The universe kept SOS’ing me about fostering animals: the Humane Society was offering a foster training, RezDawg Rescue needed foster parents. My nearly 15-year-old girl kitty, Mukti, had recently died, and her brother, Bhakti, and I were still devastated, sodden with grief. I had no intention of bringing a new animal into my life so soon, if at all, but one takeaway from the Four Noble Truths is that the way to end suffering is to stop thinking about yourself, So maybe I should stop focusing on how much I miss my girl and show some compassion for another being, I thought. Maybe my boy would find comfort in the companionship of another feline, and through fostering I could see if that were true.
So I filled out a six-page application with the understanding that it could take two weeks or so for it to be processed. But it seemed like no sooner had I pushed “send” than I got a call about an imminent “transport”: How many kittens/cats could I take? A whole litter? Whoa! Um, one, two, max, I said.
Little One was barely six weeks old. His mother and entire litter had been “surrendered” to animal control in Gallup, NM, a month before because the owner couldn’t afford to feed them all. (Don’t get me started about people who don’t fix their animals.) He looked like a cross between a wolfman and a poodle, cried like a baby cheetah, and ate like a horse. Natch, I fell in love with him, and became a foster failure.
This was not supposed to happen. This was not the way it was supposed to be. I wasn’t ready. Bhakti wasn’t ready. I hadn’t deliberately decided to be another animal’s guardian.
She Came in Through the Not-Bathroom Window
I’d had a kitten, briefly, in high school, named Grenadine (yes, I was a Deadhead), but when my father discovered my offense, he told me that either the kitten or I had to go, and I didn’t yet have enough backbone or financial resources to move out, so the kitty went. But my first kitty-for-keeps arrived in my life by waltzing in through an open window (covered by a metal diamond-lattice gate) when I lived in a ground-floor tenement apartment in the East Village in New York back in the day (shower in kitchen, way-sloping floor, no gas for cooking, shooting galleries on either side of the building).
She was black and had the attitude of her milieu in those late-punk days, and I called her Cha-Cha. Cha-Cha and I eventually moved around the corner to a fourth-floor walkup with the same window treatment, but on a fire escape, which served as a low-rent terrace. She and I, friends and boyfriends, came and went through the window. One day she went and never came back. I was devastated.
At some point, I decided that I needed a gray cat, and my boyfriend P. (maybe the one awesome thing he ever did for me) found a rescue organization that had a male kitty who fit my aesthetic. Helmut, a former Luftwaffe officer (hey, that’s what he said!) trekked up the four flights, and after interviewing us and deeming us worthy, left the gorgeous gray boy in our (read: my) care. I named him Gorodish after the beyond-cool bohemian character in the movie Diva.
Gorodish did not live up to his name. He turned out to be more of a mama’s boy than a cool cat, but he did have his eccentricities: he ate with his hands/paws, which drove P. crazy for some reason (or maybe it was just that he clawed P.’s record covers and leather jacket?) and loved fig bars and steamed asparagus, which I brought to him in the ICU, where he did some time when a brain tumor was diagnosed. I was in the process of buying a real apartment (Art Deco, herringboned floors, elevator, real kitchen, two bathrooms!) way uptown, and it was my hope that Gorodish would move with me, but it wasn’t meant to be. Again, I was devastated.
My new apartment was three times the size of my old one and felt hugely empty without another living, breathing being in it (P. was history by then), but it took a few years before I was ready to bring more feline love into my life. Because I was a typical bizzy-bizzy-bizzy New Yorker, I’d long felt guilty about leaving Gorodish home alone so much and had decided that I would get two cats the next time around so they’d have each other for company.
Orange Is the New Black
My new favorite color was orange. (Yes, everyone was surprised that I even knew what a color was!) I hit shelters and the ASPCA, perusing the orange and calico options, even taking the train out to the North Shore Animal League on Long Island, resisting the urge to adopt every whiskered orphan I saw. But then I met a Burmese owned by a friend of a friend, and that was it—I had to get me one or, um, two.
