LARGO — If you love cats and kittens, Pinellas County Animals Services needs you. Forty-fifty kittens a week are arriving at the shelter right now in need of temporary foster care.
Fostering is easy and very rewarding, as Carl and Monica Pugh of Madeira Beach will testify. They’ve been fostering for more than four years and have taken care of more than 300 cats.
“We have loved all of them and each of them,” Monica said in a video interview provided by the county’s Marketing & Communications staff.
“Our primary job is to get each kitten healthy, socialized and ready for adoption,” Carl said.
One of his favorite parts is working with feral kittens.
“When they first arrive, they’re hiding and hissing at us. They don’t want anything to do with humans,” he said. “By the time they leave, they’re crawling all over us and it’s kind of like a love fest. It’s really wonderful to see that transition from terrified kitten to really super friendly play pals.”
Monica says the main job of a foster parent is to get the animals healthy and loving so people will want to adopt them. She praised the staff at Animal Services for the support they provide. Foster parents receive easy-to-understand instructions and supplies. The animals are taken to Animal Services every two weeks for a check up to make sure they’re doing OK.
Casey Miller, foster coordinator at Animal Services, says foster parents are provided with food, litter, toys and anything else Animal Services can give them to ease an animal’s transition into a home.
“We make sure they’re well fed, safe, of course, and they get lots of playtime because playtime is really essential for kittens in particular in terms of their development,” Carl said, adding, “It’s a pretty good volunteer job to spend your time playing with kittens.”
Connie Kostoff agrees. She’s been fostering at her home in Indian Rocks Beach since 2001. She’s fostered about 1,000 kittens and loved every single minute of it.
Kostoff first started fostering because she loves cats and kittens.
“When you foster, you always have kittens around and they’re the cutest things in the world,” she said.
But after fostering awhile, she found out that the biggest thing about fostering is that it saves lives.
“If we don’t have foster parents, can you imagine what happens to those little lives,” she said. “They don’t grow up socialized. They don’t grow up with a lot of love, so they really don’t know what humans are for. You can help that in these cats and kittens and get them where they can be adopted.”
“Adoption cannot happen without temporary foster homes for our animals,” said Doug Brightwell, director of Pinellas County Animal Services. “We look to our community to step in and provide these animals with a loving place to stay until we can find them their forever home.”
Miller said foster parents are needed throughout the year for cats, kittens and dogs.
Foster parents are needed to take care of injured animals that need a safe place to get love and attention while they heal. Foster parents are needed to take in moms and their babies, as well as single kittens (or puppies) that are in need of one-on-one attention until they are adoptable.
Last year, more than 1,200 animals were placed in foster homes so they could get the care they needed to allow them to be adopted, she said.
Kostoff said it is easy to become a foster parent. First, you apply with Animal Services to be a volunteer.
“Let them know that fostering is your interest,” she said.
Then you go to an orientation class where they tell you the “ins and outs” of fostering and how to make it work in your home, she said.
The next orientation class is Friday, May 10, 10 a.m., at Animal Services, 12450 Ulmerton Road, Largo. Call 727-582-2592 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. More information about fostering, including a link to the volunteer form, can be found at www.pinellascounty.org/animalservices/foster-care.htm.
Carl said the support foster parents get is “really fantastic.”
“When we first started fostering, we didn’t have any experience,” he said. “We had no idea what we were doing and they held our hand the entire way.”
Monica and Carl have two main motivators for being foster parents. One is selfish, Monica said.
“I just love cats and kittens. It’s a lot of fun,” she said.
The second reason is charitable.
“They really need help,” she said. “They’re vulnerable and whenever you open your home to these beautiful animals, their chances to be adopted will be much higher.”
Carl likes the flexibility. The couple likes to travel. All they have to do when they are planning a trip is let Animal Services know they won’t be available for a certain time.
“Then when we get back, it’s like flipping a switch, and we’ll say send over the kitties,” he said.
The hardest part of the job is saying goodbye, Monica said.
“We usually fall in love with them and we wish we could keep them all,” she said.
“The biggest thing I’ve heard of why people don’t foster is that they think they would never give the animal back. And it’s difficult,” she said. “That’s probably the hardest part of being a foster. However, the best part of being a foster is getting that next animal to foster.”
“Our foster parents are very important to us,” Miller said. “They do a lot of work we can’t thank them enough for,” she said. “They provide all that one-on-one love and specialization care and nurturing they need to be healthy and adoptable.”