Owning pets a norm for UC Davis students

There are many things about home life that college students miss when they pack their bags and head off for a new life. Separation from household pets is one of the things that many Aggies miss.

Buying a pet while at college can evolve into a recipe for disaster, since many students aren’t looking for a 15-or-more-year commitment.

Although most people can’t bring their pets to school, students who are living off campus have the opportunity to foster a cat or kitten through programs such as the UC Davis Veterinary School Orphan Kitten Project or the Yolo County Society of Prevention and Care of Animals (SPCA).

Before a cat or kitten is adopted, it needs a foster home to live in and an interim owner for its care, and the need for foster owners is currently large due to the severe overpopulation of stray cats.

According to cat foster home coordinator and Yolo County SPCA board president Shelley Bryant, fostering is necessary because of the lack of owners spaying or neutering their cats, leading to huge overpopulation.

“Their goal is to get kittens off the street so that the stray population is decreased,” said fourth-year human development major Shelby Matsuoka.

Matsuoka fostered brother-and-sister kittens this year through the Orphan Kitten Project.

Third-year UC Davis Veterinary School student and Orphan Kitten Project adoptions coordinator Katie Chiu said foster families are necessary for the healthy development of orphan kittens.

“We like giving kittens the kind of space that fostering allows for,” Chiu said. “They get more attention and it helps a lot with their behavior to get that socialization.”

Chiu said her fellow veterinary graduate students and colleagues act as on-call medical doctors for the kittens fostered and teach those who are fostering how to properly care for the kittens. Chiu said the program tries to support all the financial costs involved with fostering, including food and medical treatments.

Through this program, Matsuoka lived with the three-week-old kittens, bottle-feeding and potty-training them, before they could be put up for adoption.

“My roommates and I always wanted to have a pet but didn’t know if it was practical. It was a lot of work,” Matsuoka said. “We had to kitten-proof our rooms so they weren’t sneaking into little corners.”

Although the time commitment may be significant for a college student, Chiu said her experiences have been very rewarding.

“It’s not too hard to be studying for your midterm and have a kitten playing on your lap,” Chiu said. “It’s nice to have a furry animal in your house that will love you no matter what.”

UC Davis students can also foster cats through the Yolo County SPCA program, which provides all necessary supplies. The kittens at the SPCA are older and closer to an adopting age, unlike those from the Orphan Kitten Project, which Chiu said takes in one-day-old kittens of any weight.

“[People] just need to provide the time and love, which is what most college students are missing when they miss their pets at home,” said Yolo County SPCA spay and neuter and community cat coordinator Jill Souza. “That’s a really nice thing about fostering. You get that connection with the animals and get that time with a cute, fluffy friend, but not having to pay for it. The financial commitment isn’t there.”

Souza fostered cats throughout her college career and now works for the organization. She said she started fostering because she was missing her pets from home and wanted the connection with an animal.

“I think a lot of the reason why many students want to foster is because they miss their own pets,” Bryant said. “Cats are very calming and stress-relieving, so it’s always nice to come home to that little bundle of fur.”

In order to be eligible to foster a cat through the SPCA, one must be able to keep the cat indoors and transport them to their veterinary appointments and adoption events on Saturdays at the Davis Petco store.

For both organizations, the duration a foster owner works for depends on how quickly the cat is adopted, which is influenced by its health, age and color. However, the SPCA generally prefers that college students volunteer their time for one quarter.

“We find that animals in foster homes do very well adjusting to their new homes when they do get adopted,” Souza said. “We are very privileged to give these cats a chance.”

The SPCA also offers the opportunity for people to be vacation caretaker volunteers who take care of cats when their foster owners are away. Similarly, the Orphan Kitten Project is currently looking for short-term fosters for the upcoming Thanksgiving and winter holiday breaks.

“If people want pets, this is a really good program,” Matsuoka said. “I don’t think a lot of people, when they want a pet, think about the long term. You get that companionship and responsibility of taking care of a pet without having to keep them for your whole life.”

The reasons why people should foster through any program go past solving the problem of overpopulation, according to Souza and Bryant.

“I love it when people come up to me and tell me stories about cats that were fostered,” Bryant said. “I can be a responsible cat owner and still have kittens in my house.”

Souza said fostering a kitten is a valuable experience for college students interested in going into veterinary or medical careers because of the direct experience dealing with animals that need care.

“It’s been really rewarding to see a young or sick kitten come back,” Chiu said. “On a personal basis, I think it’s been a learning experience for me. It’s amazing to see it firsthand.”

Since the current need for foster owners is high, foster programs are not ready to quit anytime soon.

“You get so much more out of it than you give,” Bryant said. “Until we have a home for every cat that is born, we will still be fostering.”

Contact the Orphan Kitten Project at orphankittenproject@gmail.com.

Contact the Yolo County SPCA at cats@yolospca.org.

RITIKA IYER can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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