"The trouble with a kitten is that
Eventually it becomes a cat."
So wrote poet Ogden Nash.
Although cat lovers would beg to differ, volunteers who foster kittens and puppies for Valley Humane Society in Pleasanton until they are ready for adoption might agree that they get their charges for the best part of their lives.
"You walk in the door and see kittens from every corner coming to greet you -- it's the greatest feeling in the world," said Pleasanton fosterer Jill Albers. "It makes you feel so good. You can't be sad if you're around kittens."
Her fostering mentor, Nancy Lyness, says her mantra is: "Fostering is not a lifetime commitment. It is a commitment to saving a life."
"We got involved with Valley Humane in 2007 when we first moved to California from Connecticut," Lyness said, explaining that this gave her young daughters some continuity since they had been active volunteers with animal rescue in Connecticut.
"We have fostered a total of 23 cats and kittens, and three puppies," Lyness said, noting with a laugh that she can still picture each one and remember their names.
"We also have one 'Foster Failure,'" she said. "We were so incredibly smitten with him that we just had to keep him. His name is now Beach Ball."
Lyness' enthusiasm for fostering and helping others in the effort inspired sister fosterer Laura Driver to suggest a special campaign in her honor to help the foster program.
"On Facebook, Nancy said something about her 50th birthday coming up April 7, and I thought, hmmm, '50 before 50,'" recalled Driver.
Ideas were bandied about for the promotion, now dubbed "50 Fosters for Nancy's 50th!" They decided it would be most realistic -- and have a longer-term impact -- to let the "50" include animals being fostered before April 7, newly trained fosterers, fosterers brought out of retirement, and people/corporate sponsors who donate money. Valley Humane is funded entirely by private donations.
To make the effort more tangible, fosterer Cathlin DeRosa is compiling a Quilt of 50, with photos of dogs and cats currently being fostered, new fosterers and donors.
"One of big pushes for Valley Humane Society is growing the Foster Program," said executive director Melanie Sadek. "No kittens stay at Valley Humane; they all go to foster homes."
Jill Albers made her foster debut with a mommy cat and her litter of five newborns. She knew she wanted to volunteer but finally took the pet plunge after being urged on by Valley Humane operations manager Yayoi deCosta.
"At first I was a little hesitant," Albers recalled. "Then Yayoi said there was a litter that was going to be euthanized (at the county shelter). She said, 'I will train you myself.'"
Valley Humane Society gets its animals from county shelters with the commitment that it will find them a home or care for them forever.
"I've successfully fostered and adopted 24 kittens and cats," Albers said. "I feel really good that those are 24 lives I've saved."
She is sympathetic when the kitties arrive.
"They can be completely overwhelmed. The first thing I do is give them space and time, plenty of blankets, and leave them for a while," she said. "Eventually you do want noise, they have to adjust and know this is part of life. But you have to ease them into it."
Valley Humane provides food, heating pads, scales, litter and emotional support as well as training sessions.
"The first couple of experiences can be a little nerve-wracking," Sadek said. "There are a lot of phone calls -- 'This kitten isn't thriving.' -- It's kind of like an advice nurse."
Foster homes are also needed for animals with medical procedures.
"The ideal foster is somebody who has the time to be able to do it, they love animals, and are very nurturing and caring," Sadek said. "It's like a brand new baby -- they need to be cuddled, played with."
Once a dog or a cat is ready for adoption, it will be shown on the website, valleyhumane.org. Before that, Valley Humane might promote them on its Facebook page.
Also it takes a special person to be able to say goodbye to kittens or puppies they have lived with and loved, Sadek said, explaining, "They have to understand the process and let them find their new home."
To help ease the pain of saying farewell, Lyness began a Facebook page for fosterers.
"It is a place where we share and request information regarding fostering, offer and receive advice, share photos of foster critters while we are caring for them, as well as the joy we feel when they are adopted," Lyness said.
"It is also a safe and appropriate venue for us to communicate and commiserate over the anguish we experience when it is time to give the fosters back to the shelter, as well as the angst we have when we see them hanging out there until they get adopted."
They sometimes get together to share their sadness when their foster gigs are up.
"A bit of practical advice I'd like to offer is that anyone considering becoming a fosterer should recognize that it is truly a labor of love," Lyness said. "It is a tremendous responsibility to properly care for these little lives and it requires a lot of time, effort and attention to do all that is necessary to return them to the shelter, healthy, happy and well-socialized, when the foster gig is over."
Valley Humane Society training sessions can be found at valleyhumane.org. Donations can be made online or sent to Valley Humane Society of Pleasanton, 3670 Nevada St., Pleasanton 94566.
Act before April 7 to help the volunteers celebrate Lyness' 50th in a warm and fuzzy way.
Valley Humane Society offers a special program for anyone adopting adult cats Saturday through Feb. 28.
* Adoption fees reduced to $14
* Free goodie bag (toys, fleece bed, catnip pillow and more)
* Cats must be 9 months old or older
* Cats are already spayed or neutered, microchipped and vaccinated
* Contact VHS for more info.