By Mary Anne Hajer

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Mr. Putter went to the shelter.
"Have you any cats?" he asked the shelter man.
"We have a fat grey one, a thin black one, and an old yellow one," said the man.
"Did you say old?" asked Mr. Putter.
The shelter man brought Mr. Putter the old yellow cat. Its bones creaked, its fur was thinning, and it seemed a little deaf. Mr. Putter creaked, his hair was thinning, and he was a little deaf, too.
So, he took the old yellow cat home. He named her Tabby. And that is how their life began.
- Mr. Putter and Tabby Pour the Tea by Cynthia Rylant

Studies show that pets are good for physical health. Owning a dog or a cat, they say, may lower blood pressure, stress level and cholesterol count. One life insurance company takes these claims so seriously that for prospective clients over the age of 75 years, having a pet may tip the scales in their favour.

Other researchers question these assertions, but all agree that companion animals have a positive impact on emotional health. They can be a cure for loneliness, and they satisfy the need to be needed. They are non-judgmental and love their caregivers just the way they are. They can cause laughter and, of course, when they come to the end of their lives, it can cause great sorrow.

But when this happens, there is a sure cure for this sadness, and that is to adopt another pet.

Unfortunately, many older people who would benefit from pet adoption hesitate for a number of practical reasons. They live on fixed incomes and would not be able to afford to pay large veterinary bills should the animal become ill. They might not even be able to transport the pet to a veterinarian because they no longer own a car. Perhaps they enjoy taking periodical holidays and have no one to care for their dog or cat if they are away. And they might worry about what would happen to the animal, if they themselves became incapacitated.

Richmond Animal Protection Society (RAPS) has the solution to all these concerns. They have developed a fostering program that places older cats in loving homes, with the proviso that the shelter will cover all medical expenses. They will also board it free of charge if the caregiver is out of town. As well, they will take back the animal if for any reason the foster parent can no longer care for it.

Carol Reichert, managing director of RAPS, explains the rationale behind the fostering program this way:

"We have a lot of older cats here [surrendered to the shelter], anywhere from eight years and up. They are not going to be adopted easily by the general public, so, as we are a no-kill shelter, we know we're going to be having them with us for the rest of their days. Instead of taking them to our cat sanctuary on No. 6 Road, we would like to place them with older people who want a pet but are afraid of the vet bill of a senior cat. We will be responsible for all vet bills, and even for grooming - even having their claws trimmed. We'll also transport the cats to and from the veterinarian clinic. Whatever they need, we will be there for them."

Marilyn Alexander is a senior who is taking advantage of RAPS' offer. She is fostering a 25-pound tabby named Sweetpea.

"I happened to mention to someone in the senior complex where I live that my cat had died not long ago," she says. "The next thing I knew, I had a call from Carol Reichert, asking if I was interested in fostering. I had never heard of it, but I went down to the shelter to find out more about it. I learned that it cost $100 to adopt a cat, but nothing to foster, and the shelter pays the vet bills. So, I took Sweetpea."

Marilyn first filled out a brief form that provided RAPS with relevant information.

"Prospective fosterers are screened," says Carol. "We prefer people that are settled and stable, and most of the older people who apply meet that criteria. We do an interview to let them know our expectations. The most important issue with us is that cats must be kept indoors. Balconies are a concern. They must be safe for the cat. The fosterer has to be able to afford good basic food for the cat, and must be able to physically do what is necessary to care for it, such as scooping the litter box."

If there are other animals in the household, they need to be tolerant of the new arrival.

"Sweetpea gets along well with my dog, Duchess," says Marilyn, "and she is definitely company for me."

Sharon Gallaher is another participant in the RAPS fostering program. She has taken two cats into her home - Rebecca, a long-haired grey, and Bambi, a tortoiseshell.

"I had two cats for 17 years," she says. "I lost them two years ago to old age. It was so sad. I cried for two days. I didn't want to go through that emotion again. Someone said to me, 'Why don't you foster?' I had never heard of it."

Sharon paid a visit to the RAPS shelter where she learned more about the program.

"I'm on a fixed income," she says. "I can't afford to pay for expensive medical care for a cat. This way, I get to enjoy the cats, but they look after the expenses."

RAPS tries hard to make sure each cat is placed in a suitable home. A prospective fosterer can choose among the many cats available, or, like Sharon, ask Carol to make the choice for her.

"I told Carol to pick two cats," says Sharon. "Whatever she wanted to give me was fine. Rebecca is very skittish, but she comes on my bed every morning at seven o'clock. Bambi doesn't come on my bed, but she sits on my lap while I watch TV. That's fine with me. They're company for me. I got tired of talking to the walls."

It's a win-win situation for all concerned. Because RAPS doesn't put down any of the animals that come into its care (unless they are in the last stages of a terminal illness or too badly injured to survive), all the cats would receive necessary medical attention anyway, even if they spent the rest of their lives in the cat sanctuary. But if they are fostered, they have a loving home, and space at the shelter is freed up for another needy animal. And their foster parent has a friend and companion.

To find out more, visit the RAPS' website,, or call 604-275-2036.

Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue Association (VOKRA) also runs a fostering program very similar to the one offered by RAPS. Their website is

The BCSPCA has a foster program, which, according to their website, "benefits animals who have a good chance of adoption but are either too young, sick, injured, under-socialized or emotionally stressed to survive in the shelter environment. Instead, animals are cared for and rehabilitated in a nurturing foster home. Healthy adult animals are also placed in foster care when space is limited in our shelters." More information is available at

Other shelters also offer fostering programs, and each one is a little different. Contact a local shelter for further information. A list of all animal shelters in B.C. can be found at

 "Mr. Putter could not remember life without Tabby. Tabby could not remember life without Mr. Putter. They lived among their tulips and trees. They ate their muffins. They poured their tea. They turned up the opera, and enjoyed the most perfect company of all - each other."   
     - Mr. Putter and Tabby Pour the Tea by Cynthia Rylant



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