Twenty-eight-year-old Gillian is an aspiring lawyer who’s been fostering cats for over a year. To date, she has taken in four kittens and seven rescues into her home, teaching them “how to cat” with the help of her costume-wearing rescue pets, Mina and Aki. She shares the delightful story of how she accidentally got into fostering with Waldo’s Friends.
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Waldo’s Friends (WF): Hi Gillian! Tell us about the first animal you fostered.
Gillian Tero (GT): My first foster was a handsome boy named Wren. I came across him on a work day, hearing his meows from a bush during my coffee run. Though I was wearing a skirt, I crouched down to look for the source of the cries and I found myself looking straight into the eyes of this scared little kitten.
I went back to my office and promised that if he was still there after I clocked out, I’d take him home for fostering. Note that one shouldn’t immediately take kittens. You have to exert effort to see if their mom is around. Well-meaning humans who disturb the litter can affect their smell. If the mom does not recognize their smell, she will ignore them. Young kittens need to be with their mom during the first weeks to grow healthy and learn proper cat behaviour.
After work, I went back and found that he was still there! I was afraid to pull him out of the bushes, so I prayed for a miracle to happen. A roving security personnel saw me, and ended up helping me out. I brought the noisy kitten back home and called him Wren because he reminded me of the small chatty bird. There was no turning back from that.
WF: Did you have any formal training for fostering kittens?
GT: I had no formal training, but I do take great measures in educating myself. International cat personalities like Kitten Lady and Jackson Galaxy have helped a lot with situations like what to do when you see a kitten on the street. I am also lucky to have found a wonderful group of cat lovers who are aligned with my passion for local cats and their welfare.
WF: Are you officially involved with any of the animal rescues in your community?
GT: Most of my fostering efforts have been supported out of my own pocket. However, I ALWAYS get a lot of support from friends who are just as crazy about cats as I am. The support is always overwhelming. So to say “I foster on my own” is inaccurate. In my opinion, it takes a village to rescue and foster animals.
At present, I am on a break from hosting fosters. It’s admittedly hard work, and all you get is LOVE from the fosters. In lieu of this, I started a Facebook group called Cats of Salcedo to help the many stray cats in the village. We are not a formal group, and anyone can add themselves to the group. Our focus is to primarily have the kitties in the area included in TNR projects to control the population.
WF: What’s the most number of fosters you’ve taken in at one time?
GT: I have a limit of two fosters at a time. Since I already have two cats, that would make four cats in total. In my tiny apartment, that means everyday hurricanes. LOL! I think I couldn’t responsibly handle more than that.
All rescuers, fosters, and adopters should also think of the cats’ best interests, including their mental health. They also get stressed and this can be triggered in many ways, one of which is sharing territory and forming bonds. Even if my Mina and Aki are the sweetest cats, they still need adequate space from other cats. This aspect gets a bit complicated and I am still learning that all cats have their own personalities.
WF: What do you love most about fostering?
GT: I love seeing them grow to become healthy kitties! Most of them have come to me as scrawny trash goblins, but most of them grow up into majestic furry felines. My best example would be my foster Rita. She was extra skinny when she first came to me. After a few months of care, Rita grew up to be one beautiful little lady. Seeing their big fursonalities shine is another perk that I am blessed to witness. They are just always grateful love bugs.
WF: What would you say are the biggest challenges that come with fostering?
GT: For me, it’s finding the best home or family for my fosters. This is the most challenging because I want to find the best fit for the human and my foster. I also desire for my fosters to live their best lives. In fact, I always hope they find a better life with their potential adoptive homes compared to their time with me.
It could also take months before an interested person comes up. That’s also a fear—that no one ever comes forward and takes an interest in a foster. I would hate to have a foster fail because in my heart, I know that I would always want to give them away to better people and better homes. I pray it never happens to me!
WF: You mentioned your furbabies Mina and Aki earlier. How did you come to adopt them?
GT: Mina was part of the community cats of my condo. A kind-hearted cat lady took the initiative of regularly feeding and spaying/neutering them. I befriended her and learned that she had plans of transferring most of the cats to a shelter because the property administration was pushing for the pound to take them away even though they were all sterile already. Mina was a sweet beautiful kitten who happened to be a lap kitten! A calico who is a lap kitten? In the known cat world, that personality is kind of rare! Someone else wanted to take her in, but I asked and acted first. She is my first cat love and will always be my first baby girl.
Aki was given to me by an officemate a couple of months after I had taken Mina in because he had too many cats. It was the universe just proving to me that “nope, you can’t just have ONE cat!” I set firm boundaries right after I got Aki. We are not adopting any more cats because I am a single mom to Mina and Aki! I think this is also why I am more open to fostering. I can have more cats but only temporarily.
Fostering also makes adopters’ lives easier because kittens learn to socialize with other cats and interact with humans better. While they are with me, I also train them to learn skills like using the litter box, learning that the vet is an okay place, learning tricks to earn treats, and sitting on cue. I decided to train my cats because, as I live alone, it would get tiring for me to keep them calm during meal times. I can’t have a riot of excitement every time I prepare their food bowls, so I taught them to sit and wait. It worked. None of my friends did this with their cats and I was always met with something along the lines of “you can’t train cats! They train you!” But I am a stubborn person, and I persisted.
