In the Fargo-Moorhead area, there are many ways to help shelter animals: spreading awareness, donating money or items, walking dogs or giving cats a lap to sit on. And for those who wish to help overcrowded shelters, save animals from being euthanized, or give special-needs pets some extra attention, Homeward Animal Shelter and CATS Cradle Shelter both offer opportunities to become foster parents.
Foster parents provide temporary homes to cats and dogs who require more individual attention, or are easily stressed out in a shelter environment. Animals under eight weeks old are too young to be adopted, and may be vulnerable to diseases commonly found in shelters; thus they need caretakers who can raise and bottle-feed them until they’re old enough, or who can take in nursing mothers.
Amber Fredericks, a local CATS Cradle foster parent, currently fosters six kittens. In addition to feeding, sheltering, and taking them to the vet, her priority is to socialize them so they’re more likely to be adopted.
“The batch of kittens I have now didn’t have a lot of human contact,” she explains, “so I am working extra hard to get these little guys used to humans. I try to go into their room every hour or two and pick each one up for some extra love.”
Some cats and dogs remain in their foster homes until they’re adopted; others just stay for a predetermined time. If an animal is taken in because they’re sick or injured, they often go back to the shelter once they’re healthy again. In any case, if the foster parent is no longer able to keep them, they can always contact the shelter and arrange to bring them back.
“I would love to keep them all until they are adopted,” Fredericks admits, “but they will go back to CATS Cradle when they are old enough and healthy enough to be around all the other cats.”
Of course, there’s always the chance that someone will fall in love and adopt their foster pet, which is a common occurrence. The shelter should be immediately notified if the foster parent decides to adopt, so they can remove the animal from the available pets list.
“I have thought about keeping one of them,” Fredericks says, “because he’s so shy and sadly that means he is less likely to be adopted. I am working extra hard with him so he can have the opportunity to find a forever home. I would love to keep all the kitties, but the most important thing is that I keep fostering. CATS Cradle is always in need of new fosters!”
Fostering doesn’t cost anything, as shelters will pay for vet care and provide food, beds, and other necessities. For many, the major challenge is the emotional toll: when the time is up, foster parents must say goodbye. Although parting with a dog or cat you’ve become attached to is not easy, there are always more shelter animals in need, and Fredericks highly recommends becoming a foster parent.
“It is much more rewarding than I had expected. Having these kitties makes you realize how much they really need you. Some of the foster kitties don’t have a momma cat to care for them. They need a lot of extra attention and love before they find their forever homes. The best thing about fostering is playing with kitties all day long! Who wouldn’t love that!”
- Särah Nour
There are several factors that may harm a shelter animal’s chances of being adopted. They may have special needs; they may be a marginalized breed, like a pit bull; but often it’s simply a matter of age. Kittens and puppies generally have a better chance of finding homes, while adults and seniors are overlooked.
This is very unfortunate, as there are many upsides to adopting an older pet. Usually they are more mellow, well-behaved, and easier to train than younger ones. According to Heather Clyde, manager and veterinary technician at the Homeward Animal Shelter, “Older dogs are usually fully housetrained, so you don’t have to worry about the often difficult task of potty-training a puppy. Older cats are far less likely to be destructive, compared to a rambunctious kitten.”
Currently the oldest Homeward Shelter animal is Prada, a miniature poodle who’s currently in a foster home. When she arrived at the shelter, her teeth were in such poor condition that she had to have them pulled. On the upside, Clyde claims, “Since dental disease is a common problem among small breed dogs, you no longer have to worry about her teeth because she has none!”
Though Prada requires some accommodation, she is gentle, affectionate, and would make a lovely pet. “She is a super sweet girl who thinks that all humans should hold and cuddle her,” Clyde says. “If you are looking for a little lap dog, Prada would be the perfect fit!”
Homeward Shelter also has four senior cats up for adoption. While they are not all in perfect health, they are all looking for loving homes.
“They all have great personalities,” Clyde says, “and both Sebastian and Ophelia enjoy the company of other cats and dogs. Pooples and Ophelia have no known health issues. Mimi has hyperthyroidism, which is easily treated with some transdermal medication. And Sebastian is currently on a special food to maintain his kidney health.”
While Sebastian, Ophelia, and Pooples are in foster care, Mimi currently resides at the shelter. She was originally surrendered when her elderly owner moved to an assisted living facility and could no longer keep her; and, more recently, she was sent back by her foster family because she was stressed about sharing the house with another cat. Sebastian and Pooples were originally adopted from Homeward, only to be surrendered several years later.
“Cats are considered senior at 8-10 years which in people years is 49-58,” says Gail Ventzke, executive director of CATS Cradle Shelter. “Many cats live to be in their 20s.”
CATS Cradle has a gentle old soul named Kerrick, who’s estimated to be about ten to twelve years old. He’s shy, quiet, and content to just sit up on his high shelf and observe his surroundings like a majestic lion overlooking his pride. Though he’s slow to trust and will need some coaxing to come out of his shell, he would make a wonderful low-maintenance companion.
