In June 2013, SASF documented the experience of fostering a cat with newborn kittens. Here, Seattle Animal Shelter foster parent Karen L. Lew explains what it’s like to foster older and special needs cats.


Maybe it’s because my youngsters have all grown up and left home. Perhaps it’s because I have arthritis in my hips and knees and need a little help to live comfortably. Sometimes I think others don’t appreciate what I have to offer just because I’m getting old. Whatever it is I have in common with older cats, I feel a great deal of empathy for them.

Empathy and the willingness to look for and listen to an older cat’s needs can be the difference between an adoptable cat and one that’s overlooked in favor of a cute little kitten. Sometimes these older cats got a rotten start in life. They have become shy or wary; they hide and no longer trust humans. Other times, they have physical problems that can make them appear less adoptable. These cats are the ones I am drawn to as a foster parent.

Take Oscar (pictured above), the first older adult cat I fostered for SAS. Nobody looked at him once, much less twice, because he was always hiding under a blanket at the Shelter. As a sometimes hermit myself, I could identify with Oscar. A chance to come out of his shell at his own speed was what he needed. After a couple of months of non-intrusive attention and care, Oscar realized he had a safe place in the “cat room” in my house. He came to trust me and to show his affectionate and even playful side, and within a couple of months, he was ready for adoption. Oscar now lives on a houseboat on Lake Union, where he enjoys basking in the sun and watching the gulls from his deck.

The more difficult fosters are those who have medical problems or other special needs. The adoption prognosis wasn’t good for Nigel, for example. He had a number of strikes against him—a ten-year-old, all-black cat who was very overweight and had chronic upper respiratory infections and poor litter box habits. Patience—and discovering that Nigel wanted two extra-large litter boxes—resolved one of his issues.

Next, Cats Exclusive Veterinary Clinic worked with me to find a solution to his URIs. Although Nigel’s immune system, compromised by FIV, was part of the problem, the major culprit was severe peritonitis. Nigel’s teeth were removed—a procedure funded through private donations to the Shelter—and after surgery he was a happier, healthier, and sweeter boy: Mr. Congeniality in black fluff.

After eight months with me, Nigel found his forever home with Calista Johnson. He was her first cat, and the pair hit it off immediately. For the whole story of Nigel—and Calista’s efforts to remedy his last remaining “strike” by helping him safely lose more than one-third of his body weight—see SASF’s 2013 video.

Fostering older cats can mean a second chance for a wonderful cat that just needs some special attention, understanding, and care. It brings with it the benefit of knowing that even an older lady like me can do something to help another living being.

-Karen L. Lew


The Seattle Animal Shelter Foundation (SASF) supports the work of the SAS foster cat program through grants that help pay for veterinary care and supplies. To help support the foster program, please consider donating to SASF.