The Scratching Post
Purebreds Plus Cat Rescue's Frequently Asked Questions

Saturday, April 7, 2012

What Costs of Fostering Does Purebred Plus Reimburse?

Thanks to those of you who have filled out our volunteer application and expressed an interest in fostering!

We are lucky to have, as part of the Purebreds Plus extended family, volunteers who post flyers, make or take phone calls, help with transport of cats, perform administrative tasks, and support us with the financial donations we need to continue our work. But at some time or other, many of us have decided to deepen our commitment by fostering one, two, or more cats or a litter of kittens in our homes.

“The CATNIP Promise” outlined some of the crucial responsibilities of a foster parent. This blog post addresses some frequently asked questions pertaining to costs.

Purebreds Plus reimburses the foster family for necessary veterinary expenses, including but not limited to spay or neuter, vaccinations, testing for FIV/FeLV, and treatment of illness. As a new foster, you will not be expected to care for cats with challenging medical conditions, but rescue cats sometimes catch colds or require services such as dental cleaning. We work with specific veterinarians whom we trust and who offer us a rescue discount. In addition, in the interest of managing our costs, we require almost all medical expenses to be authorized in advance by a member of our board.

Purebreds Plus also provides medications, which we order at discounted prices. We do not, however, cover the cost of routine flea control.

Purebreds Plus does not reimburse foster families for food, litter, or other supplies such as bowls, grooming tools, scratching posts, or toys, but most foster moms keep their receipts and deduct the costs of fostering at tax time. (Readers of our newsletter or financial statement will remark that we show non-trivial expenses related to food and litter. What accounts for this apparent discrepancy is that we do pay for food and litter for cats we board in Santa Cruz, and in certain unusual situations. We are actively seeking grants to help us subsidize the cost of food in more foster households.)

In general, the cost of maintaining a foster cat in your home will be about the same as the cost of maintaining one of your own cats, minus veterinary costs.

For those of us who have long been committed to charitable giving, fostering is a life-changing experience in charitable living. It is not only a continual learning adventure for the foster family but also the best way to help a rescue cat make a swift and smooth transition into a new life.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The CATNIP Promise

At Purebreds Plus Cat Rescue (PPCR), the number of cats we save depends heavily on the number of foster homes we have available. Right now, we are lucky to have enough foster homes for kittens, but what we really need are more foster moms (or dads) willing to care for healthy adult cats in a home environment. We call the responsibilities of a foster “The CATNIP Promise.” That promise encompasses what every rescue kitty needs most from a foster family:

Commitment. A foster family should expect to care for a cat from intake to adoption. Every cat we receive has experienced the shock of sudden homelessness. In rescue, we strive for continuity of care whenever possible. People who travel frequently, on business or for pleasure, are not good candidates for fostering.

Accommodations. Suitable accommodations for a foster cat include a small private space to occupy for the first week or two before having access to a larger area. Then we want the foster space to be at least a room or, at best, access to the rest of the house--including the company of other cats if the foster cat’s temperament allows.

Time. We want each cat to live in a home-like atmosphere while in foster care, and this idea implies that you, as the foster parent, spend a significant amount of time in the presence of your foster cat. We do not ask you to play with the cat for hours on end, but you must be present often enough, and for long enough, that the cat feels he or she is living with someone. A person who works from a home office can be a wonderful foster, but so can a person who works away from home full-time, as long as he or she is present in the evenings, as a permanent owner would be. In addition, you will need to spend quite a bit of time observing the cat in order to understand its needs and eventually share that information with prospective adopters.

Non-attachment. An important part of fostering is being ready to say goodbye when the time is right. Remember that the goal is to find the perfect home for every cat. You should not expect to adopt every cat you foster, and sometimes a cat needs to move from one foster home to another, for logistical reasons. If you think you are the only person who can help a cat, be careful: that way hoarding lies.

Intuition. A foster has to be able to “read” the cat and also the prospective adopters, to have the best chance at finding each cat a safe, loving, permanent home.

Patience. Even a healthy cat will need time to overcome the initial shock of losing a home and being in a new place. It might take a foster cat days to let you approach and weeks to crawl into your lap. If you can’t wait, then fostering is not for you. After the initial adjustment, not every cat is placed immediately, and not every applicant is suitable for a given cat. A foster mom or dad has to be willing to review applications carefully, screen applicants, and let the cat go home only when the right match is found for the cat.