The other senior at CATS Cradle is eight-year-old Cuddles. The staff considers him a total gentleman, as he will willingly give up his sleeping spot to any of the six female cats he lives with. And of course, he lives up to his name by being sweet, gentle, and mild-mannered.
“Older cats are settled in, usually quiet and unassuming,” Ventzke says. “They make wonderful pets for people who just need a quiet companion and do not have a busy household.”
So if you’re looking for a napping buddy rather than a jogging partner, look into adopting a senior pet. Chances are they’ll be all the more grateful for knowing they’ve been rescued after being overlooked for so long.
- Särah Nour
Tamara Wagner is a Fargo resident with a GoFundMe page for her sick cat, Tigger. The following interview was conducted on August 24th, 2014.
How long has Tigger been sick?
Tigger has been sick for about 4 years now. The first time he became ill he was in renal failure, and his neurological check was bad; he was dying. This is a video of him right before the first time I brought him to the vet.
After he was let out of the hospital, he was fine until around October 2012. He got sick again, but this time not as bad. The last time he was sick was a few months ago. He had the same issue as the first time, but I caught it before it was into kidney failure.
Each time he got sick coincided with times of high stress. The first time was major renovations in the house. Second time was moving to a new place. This last time was after the Fargo Marathon decided to have a marching band outside of my apartment for half the day, nonstop. I am actually mad about this, and feel the city should notify people in the area about bands, or reserve bands for the business district part of the marathon, because it can stress to animals and people. In fact it is documented in his file about that being a cause of the high stress. Stress is one major factor in his illness.
What has he been diagnosed with?
Tigger has been diagnosed with Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD). He also has a diagnosis of anxiety, and has had two life-threatening urinary blockages. The first was due to crystals in the urethra and bladder, the second (thanks to me knowing what to look for, and the help I got early), was what is called a mucous plug blocking the urethra. When that happens because of crystals, mucous, or inflammation from the FLUTD, they cannot pass urine. Very quickly they can develop life-threatening and very painful kidney failure. Death can be within 24 hours of a full blockage, and is horrible, as the body poisons itself.
Treatment for the blockages consists of anesthesia, placing a special catheter into the urethra into the bladder, and doing repeated flushings with sterile saline solution. (Sometimes surgery is needed, though Tigger hasn’t had to go through that yet, thank goodness.) After they have removed the blockages, they insert a new catheter to drain the urine, and put in an IV drip to push fluids, pain medications, antibiotics, and a type of muscle relaxer to stop contractions.
This care requires hospitalization for anywhere from 24 hours to a week depending on how severe it is, and the damage that has been done from the kidneys not working properly. If Tigger had to stay overnights on weekends or holidays, they had me transfer him to the Red River Emergency Animal Clinic.
Which vet does he see?
Tigger is currently a patient a West Fargo Animal Hospital. He also was seen and cared for overnights during his last near death crisis at Red River Animal Emergency Clinic. Both have outstanding bills.
What is his current prognosis?
If I keep up with his medications, and his special diet, along with enrichment in the environment (working on that, adding a little as I can afford each time), and regular check-ups and urine checks, he should be okay. There is always the possibility he will get sick again, and he will need to have emergency treatment again, which is why I am desperately trying to keep in good standing with the vets, and maybe even add extra for his care in case of an emergency. They know his case, and his care, and have helped save his life more than once.
How long have you had him?
I have had Tigger in my life since the day he was born, July 17th, 2006. Tigger’s mother was my sister’s cat who ran off before they could fix her. She came back pregnant. She had four babies, 2 died at birth, 2 lived. Possum went to a loving home, and I took in Tigger. I knew he was the one for me when he was less than an hour old, and he was already scooting away from his mom, part-way across the room! We had to pick him up, little kitten newborn that he was, and put him back with mommy kitty. He stayed with my sister until he was weaned, and I got him early September 2006.
I remember the promise I made to him. I was holding him and he was purring. I promised him I would never give up on him, and I would never leave him. He has been with me ever since, and aside from the 2009 flood (I was evacuated and he had to spend time at the emergency animal shelter they had set up), I have kept that promise.
What special accommodations does he currently need?
Tigger currently needs to be on a strict special diet. He is only allowed C/D canned food. No other treats, no other food. This is because it helps with the urine PH, preventing crystals. It also makes him drink more, in addition to the wet food having 70% water in it, to keep his bladder flushing out.
He is also on Prozac, which I know is controversial to some, but his condition is aggravated by stress. He always has been a bit on the nervous side, and the Prozac has actually kept him calmer and less anxious. I have seen a decrease in jumpiness, hiding, and fear behaviors. I honestly do not know what caused them in the first place. He was not abused or harmed in any way; maybe it was the flood, the stress and the shelter experience (I know he was horribly stressed out, and that is when his illnesses began). All I know is if it will save his life, keeping him more even and calm, it is and has been a godsend to us both.
