There may not be too many biblical stories connecting the Jewish people with the common feline, but that hasn’t stopped Chizuk Amuno Congregation member Marci Phillips from dedicating herself to fostering local kittens in need of good homes.
According to Phillips, fostering a young cat involves “taking this animal that might even be on the brink of not surviving, and you’re not just getting it well, you’re helping it turn into a pet. … Seeing them develop from this little scrap of pathetic, flea-infested fur into a pet for somebody is so rewarding.”
A resident of Glyndon and an AP and honors biology teacher at Dulaney High School in Timonium, Phillips describes herself as a “crazy animal lady.” She said that people she knew would often come to her after finding stray kittens or injured wildlife near their property. Aside from felines, Phillips and her family have also cared for bunnies, baby birds, mice, squirrels and even bats. She and her family had been doing a fair amount of animal fostering for a while, she said, particularly with kittens as they are easier to keep in a house.
When the pandemic struck, Phillips decided to begin fostering animals on a more formal basis, she said. And so she contacted a Jewish-owned shelter she was familiar with: the Association for Animal Rights in Reisterstown. Run by Val Shaffer, the organization normally houses around a dozen animals at a given time, mostly younger cats or kittens. Phillips added that the shelter is staffed primarily by volunteers and is funded by donations.
To be clear, fostering kittens is not without its challenges. “Bottle babies” that have been separated from their mothers but are too young for solid food need to be bottle fed every two hours round the clock, Phillips said. This is followed by a belly massage to stimulate healthy bowel movements. Thankfully, kittens tend to be much more independent upon reaching three weeks old.
Aside from a kitten’s physical needs, another pitfall is the emotional toll fostering a kitten can take on its caregiver, Phillips said. Kittens tend to be born in the spring and summer months, meaning when brought to a fosterer they can be suffering from heat exposure or dehydration, and it’s not uncommon to lose some to these or other ailments.
“They’re babies, and they’re so vulnerable,” Phillips said. “So you put everything you have into them, but you can get so wrapped up that you can’t handle it if you lose one.”
Additionally, giving a kitten away to a permanent family is also very taxing, Phillips said. “You’re nurturing this little creature, and then it’s like ‘Here you go,’ and you might never see it again,” she said. Phillips and her family have fostered as many as nine kittens at a time, she said, normally keeping them in their sunroom. Despite providing them with memory foam beds, the kittens have sometimes preferred sleeping inside her houseplants.
Phillips particularly remembered a pair of brother kittens named Equinox and Solstice, or Nox and Sol for short. The first of the pair Phillips described as a particularly tiny kitten who needed surgery to remove an abdominal hernia the size of a clementine. She characterized Nox as having a crazy personality and a very strong and reciprocated bond with his brother, and so she went above and beyond to ensure they were adopted together.
For all its challenges, Phillips strongly encouraged anyone interested in fostering to get involved. “It’s a great way to teach selfless giving,” she said, “because you can’t expect thanks. The cat’s not going to high five you as it goes to its new family.”
Phillips emphasized the “idea that helping somebody that you can help, who needs it and can’t verbalize that, it’s very rewarding as a person.”