Can you make the CATNIP promise? If so, please let us hear from you. Our volunteer application is at http://02aac25.netsolhost.com/volunteerformnet2.html

Thursday, November 10, 2011

What Is Your Return Policy

When PPCR places a cat into an adoptive home, we always hope that the arrangement will be permanent. For a cat who has already been abandoned once, each additional move increases the sense of unease. But now and then, things do not work out as expected.

We assume that, after you take a PPCR cat into your care, you will have the patience for an initial adjustment period. For example, if you already have cats, it is important to introduce the newcomer carefully, over a period of weeks. Rushing this process can have consequences from which it is difficult to recover. Another common problem is for a new cat to hide for a few days. We encounter this phenomenon often in foster care. For some tips on facilitating a cat’s transition into a new home, see this post from our archive: http://purebredsplus.blogspot.com/2011/05/why-doesnt-heshe-love-me-yet-its.html .

If you feel that your new cat is not adjusting well after a period of a few weeks, we ask you to contact us. The foster mom who cared for your cat in rescue might be able to offer specific advice based on her experience with that cat. If nothing comes quickly to her mind, she can appeal to other foster moms for ideas. Our commitment to a cat does not end when the cat leaves a PPCR foster home.

In fact, when you adopt a cat from PPCR, you sign a contract obligating you to notify us if, for any reason, you feel you must give up the cat. We understand that there are circumstances in which there is little or no choice. For example, a child who had previously shown no sign of allergies suddenly develops severe asthma, or it becomes obvious that, even after weeks or months of careful introductions, your resident cat will simply not accept the new arrival.

If a problem becomes apparent within a short time, the PPCR foster mom will almost always be willing to reclaim the cat, although she will probably first try to work with you to solve the perceived problem. Even if we hear from you after a longer time, we will usually try to take the cat back, not wanting any cat previously in our care to live where he or she is unwanted or unsafe. However, given the number of cats in need of our assistance, there are times when we cannot accept a cat because we have no free foster spaces. (We are not like a restaurant that reserves a certain number of tables for walk-ins; we tend to fill our foster spaces quickly, because every time we have to say “no” to a shelter, the life of a cat is at risk.) If we have no space, we will often help you place the cat from your home. This approach has the added advantage of reducing by one the number of moves the cat will have to endure.

Obviously, if your cat has contracted a communicable illness, such as a fungal infection, we will ask you to keep the cat with you until he or she has fully recovered. Most of our foster homes have multiple cats in residence, and we cannot accept a cat who would jeopardize the health of others in our care.

Note that, if you return a cat to us, you should not expect to be able to adopt another cat from us in the future.

Friday, October 28, 2011

For a Limited Time Only

Moby got a nice new cat tree for his birthday. He is eight years old now, and I adopted him just over a year ago, right after the one person who had inquired about him, in the course of three months, had decided not to adopt him. “My husband and I realized that, at best, we’d have him for only ten years,” the woman had written. This retired couple had decided that what they really wanted was a pair of kittens. I sometimes reflect that this is exactly the attitude that results in our receiving in rescue so many cats who have outlived their owners.

I admit that, as I hold Moby in my arms or rub his belly, it occasionally saddens me to think that he is no longer a young cat. He looks and acts like a young cat, and the veterinarian tells me that he is in fine physical condition, but I have his kitten paperwork, and hence there is no mistaking his age. In a few years he will be a senior, then a few years after that he will be old. I have lived with cats for most of my life, and none of them has shown his or her age until after the age of sixteen, but there are exceptions to the rule, I know.

At these moments, I cradle Moby more consciously, focus more intently on the kiss I plant on his head. Ten years is not eighteen years, but it is a good bit of time—longer than many dogs live and longer than many marriages last. How many of us have made each day count, in any relationship? When time seems endless, it becomes easy to take one another for granted. Then so often there are misgivings when our time together ends unexpectedly.

Where I am leading is that, while adopting a middle-aged cat is a good deed—a middle-aged cat has a much harder time finding a home than does a young cat—caring for a middle-aged cat is also a lesson in loving, a reminder that love, even when we are least of aware of the fact, is “for a limited time only.”

In this spirit, I would encourage you to consider adopting a cat no longer in the bloom of youth. Take a look at our website at http://www.purebredsplus.org/ , where we introduce not only charming kittens and young cats but also some wonderful middle-aged cats, and even a few seniors, who would love to be home for the holidays. Open your heart and your home; then luxuriate in the experience of making each day count with someone you love for eight years, ten years, or twelve. Soon you’ll find yourself making each day count with everyone else you love.There is Moby, offering his belly again. A pleasure and a teaching.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Don't All Rescue Cats Have Something Wrong with Them?