Has his condition gotten better or worse within the past week?
He has been doing wonderfully for a couple of months now. This is because of his meds and food, but lately I have been struggling to keep up with both the payments and his meds and food. This is why I need help with the vet bills, so I can focus on buying his medications and special food to keep him well.
How much do his treatments cost?
His regular treatments cost $30-$100 a month. Breaking that down, his canned food comes to little over 50 dollars a month, his medications is about $17 a month. The rest is factoring in things like urine testing, or miscellaneous rechecks to monitor his urine levels.
The vet bills I have at the Red River Animal Emergency Clinic and the West Fargo Animal Hospital are from his emergencies he had. The first time it cost nearly $2,000. My friend allowed me to use his care credit. This last time I was broke due to the transmission in my car going out, and being on SSDI as my sole income at the time.The total bills came to about $1,100. I have been paying on those as I can, and I have raised $320 with the fundraiser. That money, along with my payments, has put my Red River Emergency Animal Clinic bill at $262.45, and the West Fargo Animal Hospital $465-ish.
If you want to donate towards the Red River Animal Emergency Clinic directly to the vet via phone, call them at: (701) 478-9299 and tell them you would like to donate towards Tigger’s vet bill for Tamara Wagner. You can mail checks to me written out to Red River Animal Emergency Clinic. (Put Tigger in memo so I can make sure they are credited properly.)
Have you been keeping up with payments?
I paid quite a bit actually: $320 was raised with his fundraiser so far, and some went to each vet bill and to his normal care. I have been trying to keep up recently, but I have been unable to due to being disabled myself and unemployed while I was undergoing chemotherapy treatments. I was so ill I couldn’t walk or dress myself. I was literally dying, and it has took me this long (three years nearly) to get to where I can walk and do light work like phone stuff. I just started a new job as you know, but with my diseases I can only work part time, and I will be losing my food stamps and my housing rent will go up.
I will also need to pay my Medicare premiums on my own, so the job will allow me to continue Tigger’s normal care, and save up a little to help him if he gets sick again, but not to keep up with the payments left on his current bills. If I can get these bills paid up, however, the vets hopefully will be more apt to trust I will pay, especially now that I have a job and plan to save up a little in case he gets sicker again.
I know he is my responsibility, and I want to make sure that I can care for him if he is sick again. This last time they tried to discuss putting him down not because he needed it, but because his bill would put me in debt, which it has. I just couldn’t. I couldn’t do it. Relinquishing him was an option, but I found out the state gives them $250 for the care. If it comes to more than that, they usually will euthanize. If they do treat, and they can’t find him a home (which, let’s face it… he is a brat, and has chronic medical issues that are expensive, and he is over 7 years old… no one will adopt him), he would be killed anyway. So I begged and pleaded and they gave me a chance to pay for his care.
As for the Emergency Animal Clinic, they was supposed to be help from a fund, but they became depleted and I was not able to get the money from them because Tigger was out of danger since he had the care. They reserved funding for animals who still haven’t been treated and need it when they are low on funds. Usually they will cover if it is shown the animal would die before the funding approves without care. But lack of funds meant I did not get the remaining funds for Tigger.
What more do you want people to know about Tigger?
Tigger has been a literal lifesaver for me. He is not just a pet, he is a service animal. Without him, I wouldn’t be able to orientate myself sometimes. I have rare diseases and often he “notifies” me when I am getting dangerously sick. I have Microscopic Polyangiitis, which is a rare, life-threatening Vasculitis. My immune system is excreting a protein that attacks my blood vessels. This causes damage to the vessels which restricts blood flow to my organs. This in turn causes organ damage and failure, eventually ending in transplants or death if not treated. Treatments for this are usually high-dose prednisone and chemotherapy, as well as treating what damage has happened.
Sometimes it effects my cognitive abilities. When that happens Tigger has reminded me of such things as a stove left on if I forget, or of danger. He helped get me awake and out of bed once when there was a small fire that started in the house. Thanks to him I could put it out and nothing bad happened. He also can sense when I am going to pass out, and he has been known to force me to stay sitting or laying down. This may seem odd for a cat, but it is true.
Tigger also helped me through a major depression and anxiety disorder. It is because of him I can still leave the house and start a job. Honestly, with everything going on, I became suicidal. Tigger calmed me, kept me sane. He was there for me to talk to, to hold. He cuddled me and kissed me, and I got through the mental illness with his help. Yes, I am on treatment for it as well, but without him I probably wouldn’t be here right now.
I need him, and I will do whatever I have to do. I already had to sell my camera (I am a photographer), and considered selling my violin as well if I do not get the funds together to pay his vet bills. I really don’t want to do this because it is all I have left for my music, and I worked so incredibly hard to be able to play again, to be able to hold the instrument and play.
To keep up with Tigger’s progress, follow Tigger’s Support Page on Facebook.
- Särah Nour