So I tracked down a breeder (I know, so bourgeois! I couldn’t help myself) who happened to have a brother and sister from a recent litter who weren’t yet spoken for or show-worthy. I spoke for them sight unseen, and when they were 12 weeks old, proper adoption age, I rented a car and drove to Collegeville, PA, to sign the papers and bring them home. They may not have met all the highest standards of the breed, about which I really knew little and cared even less—what I loved was the breed’s gentle “dogginess”—but they seemed pretty purrrfect (sorry!) to me.
After seven years of being big-city apartment dwellers, my yogi cats, Bhakti (devotion) and Mukti (liberation), moved with me to a postage-stamp house near the foothills in Boulder, CO, where more than enough backyard brought out their feline essence. When Mukti stalked through the grass, always grown tall because I hate mowing, I saw a lion on the prowl in the savanna. I could feel Bhakti’s primal pleasure as he lay on a warm stone letting the sun’s rays further warm his body. It was a cat’s life!
The Foster-Parent Trap
I put Little One in my office, where the confined space was meant to make him feel secure and prevent Bhakti from feeling threatened. But after two days and nights of listening to Little One cry whenever he was left alone, I broke down and broke all the introducing-new-cats-to-each-other rules: I let Little One, gasp, sleep with us. Bhakti was not happy; Little One was thrilled. After another day of Bhakti’s bad mood, I reinstituted the separation policy. Bhakti continued to do his “I’m upset thing,” which is to hide under the covers for hours. Then I noticed that he had nearly stopped eating, because he didn’t want to walk past Little One’s door to get to his food (yes, I tried moving his food)—and he had definitely stopped pooping.
After an expensive visit to the vet to assess and hopefully rectify Bhakti’s problem, I called the RezDawg foster facilitator and told her that the situation was untenable—I couldn’t keep torturing my big boy and I definitely couldn’t afford extraneous vet bills. That night, while I was in my office with the door closed, Bhakti demanded to be let in. I opened the door, and he marched right up to Little One, who was eating, hissed at him, gave the room a thorough inspection, used Little One’s scratching pad for good measure, then huffed out, having made his point.
Little One bounced out after him and pressed his nose up against Bhakti’s. Bhakti didn’t budge. Then he feinted to the left and walked past Little One back to the (his) bedroom. Progress had been made, but at what cost, and for what purpose?
Should He Stay or Should He Go?
I was supposed to foster Little One until he was two pounds, at which point he could be neutered and put up for adoption—that might mean another week or more. In another week, the two boys might become pals, and it would seem cruel to separate them and to have needlessly put Bhakti through so much stress. Should I just keep Little One so all the stress wouldn’t be for nought? I had, indeed, fallen in love with him—with his innocence and joy and trust and sweetness. But what if Bhakti never came around? And what about the financial and emotional investment in an animal whose health (an issue was surfacing) hadn’t been 100 percent vetted yet and the potential risk to Bhakti’s health?
In the meantime, between catering to the demands of two dueling personalities, and being constantly serenaded by the cat-cophony of Little One’s cries and Bhakti’s growls, and keeping Little One away from Bhakti’s food and litter box, I was getting no sleep and getting no work done. The situation was untenable.
Eleven days after Little One arrived, a catless friend came to scoop him and his accouterments up and foster him for the duration. I was devastated.
Bhakti was outside having a sunbath. I vacuumed Little One’s room, removing all traces of him; I even changed the dress I was wearing, which was no doubt covered with his hair.
When Bhakti came inside, I was sitting at my computer, my office door open. He took in the scene, then fairly bounded into my lap and started purring.
Yoga is the ability to hold space for two opposing ideas simultaneously: desperately missing the pouf of love and joy and innocence who had graced my life for such a short period of time while being grateful for the lifting of my main man’s mood; feeling soothed by the return of peace and quiet and spaciousness while feeling overwhelmed by what that silence represents; feeling like a foster failure while knowing that I helped give Little One a sweet boost on his life’s journey, which is certainly a foster success.
• For fostering inspiration, check out Cat Man Chris.
• If you’re thinking of fostering, do your homework—there’s probably more to it than you think, as I discovered. Check out the faqs at Paws. org for starters.
Jaimie Epstein’s mission is to bring a more enlightened life to light. You can find her at blissninny.com.