ANAHEIM, Calif. — Many Americans opened their homes to rescue animals early in the pandemic. But a slowdown in adoptions, coupled with volunteer and staffing shortages, has been hard on shelters.
"We had, at one point, more foster homes than we could send kittens and cats," said Nadia Oseguera, senior manager of foster care for the Los Angeles Kitten Foster Program with the ASPCA. "2021 seemed a lot worse for animal welfare. People were going back to work and understandably, a lot of our fosters couldn't take on these more involved cases."
The organization is sharing the story of one foster caregiver to inspire others to take in an animal this winter.
"One of Lori's current expertise is socializing kittens," said Oseguera. "She was open to learning by doing."
Lori Irby began fostering kittens for the ASPCA in 2019, keeping the young animals in her office during the day.
"I get the hissy ones, the ones that are especially shy because I have the opportunity to socialize them here," said Irby, a business manager at the Meridian of Anaheim Hills, a senior living community in Southern California.
After residents began visiting her office daily, Irby suggested hosting a kitten therapy day. Three years later, it's now a weekly ritual for staff and residents.
"It automatically cheers them up," said Irby.
She's since fostered nearly 40 kittens, many adopted by residents and employees. And Irby says kitten therapy day became a lifeline during the pandemic.
"A lot of people weren't able to see their families. They couldn't really even visit with each other a whole lot, not being able to have big gatherings," said Irby.
Oseguera says it's beneficial for the residents and the kittens. She says it's best to socialize kittens at 2 to 7 weeks of age when they're open to new experiences.
"Because they're getting to go to a new place, they're being exposed to different people, being held, being handled, and so, that's also socializing the kittens," Oseguera said.
Resident Angela Shockley moved to the community with her husband two years ago.
"Was lonely. We got old, friends move away, one close to our heart. And it was time to move," said Shockley.
She looks forward to kitten therapy day each week, arriving early to spend more time with the animals.
"All my anxiety goes away. It's a nice feeling," said Shockley. "It's been great, great. And I'm grateful every day."
Oseguera says the ASPCA foster program has a higher-than-average number of kittens right now. While they expect an influx of kittens from April to November during the breeding season each year, she says things haven't slowed down in Los Angeles.
The organization is calling on people around the country to consider fostering this winter. The ASPCA provides foster caregivers with food, supplies and medical services.
"If people are going to be staying home more, I highly encourage them to go to their local shelter, rescue," said Oseguera. "Sign up to bring kittens, cats, or even dogs home. Because you're going to be saving a life, but in return, you're going to be getting that companionship and that affection from those animals."
Irby hopes to continue kitten therapy day for as long as she can.
"I feel like they relieve stress," said Irby. "There's nothing like holding a warm, purring kitten."