Are You Tough Enough?

It started with one 3-week-old kitten, spotted along the side of the road. Melinda Herndon and her daughter got the kitten to safety at Frederick County Animal Control (FCAC). But when they called to check on the kitten the next morning, they found out that the shelter's foster homes were full. So when FCAC staff asked Melinda if she could foster the kitten, she responded immediately: "Tell me how."

"By that evening," says Melinda, "I was driving straight from work to the shelter to pick this kitten back up. By the time I got there, two more had joined my pickup." In the 5 years since her first fostering gig, Melinda estimates she has fostered close to 500 kittens and mama cats. "When it's kitten season, roughly end of March through December, I always have kittens," explains Melinda. "One litter goes back, I bring another home."

In addition to kittens, Melinda fosters toy breed dogs "when there is a pressing need, like if they had surgery and need round-the-clock pain medication or antibiotics.... Some are just not thriving as well in the shelter ... and need more of a home to feel secure or to heal well."

"By far the toughest part [of fostering] is being strong enough emotionally," says Melinda. "I always say, 'fostering is NOT for wimps'.... I have had kittens die. I've seen a badly neglected dog." And, of course, it's hard to say goodbye when your foster animal is adopted.

But the rewards of fostering easily outweigh any difficulties. "You have to love them enough to know that there is a perfect family that wants them so much, and will give them so much love," says Melinda. "Your job is to prepare your foster animals for their forever family."

As far as the time commitment, fostering is like anything else: if it's important to you, you make it work. With the support of her family, Melinda has found time to foster while working full-time and volunteering at the shelter.

To those who are thinking of fostering, Melinda says, "please do. We need help. Very, very much so. It never hurts to at least try." Now, with kitten season just gearing up, would be an especially good time to try.

Think you're tough enough to foster? The first step is to fill out a foster application. They're available online (www.frederickcountymd.gov/116/Volunteer) or you can pick one up at the shelter. Shelter staff can help you decide what kinds of animals to foster and how to prepare. And if any problems or questions arise, says Melinda, "you will get wonderful support and direction from the shelter staff, the vet, and the vet techs."

Of course, adds Melinda, "to be a successful foster, you definitely, first and foremost, have to love animals. There is no better feeling in the world than knowing you are making a difference in the lives of these pets because you care!"