’s property on the island—during the three years it took to trap one elusive mom cat. “I began fostering mostly out of necessity, because there were not that many people willing to do it or set up to do it,” she says.

At the time, information about feline development and behavior was sparse, and Foley was lucky to find an experienced fosterer to mentor her. The woman who headed Lower Keys Friends of Animals of Key West, which provided free surgeries to Foley’s trapped felines, taught Foley about medications, record-keeping, and adoptions.

Foley was grateful for the help she received and became a volunteer for the organization. When she offered to help others doing trap-neuter-return (TNR), “it was like turning on a fire hydrant,” she says. Requests poured in. Five years ago Foley founded Venice Street Cats—a nonprofit that promotes spay/neuter for pet cats and helps people get free or low-cost spay/neuter services for ferals and strays—in Venice, Fla., with a budget of $3,000. In 2010, its $40,000 budget came from donations of $1 to $20 from locals. The work of Venice Street Cats is also supported by many volunteers mentored by Foley, including fosterers who socialize kittens.

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