Although we do rescue some cats who are ill, or who exhibit behaviors that their owners could not effectively manage, the majority of cats in our care are healthy and have no particular behavior “problems.” Here are several of the reasons cats are placed into our care:
  • The owner lost his or her home and had to move to a place where pets are not permitted.
  • The owner lost his or her job and could no longer afford to keep a pet.
  • The owner died or had to move to assisted living, and no family member or friend was willing or able to care for the cat.
  • The owner was transferred to a foreign country and could not take the cat.
  • A child or other member of the household developed severe allergies or asthma.
  • The owner found a new boyfriend and chose to sacrifice the cat to the relationship.
  • A breeder stopped breeding cats, for whatever reason, and requested assistance with placing retired breeding cats.
  • The cat needed a routine veterinary service for which the owner was unwilling or unable to pay. In many cases, the required care is something as simple as a dental cleaning or a course of treatment for a cold. (We do not place the cat until after nursing it back to health.)
  • The cat did not get along with some other family pet. Unfortunately, animals who have long been friends can sometimes become enemies. Just like people.
  • The cat was seized by animal control, along with others. In such cases, there are often treatable medical conditions. (We do not place the cat until after nursing it back to health.)
  • The owner let the cat outside and never spayed it. The cat became pregnant, and the owner chose not to deal with the consequences.
  • The kitten was born to a cat the owner let outside without having spayed it.

Having made these points, I must still quote one of our most experienced foster moms, who explains that “All these beautiful babies come with some sort of baggage.” Even a cat in the best of health does not necessarily approve of change, and to be abandoned by one’s family is an especially dire sort of change. The person who surrendered my cat Rivers described him as “really lovable,” but he was so reserved and depressed-seeming for the first several months that a friend described him as having “all the charm of a concrete block.” He spent most of each day sitting on a window sill, looking wistfully outside--probably wondering when his former family would finally arrive to take him home again.  It is no particular wonder that no one wanted to take a chance on him. Eventually I adopted him myself, and eventually he did start climbing onto my lap and kneading on my stomach in characteristic cat-like fashion. We have many stories like this, of cats who came to us confused and upset and took as much as several months to settle down.

In short, adopting a cat from rescue can give you the best of all possible worlds—a healthy, fundamentally well behaved cat and one whose personality you can watch unfold as you demonstrate that, whatever happened in the past, your furry darling is now safely home.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Do You Disclose Health and Behavior Problems?

Yesterday, I got a very short electronic mail message from a dear cousin of mine. Earlier this year, she had lost her beloved dog, a rescued Golden Retriever mix that had been very much the center of her life. My cousin has never had children and has never worked outside the home. She has always had a dog, and much of every day has been occupied with grooming the dog, walking the dog, playing with the dog, watching television with the dog, and so on. Family funds are prioritized to ensure that the dog has good medical care, including visits to specialists an hour from home. What my cousin lacks is physical strength--she is not the sort of woman who could hold back a dog that wanted to lunge--so she has wisely limited herself to beagles and small Golden mixes.

When their dog died, my cousin and her husband were crushed, and at first they thought it would be a long time before they adopted another dog, but it wasn't long before the house was just too empty, and so they adopted a female mixed-breed dog from a shelter that had posted a charming video of the dog playing and nuzzling. They were smitten.

During the first weeks, they discovered a growth on the ear that needed to be surgically removed, but far worse than that, they discovered that their new dog was highly dog-aggressive, sometimes aggressive against people, and so prone to separation anxiety that she would chew the doorframes and furniture whenever they left the house for even an hour or two. Commercial baby gates were no match for the ingenuity of this dog; my cousin has shared YouTube videos revealing just how the dog managed to unlock each style of gate. Because the dog was too dog-unfriendly to go to a group class, they hired a trainer, bought books and tapes, and got one of those crates that some dogs actually find comforting, but the dog's anxiety and destructive tendencies only worsened. This past week, after four months of failed efforts, my cousin and her husband sadly took the dog back to the shelter. My cousin is devastated--too devastated, in fact, to speak to me.

I am also, obviously, sorry for the dog. I suspect that the shelter will not seek to find some more appropriate family. What the shelter did, I feel, was analogous to placing, say, a feral Savannah with a frail older lady who thought it was cute…

As I brooded over this story yesterday, I also remembered an incident that arose the last time I took my own cats to the veterinarian. There I was, sitting right under one of our PPCR monthly flyers, when another person in the waiting room commented admiringly on one of the cats, and I admitted that I am a member of PPCR. Then the person asked me a question I am sure goes through many other people's minds also: If a cat has health or behavior problems, does the rescue disclose those to the adopter?

