Written by Anne Principe, a Gifford Foster Family
When it was suggested to me in February that I consider fostering a Gifford cat, I replied with a non-plussed, "sure." I felt ready to be useful and perhaps, unemotional about it. After all, it's temporary. Right?
Our household's feline matriarch of 16 years passed away last October. That was hard. I was certain Daisy's public opinions, longevity, and predictable presence in the many dramatic chapters of our family story would be only once in a lifetime. Anyone who spent time on our couch had a story about Daisy.
On March 19th, I met a meek and pregnant Breadcrumb at Gifford.
On March 25th, after getting the go-ahead from the shelter Vet, Breadcrumb came home with me and my husband.
For the first solid week, she hid between a couch and the wall. We barely could reach her but whispered hellos. In private, she ate and drank, a lot. We co-existed.
Come April, we lured her out for her food. By the end of the month, Breadcrumb came to us regularly for pet sessions and belly examinations.
On April 23rd Breadcrumb endured her presumed third labor -- this time, giving birth to 7 kittens and 5 of them living. We were humbled and amazed to witness the natural instinct of protection, care and feeding of the newborn "Crumbles."
On a Sunday when the kittens were three days old, Breadcrumb began having severe labored breathing. We drove to an animal hospital in Boston, were met curbside, and returned home with that feeling of an empty nest. The next several days were lonely and we worried about Breadcrumb. Already we hoped she wouldn't think we abandoned her. More importantly and profoundly, we knew she would naturally be worried about her babies.
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Breadcrumb's kittens. Aaron is behind Carson III. Sadly, Putty (white) was weak and did not make it. He passed away at just 10 days old.
During the period of waiting and uncertainty, we discovered the profound protection, care and feeding that is the Gifford community of volunteers. We had had no choice to bond with Breadcrumb. After living a sometimes rough and clever life outside, Breadcrumb came to us, perhaps, to teach us our innate ability to care for a living being even when we feel lost ourselves. We are so grateful for the support we have received for Breadcrumb's well-being, and our own.
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Breadcrumb received extensive care at the hospital and we were kept informed by the Gifford Staff. She returned home with us along with the uncertainty of whether she could be reunited with her kittens, since she was now on medication. We engaged in epic pet sessions, while we humans knew her kittens were in loving, constant care by an experienced bottle feeder. Whatever Breadcrumb "knew" or "felt," she scoured every small inch of the apartment and listened so intently, sure she would hear their wee mews and find them. For us, it was heartbreaking to witness yet we trusted the process and awaited advice.
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Another hospital visit with a consultation by a cardiologist, more waiting (a lot of waiting), more phone calls and Breadcrumb was released with a diagnosis of birth-related stress, no need for medications, and she could be reunited with her kittens immediately. Within 30 minutes we were at Gifford Shelter and Breadcrumb's kittens had been returned. We made the drive home with precious cargo in their separate, safe, containers. The kittens slept and Breadcrumb remained so very still. She didn't even move her eyes, we think, with disbelief, doubt, certainty. We knew she she was sensing them near. Very near.
At home we put the kittens in their nest first and within a second, Breadcrumb ran in, looked at us, looked at her kittens, looked at us, and walked in and lay down in a full curving embrace of her litter. Her back was to us and it felt like a movie reel, a sunset with a happy ending, with endless chapters to come.
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Lil Breadcrumb (top L), Daisy Jr. (top R), Aaron D. (bottom L), Carson III (bottom R).
Each day and actually several times a day, we're doting grandparents as we weigh each of the "Crumbles," they are now called. Putty didn't make it after a day back at home. Aaron D. is smaller than the rest and makes his own statements of individuality. Lil Breadcrumb poses often with Mama BC since they have similar coloring and patterning. Daisy Jr. is outrageous with drama, unaware of his bright orange exception. And Carson III is as officious as she is loyal. Mama Breadcrumb communicates regularly with us about her readiness to allow them to take their next steps. She is also routinizing us with clockwork for her "alone time" with us, pet sessions, and chit chat.
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We want to be good at this fostering thing -- be useful and perhaps, unemotional about it. We're open to learning how it is not mutually exclusive -- to be of use, foster, AND allow the emotion of it all.
We are speechless by witnessing the extent of care and commitment that is the Gifford Cat Shelter. Rereading the mission recently -- providing a safe haven for stray, abused, and unwanted cats until they are matched with their permanent loving homes. What has become so certain is that once a cat arrives at the Shelter or fostered in a home or a forever home, the hard parts of the past melt away. Our feline companions keep us in the present. We humans need this now more than ever. May we continue to be worthy as trusted companions.