Just like dogs, most cats are food-motivated! I use a clicker to train them. Aki knows how to fist bump (but he ALWAYS complains) while Mina knows how to jump to me to be carried. Training is usually done just on weekends and when they’re a little hungry. I just keep the trainings short but frequent. It does take a lot of patience and communication with your kitties. I believe these activities enrich the life of my indoor cats mentally, and it also strengthens the bond we have with each other.
WF: How do Mina and Aki feel about having foster siblings?
GT: Good thing you asked! Before I take a foster in, I do my best to tell them that someone is going to stay with us. “We will have a little guest. I need you to be nice to him/her. And yes, I will be sharing some of your food with them, okay?” I tell them that I still love them to the moon and back even if we have new cats at home.
WF: How did you get into the habit of dressing up your cats? And more importantly, how do they feel about it?
GT: I have a Sunday cat lady group where we meet up and, sometimes, bring our cats. These friends of mine are the ones who are actually obsessed with dressing up their cats. Most of my costumes are gifts from them.
As for how they feel about it… THEY HAVE NO CHOICE. HAHAHA! But seriously, Aki and Mina are the sweetest cats. Putting costumes on them is fairly easy and they don’t really complain.
WF: You shared some powerful thoughts about spaying/neutering in one of your Instagram posts. How do you feel that this practice still isn’t as common in some parts of the Philippines? And how do you spread awareness about this issue in a grassroots level?
GT: That post was borne out of frustration with a certain rising Filipino cat blog who had an obvious dissonance with being a responsible pet guardian and breeder. My cat lady friends and I take the hard stance that breeders contribute to the overpopulation problem. Breeding only “cute” breeds also deviate the focus from all the responsibilities that come with lifetime companionship. Sadly, a lot of people tend to only like the surface level beauty… Why buy love though?
I feel frustrated upon learning that most people and friends don’t spay/neuter. When the opportunity arises to share my knowledge, I really get serious about it. I even give them tips and all the available resources so they have no excuse not to consider it. I think this has worked so far. I’m not a very patient person with humans, but sharing this knowledge and living this advocacy needs that skill and value. After all, I come from the same background growing up in the province, so the people I meet now remind me of how I was before.
Back then, my family adopted many unwanted aspins. While we were able to give them shelter and food, adequate vet care was lacking and we didn’t allot budget for spaying and neutering them. Those doggies (a maximum of 14 at one time!) lived an average of 10 years with my family.
WF: For your foster cats, do you make sure they’re spayed/neutered before they go to their forever homes?
GT: I have learned this the hard way with having one adopter refusing to neuter his cat. Admittedly, I should have extended more resources to have them spayed and neutered before they go to their FURever homes. Luckily, the rest of my adopters have all agreed to spay and neuter the babies they have adopted from me.
Recently and with help from my cat lady friends, I have been using a collated guideline for screening potential adopters. Included in this list is a series of questions to see the adopter’s stance on spaying/neutering.
WF: What are some of your funniest or most interesting foster stories to date?
GT: My cats somehow take on parenting roles. Mina is always motherly to the kittens, while Aki takes on some “pupils” of his own. He teaches them how to be a proper cat—annoying, princely, and awfully cute! He also teaches them the Art of Complaining. Aki is more vocal and very opinionated. He talks whenever he feels like it. A lot of the fosters grew up seeming to be just as vocal as he is. Not sure if this is a good or bad thing, but it’s definitely a funny aspect to their personalities!
WF: How easy or difficult is it for you when you know it’s time to give your foster away?
GT: Giving them away is never easy, emotionally. But as Kitten Lady says, “Goodbye IS the goal.” This challenge is true not only for me, but also for Mina and Aki. They form bonds with my fosters, so we do a little ritual every time we have to say goodbye to someone. I am reiki-attuned so I give all my cats reiki and communicate with them about what is going to happen soon. I tell them that their foster sibling is going to their “best love” and I think it works. It lessens the stress of tearing away the bonds we have made with each other. Mina and Aki seem to understand when I talk to them that way too.
WF: How has your life changed after fostering cats?
GT: My life has been so enriched! I feel prosperous with the quality friendships and connections that have opened up to me because of these cats. I never feel “lack” when I set my mind to fostering a new kitty. And there’s always an abundance of love. Gosh, the love that cats give… it’s crazy sweet! And I say this after growing up having a ton of dogs! The two just speak different languages and express their love distinctly.
WF: What’s the best tip you can give for first-time and long-time foster parents?
GT: For first-time foster parents, bring your new fosters to the vet FIRST THING and quarantine them at home especially if you have resident cats. Not only is there a risk of spreading diseases, introduction of new and resident cats needs time or else you’re only forcing unnecessary stress on both parties. Cats don’t speak to each other like dogs and humans do. They. NEED. Time.
For long-time foster parents, please think of the quality of life you are able to give to your fosters. Taking in too many will not only take a toll on your finances. It will also hurt you and your cats’ emotional well-being.
WF: Why would you personally encourage people to foster and adopt animals?
GT: Fostering and adopting, especially local strays, changes their lives forever. I also believe in the philosophy that the more you give, the more you receive. When you find yourself in the capacity to give a small animal a home and some of your love, I can guarantee that you will gain more than you could ever imagine. I believe that animals are pure and their love blesses people. If you have the capability to help them, then there is absolutely no need to be afraid of their love.
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