The answer is that PPCR does disclose health problems of which we are aware. Every adult cat placed from foster care is tested for feline leukemia (Felv) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), and we make the results available to potential adopters. Every kitten is tested for Felv but not necessarily for FIV, because test results are not meaningful for kittens below a certain age. Most cats we place from foster care have been examined by a veterinarian, either at the shelter or in connection with medical care we ourselves have provided. Exceptions include cases in which a cat is surrendered by its owner or breeder along with recent medical records. Any medical records or information we have is turned over to the adoptive family, except that we white out the name of the previous owner.

However, as a non-profit rescue, we are not in a position to order genetic analysis or extensive physical screenings—blood work or imaging--for asymptomatic cats. If a cat shows symptoms that call for expensive tests, we gratefully accept donations in support of those procedures, and of course we share the results of any such procedures with potential adopters. For example, as I write this message, we have in our care a magnificent purebred American Shorthair whose recent medical exam revealed a heart murmur; given that the cat is a senior, we plan to arrange for X-rays and an echocardiogram, even though the costs of those procedures will far exceed the fee for adopting the cat! (As a member of PPCR, I just mailed off a donation for part of the cost. If you read this post while we are still collecting money for “Clancy,” do consider pitching in along with me.)

As far as behavior is concerned, absolutely YES, we are very candid about behaviors that an adopter would need to manage. Usually, even the cat’s biographical sketch on our website indicates whether he or she is shy, doesn’t like other cats, is a “diva” (not entirely easy-going), or especially craves interaction. We would not characterize any of these traits as a behavior problem, in the absolute, but recognize that some families prefer a more active cat or a less active one, and that some are readier than others to wait for a cat to demonstrate affection. And YES, we also disclose litter-box irregularities. Feel free to ask the foster mom more questions, or more specific questions, regarding the behavior and social needs of the cat that has caught your fancy.

Of course, just as we cannot guarantee that a given cat will not develop cancer, say, we cannot predict with certainty how a cat will behave in any particular home environment. One of the great advantages of housing a cat in a foster home is that we can observe cats in some home environment, but a cat that gets along with my cats will not necessarily get along with yours, and a cat that shares my taste in music might not share yours. We do try very hard to make good matches, on the basis of the information you provide to us in your application and during your interview, and again, you have probably noticed that a cat’s biographical sketch on the website often contains language such as “would prefer a quiet home” or “tolerates other cats except dominant males.”

I can think of various reasons why some hypothetical animal-care organization might take the risk of misleading an inappropriate adopter into taking a challenging animal, but at PPCR we try never to take such risks. We are committed to disclosing all relevant information we have about each cat, not just because being honest is an ethical way to treat human beings--our adopters--but mainly because we want to attract an adopter who will give each cat the care it needs, and to deter an adopter who isn't right for the cat. Every time a cat is forsaken--and being returned by a dissatisfied adopter is another abandonment--the cat is further traumatized, and our goal, in relation to each cat, is to lift the weight of loss, not to add to it

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Brush My Cat's Teeth? Really?

Periodontal disease is the most frequently diagnosed illness in cats and can cause all manner of other health problems from infection to organ failure and heart disease (specifically the dreaded bacterial endocarditis). In rescue we occasionally receive cats who need tooth extractions or who suffer from chronic dental problems or oral diseases such as stomatitis. Some breeds are more predisposed to dental problems and gum disease than others: Abyssinians and Somalis are notoriously susceptible to gingivitis, while Siamese, Persian, and Himalayan cats have high rates of tartar accumulation and receding gums.

A Personal Perspective

I personally have been lucky with my cats’ oral health. Rivers, who is 7 years old, has never had a dental cleaning; I know, because although he came to rescue just a year and a half ago, he was surrendered by his owner, and I was able to obtain complete medical records. When I took Rivers’ companion, 8-year-old Moby, for his annual checkup last month, the veterinarian recommended hand-scaling of his teeth, which she could do then and there. This procedure was like the sort of teeth-cleaning you and I experience on a routine basis, in contrast with a full dental cleaning performed under general anesthesia. At eight, Moby is still two or three years away from being a senior cat and many years away from being a geriatric cat, but according to my vet, she would rather not subject any cat to general anesthesia for dental cleaning if the cat has only a modest accumulation of plaque and tartar and will tolerate the procedure. I was dubious, given that Moby is a big cat at 17 pounds and has his own opinions, but sure enough, the vet swaddled him in a large towel, had a technician hold him, and within a short time had done the job. Moby just looked bemused during the procedure and calmly accepted a tribute of cuddles afterward. 

