Zwerfkat in Le(u)ven is not a standard shelter with its own building and cages but a well-founded structure of about 40 foster families who are coordinated daily by 4 shelter coordinators. Each shelter family has its own buddy, so to speak, who coaches them when they need it. Seven days a week.
But then who selects these shelter families who each take care of the ZIL darlings in their own bubble?
Well, that is a team of 2 ZIL volunteers, Emma and Alien, who themselves have many hours of experience as foster families and know very well what conditions a foster family must meet. Not only from a material point of view, but also psychological. Because you are dealing with living beings, not little machines. You come into contact with illness, life and death, trauma, neglect and so much more. Surely that requires a certain resilience from our families. You can’t underestimate that. We would like to let one of our screening ladies, Emma, speak to you first to shed some light on how Emma approaches the screening of foster families and we conclude this blog with a heartwarming testimony from one of our foster mothers, Lies.
Quote screening lady Emma: “A good shelter family must realize that they bear the responsibility for a precious life.”
Emma: “”At a screening, I have to figure out if the candidates understand the responsibility and are willing to take it on. Just becoming a foster family because you think kittens are so cute and you want to cuddle them is not a good idea. There is much more to fostering than just the cuteness aspect. Kittens can be sick (or worse they sometimes die). You have to take a wildcat to the vet a few times in a short period of time. You have to be able to gain the trust. You also have to be able to hand the cat back. To me, these are all very important things that a shelter family needs to understand.
In addition, we always insist on strict quarantine to protect our own pets and people. We try to explain this very well so it is clear that the kittens that come to us will not always be healthy and that there are many diseases that can be passed on to other animals and even people.
The nice thing about working with foster families is that you know that the cats end up in a very nice homely atmosphere and not in a scantily clad cage with only a scratching post, a litter box and a basket. Each cat can be closely followed by the family (because they live in the same house) and you can get to know the character of the cat very well and thus look for the best possible adopters for that cat.
Communication is also an important factor when selecting a new foster family. We cannot follow up or see the cat ourselves, so we expect the foster families to keep us well informed of everything that happens with the cat. They are, after all, our eyes and ears.”
And what do our shelter families think of the ZIL approach?
Shelter mom Lies likes to take the floor : “After a year we can conclude that we have not regretted stepping into the ZIL story. The support and organization has been really well worked out and after a year we really feel at home in the ZIL family, thanks to all the support from the Coordinators and other volunteers at ZIL.”
Lies: “Years ago, we already dedicated ourselves to the care of cats for another organization. Here we were somewhat abandoned and we had many doubts about starting again.
The urge to do something for the cats prevailed and during the screening it became clear that things were organized differently at ZIL. From the start it was clear that we as a foster family were never alone. We received a starter’s package that left us stunned. ZIL immediately provided us with everything we needed to take care of the cats in a good way.
It was also immediately clear for the food, pass on what you need every month and then pick it up at your collection point. I also met shelter coordinator Ellen and was immediately reassured. No matter what, I could and can always go to Ellen.
At the first shelter cats we had some uncertainties because we had never taken care of wild cats before but with Ellen’s support this became a really positive experience. It was fantastic to see how far we got with our first cats. We also really chose as a family to go on this adventure together. Our children are also actively involved and learn the fine things but also the goodbyes. Valuable lessons for their future.
With the first kittens we immediately received a lot of support from Kim who advised and assisted us. Nothing was too much for them. You can feel the passion and love for the cats in everything.”
Thank you so much Emma, Alien and Lies for your assistance to this blog!