Congratulations to Heidi P., nominated and chosen as the July Volunteer of the Month. When Heidi was a child, her mother took in an abandoned cat. Ever since, Heidi has wanted to take care of animals in need of special help- a role that she and her family now fulfill as foster volunteers.
Heidi grew up in a home with lots of pets. There were cats, rats, dogs, you name it. But Heidi’s favorite was a white cat named Snowball. Heidi’s mother had seen someone throw Snowball from their car, abandoning the cat. As a bona fide cat lady, she took her in, and Snowball bonded quickly with Heidi. She lived in her room, and Heidi would snuggle her, wrap her in a blanket, and carry her around.
Heidi and her family have had cats and dogs on and off through the years. Heidi was drawn to senior cats who needed a loving home for their golden years, which meant that they didn’t always have cats for a long time. One of their most recent cats, Finn (FN), was adopted from Multnomah County Animal Services. The family was still mourning Finn’s loss in 2019, when Heidi received an e-mail that the shelter was in need of foster volunteers for bottle baby kittens. Heidi saw it as an opportunity to help more animals on an ongoing basis, and something that her older daughter, Lily, would enjoy doing as well. The two took their foster training classes together, then dove right in.
Of course, Heidi likes the idea of being able to foster a white cat like Snowball, but as she says, “I try not to base our foster selection solely on looks. We like to consider the animals who need the most help, those who are there the longest, or who need a break from the shelter. We do have a dog and kids, so we want to carefully consider pets who wouldn’t be too stressed out in that environment, and those are our priorities.”
While some temperamental senior cats may not enjoy a busy household with dogs and kids, it’s the perfect environment to socialize kittens, and expose them to new things.
In foster volunteer endeavors, Heidi has the support of her husband, Richard, and their four children, Hunter, Lily, Oliver, and Elliot. Everyone pitches in for bottle baby feedings around the clock, monitoring, and socialization. There are plenty of kitten cuddles to go around, and it helps to have all hands on deck.
“Fostering bottle-babies was very eye-opening,” Heidi says. “There’s a lot more to it than you would expect. Our first kitten was two days old when we started fostering. Fortunately, it was a single kitten and not a litter, which helped to ease into the routine. It was a lot of work, but very rewarding- definitely worth the sleepless nights and feedings. It was great.
“I really enjoyed having little ones around, but it took a little while before we got a whole litter. They sent us four different single kittens. So we started with one the first week, then took on another each week until we had four. They were a little bit older, but still in the two to three week range. Then we kept on fostering kittens until kitten season wound down, and started fostering senior cats.”
Heidi and her family have fostered multiple long-term senior cats. One of their favorites was a senior Maine Coon named Sabrina.
“When Sabrina came to us, she was so scared,” Heidi says. “She hid under our couch for two whole days. It was really surprising because she was really big, but she fit herself in! We would slide food to her until she was settled and comfortable. Eventually she started coming out of her shell. She was so tolerant and lovable once she calmed down.
“There was just something about Sabrina. Even Roberta in Animal Health was saying how amazing she was. Nothing specific, just her affectionate demeanor. She was a really good cat, but she was suffering from renal failure, and our time was limited with her. It made it especially hard, but she’s also one of our most memorable fosters. It made us want to help out the older animals even more, especially during their last stage of life.”
Heidi’s Advice for New Foster Volunteers
Heidi’s advice to new foster volunteers is to enjoy the moments of giving love to the animals, and try not to stress too much.
“When you start out, you might be preoccupied with trying to go by the book, and getting things right,” Heidi says. “But if you can relax, you need to remember that the most important thing for these animals is to have companionship, and a safe home with safe people. Slow down and enjoy the moments you have with them, and remember that it is definitely worth any ups or downs you may experience.”
Heidi also encourages making fostering a family affair. “Fostering has provided many lessons for my family, especially the younger kids. They are much more educated now on caring for animals, and having patience. They are more aware to make sure the animal are protected and safe, and the importance of good medical care. We also fostered some un-neutered male cats for a little while, so they understand the importance of spaying and neutering animals, and the impact of pet overpopulation.”
When they’re not fostering bottle babies or senior cats, Heidi and her family enjoy spending time outdoors, traveling locally, going to parks as a family, and playing video games together.
Thank you, Heidi and family, for your service to the pets and people of Multnomah County as foster volunteers.