Foster volunteers serve a critical role for shelters during kitten season –

Danielle Ireland is so devoted to fostering young or sick felines that she has converted a special room in her home into a cat-safe space.

Now entering her fifth year of volunteering for the Humane Society for Southwest Washington, the Ridgefield, Wash., resident values the fact that she can make a difference

“Every one that’s out of that shelter and into someone’s home, becoming the best kitten they can be, really has a better shot at success,” Ireland says. “And by success, I mean successfully placed in a home that’s a forever home.”

Foster volunteers like her play a life-saving role for fledgling felines during the months between late spring and early autumn, known to shelter workers as “kitten season.”

Why is fostering important?

A kitten’s developing immune system is highly susceptible to illness, and some don’t survive in shelters. That’s why caring for a kitten until she’s old enough and strong enough – typically about eight weeks old and two pounds – to enter a shelter can be critical.

“People always say, ‘What can I do to help the animals? How can I save lives?’ says Deborah Wood, animal services manager for Washington County, which operates the Bonnie L. Hays Small Animal Shelter. “The number one thing that people in the community can do to save lives in shelters is to foster kittens.”

Volunteering for one shelter ultimately increases live-release rates for cats throughout the community, says Mike Oswald, director of Multnomah County Animal Services.

Area shelters must manage a constant juggling act as they scramble to manage the area’s cat over-population. In 2011, the Humane Society for Southwest Washington took in 1,235 kittens between May and September. The Multnomah County shelter typically takes in around 500 felines each month between July and September. Foster homes free up space for other cats, since there’s only so much room at the inn.

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