How being a volunteer cat fosterer has transformed my life.
Nikita Benney, volunteer fosterer for Cats Protection’s Glastonbury & Wells Branch, explains how looking after unwanted cats has transformed her life.
Working with animals is the only thing that I've ever wanted to do with my life. The specifics changed somewhat over the years; from vet to marine biologist, to opening my own rescue centre, but the direction was always the same and animals were always at the core of it. Unfortunately my health had other plans and I was left suffering from, among a series of other things, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome from the age of 15.
I had struggled through college, got a handful of different animal care qualifications and now I was left with no direction I could take with them. It's difficult finding a job when doing one day of work leaves you stuck in bed for at least the next three just to recover. I had never considered, for even a second, that I might have a future different from what I'd dreamt of, but now I was facing that reality and I had no idea what to do. There would be no working at a rescue centre or as a dog walker when I couldn't even get a job as a receptionist at a vets let alone anything else.
This all had a huge negative impact on my mental health. Depression and anxiety are things that I've always struggled with, but in the hole that I was in I could no longer see a way out. It was the lowest I've ever been in my life and there were times when I felt like giving up because it seemed that with no purpose in my life there was no reason in me carrying on.
Thankfully I have a great support system of friends and family who were there for me and it was at this time that I started looking into things that I could do with animals from home. I honestly hadn't held out much hope. I assumed that anything I found would either require very specific qualifications or wouldn't actually have any physical contact with animals. For the most part I was right, until I came across a web page with a testimonial from a woman about the Cats Protection fostering pen she'd had put up in her garden. I must have read the page at least 15 times before I rushed to find out more information about the fostering scheme, a mix of excitement and anticipation building up in my stomach.
There were obstacles I had to get over before I'd even contacted Cats Protection which were a worry from the start. Living in a council house meant I had to get their permission to undertake something like this and I wasn't too optimistic about what they would say, but to my pleasant surprise I met some lovely people who were kind, friendly and pleaded my case to those in charge. I was close to tears when they gave me their permission, but I still refused to let myself get my hopes up. Contacting Cats Protection was just as nerve-wracking, but the reply I got was prompt and positive and everyone that I dealt with along the way was nothing but kind, helpful and supportive.
Getting a pen moved into the garden and set up felt like a lifetime and the wait for my first foster felt even longer, but every second of it was worth it the moment I picked her up. A heavily pregnant tabby queen, brought in as an apparent stray, thought to be no more than two years old. I loved her from the moment that I saw her and have come to love her even more over the months that I've had her. I was at her side when she gave birth to five beautiful and healthy kittens and every day since, raising them into the adorable balls of energy that will soon be off to their new homes.
Before I started fostering every day was difficult. I had hobbies I could do to keep me busy and friends that I could talk to, but it all felt pointless. Getting out of bed is physically difficult for me as it is, but it felt so much harder when there was no purpose to my days. My foster cats give me that purpose. They make me smile without fail every morning when I go out to see them and on my worst days, simply lying in the pen and getting piled on by a horde of purring kittens helps me get by more than they will ever know.
To the queen Susie, I'm a care giver; the person who brings food, gives her cuddles, plays with her and babysits the kittens when she has had enough of them. To the kittens, I'm second parent; a fun climbing post, a warm napping spot, the person who cleans up their messes and brings them yummy food to scoff down. To me, they are a lifeline; they give my days meaning and they've lifted me out of that dark place I was in.
I don't know what my future will bring, but I plan to go on fostering for as long as I am physically able to. I know that there are going to be a lot of tears when it's time for mum and kittens to leave me and go onto their new homes and I've no doubt it'll be hard letting them go, but doing so will allow me to make room for the next cat that needs a place to stay and that is what will keep me going. There are always more cats to help. Making sure that I can find them the best homes possible is how I can give back even just a little of everything they've given me.
Fostering changed everything for me and if there is anyone out there reading this who is in the same position as me, I encourage you to look into it for yourself. Even if fostering isn't for you, there are so many other ways to help out Cats Protection that can be just as fulfilling and rewarding. It's just a case of finding what works for you.
My foster cats are more than just cats, they're the reason I'm able to smile and get out of bed in the morning.
If you would like to find out more about volunteering for Cats Protection, visit www.cats.org.uk/volunteering
Let us know what your marvellous moggy means to you with #MoreThanJustACat and discover more heartwarming stories at www.cats.org.uk/my-cat-is