NOTE: Sometimes one encounters the argument that hand-scaling without anesthesia cannot be effective and can even be dangerous. Often this argument is articulated by someone who derives personal benefit from performing dental procedures under general anesthesia. In this and all other cases where your cat’s health is at issue, the wisest course is to find a veterinarian whom you trust and follow his or her advice.

The only one of my cats whose teeth I brush on a regular basis is Akashi. I first took her to the veterinarian within a week after adopting her from a shelter. At that time she was apparently two years old but was still small and frail, presumably from lack of adequate nutrition. A year later, after eating plenty of grain-free, mostly raw food, she had blossomed into a lovely, medium-sized Ragdoll girl with an opulent coat and a large fluffy tail. However, when I took her to the vet for her annual visit, I was chastened: there was nothing badly wrong, the vet told me, but Akashi had more plaque and tartar on her teeth than would be expected of a cat her age. Before hand-scaling Akashi’s teeth, the vet gave me three options for ensuring that Akashi did not develop more serious dental issues in the future:
  • Switch from feeding Akashi mainly finely ground raw meat and bones, and consider incorporating a tartar-control kibble into her diet. This step I was reluctant to take. I had hoped that the raw diet, in itself, would have benefits for Akashi’s teeth, but even Lisa Pierson, DVM, one of the luminaries of the feline raw-feeding world, remarks on her webpage that “Unfortunately… I have been ignoring my cats’ dental health when using finely ground meat and bones and they are paying for it with unhealthy mouths.” She recommends feeding bigger chunks or gizzards, but I am reluctant to do so; I suspect that the experience of single-handedly-- in fact, bloody-handedly--saving the life of a dog who was choking on a bone left me forever skittish on this issue. And I would be uneasy feeding Akashi any significant quantity of kibble, because she drinks so little water.
  • Try dental treats, such as Greenies®. Akashi adores them, but they give her diarrhea. I have tried the experiment twice. I will not do so again.
  • Brush her teeth. Okay, I’ll try that, I said. I think my alacrity took the veterinarian by surprise.

How to Brush Your Cat’s Teeth
 
The good news is that it is not nearly as difficult to brush a cat’s teeth as one might imagine. The following video, from the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, describes and illustrates a phased approach to establishing a tooth-brushing routine: 
http://partnersah.vet.cornell.edu/pet/fhc/brushing_teeth

I have only a few points to add to the video. (Well, the first two points are made in the video also, but I want to draw particular attention to them.) 
  • Before undertaking a tooth-brushing regimen, have your cat’s teeth examined by your veterinarian. Many cats who have periodontal disease exhibit no symptoms, and there might be an existing problem your veterinarian should address before you start brushing your cat’s teeth. (As with people, brushing is a prophylactic procedure. It does not remove existing tartar buildup, for example.)
  • Do not brush your cat’s teeth within the first ten days after a dental procedure.
  • If your cat exhibits any evidence of mouth pain, definitely do not try to initiate tooth-brushing. Instead, work with your veterinarian to determine whether tooth-brushing makes sense for your cat. For problems such as stomatitis or oral disease that has systemic causes, different sorts of management protocols are likely to be in order.
  • Do not expect to be absolutely thorough. For the first several weeks of actual brushing, I did not even try to brush all of Akashi’s teeth at every session. Rather, I thought of her mouth as being divided into four quadrants—upper right, lower right, upper left, and lower left—and would aim for one quadrant at every session. Over time, we increased the number of quadrants per session.
  • Do not complicate the task by trying to brush the inside surfaces of the teeth. The cat’s tongue does that job reasonably well. Try to brush the outside surfaces, especially those of the upper molars.
  • Be prepared to waste a bit of money trying different flavors of toothpaste until you find one that your cat likes. Akashi likes the malt-flavored enzymatic toothpaste. Fortunately, it is very readily available. Do not use toothpaste meant for people or toothpaste containing fluoride.

At Least It Works

After a year of brushing Akashi’s teeth almost daily, I cannot say that she looks forward to the activity, and although I make a show of enthusiasm—“Time for teethies!”—on every occasion, I secretly do not enjoy the process either. One never does feel one can be thorough! But I can say that the exercise appears to have helped: at Akashi’s last annual checkup, the vet said her teeth did not have a notable quantity of plaque or tartar, and that her gums look healthy. Huzzah!