By Danielle Haynes
The Tonawanda News
— Meghan Ruggiero starts off each morning crawling on all fours into her kitchen. It’s her favorite part of her day, she says.
Before you start thinking she’s a little odd, consider who greets her each morning on her kitchen floor, pawing over each other to see her and get some morning-time cuddles.
They’re kittens. Seven of them in fact.
Ava, Avery, Caleb, Lexie, Millie, Tom and Torie come running out from their overnight sleeping spots — or play spots, as the case may be — to say good morning to their “mom.”
“It’s just a sea of purring and it’s my favorite thing in the world,” Meghan, who fosters kittens for the SPCA of Niagara with her husband, Kristian. “If I could capture that feeling in a bottle I’d carry it around with me. It’s the best part of my day.”
“When they don’t have a mother, you’re their mother,” she added, saying she often worries about them once they’re adopted by their forever families.
Kristian and Meghan, of Niagara Falls, have volunteered for the foster program at the SPCA for a little over a year now, one of more than 50 active foster families connected to the organization. They’ve so far fostered 28 cats and kittens.
Brittany Anderson, vet services manager and foster care coordinator with the SPCA of Niagara, said they’re always looking for new foster families, especially during kitten season, which runs anytime from February to as late as September and October.
“Last time I counted we had 200 animals in foster homes,” Anderson said. “At this current moment we are overloaded with kittens because it’s kitten season.”
The organization offers foster opportunities for other animals as well, including dogs and even ferrets and squirrels, but cats and kittens tend to have a higher population.
Kristian and Meghan said they pretty much get a new litter as soon as they return the current litter that’s ready to be adopted.
Their latest batch of seven kittens — which are from two separate litters — were brought into the SPCA on the same day they returned their last litter. Kristian said he watched as the SPCA had to turn away the kittens because there simply wasn’t any room.
“The people were just going to let them go in a field,” Kristian said. “We saw them walking out the door we said ‘We’ll take them.’ ”
Anderson said the main reasons kittens, cats, puppies or dogs are placed in foster homes is because they’re sick or need more one-on-one attention because they either need to be bottle fed or socialized.
Potential foster volunteers “definitely have to be committed,” she said. “There is a lot involved if we send out a sick cat or kittens.”
Even more time-consuming are the babies who don’t have mothers and need to be bottle fed, a process that has to happen every three hours at first.
“With bottle babies you have to be home more often,” Anderson said.
Meghan said she and Kristian haven’t taken on bottle babies yet because of the extra work, noting that not only do kittens at that age need help eating, they need help eliminating, or going to the bathroom.
The Ruggieros said the hardest part of fostering kittens is the day they have to let them go. Otherwise, they said, the biggest cost is time. The SPCA provides everything else they need: food, vet visits, carriers and medicine.
“When we first dropped the kittens off (to be adopted), I was bawling,” Meghan said.
Just after this interview, four of the older kittens they were fostering weighed enough (two pounds) and were old enough (two months) to be taken back by the SPCA to begin the adoption process. Now home with just the “three little girls,” Lexie, Millie and Torie, Meghan said she was feeling a little blue.
Thomas Salada, of Lewiston, said he too gets a little teary when he returns the dogs and puppies he fosters back to the SPCA of Niagara for adoption.
That feeling of melancholy doesn’t last long, he said, once he remembers the reason he became a foster volunteer about a year ago with a 5-week-old puppy he called Rambo.
“When I got him he was needy, he had a bad cold and he wouldn’t eat. He was just a handful and he was tiny,” Salada said. “I had to give him medication and I had to feed him baby formula and water with a baby syringe. It was a great experience to see him finally start to grow.
“I did have the chance to see him after he was adopted. He was probably about a year old when I saw him and he was just fantastic, big, healthy and happy,” he said. “That really does it all for you.”
Salada is currently fostering four 3-month-old pups who he thinks are a black labrador-pit bull mix.
The puppies sleep overnight in a kennel in Salada’s home, and he said the most time-consuming part of his day is cleaning up the mess they’ve made overnight. His three collies — Joey, 13; Duffy, 7; and Maxie 11/2 — help him take care of the pups the rest of the time.
“Joey took over as the father figure” for Rambo, Salada said. “The puppy would curl right up and sleep with him. It was amazing to see.”
This socialization with other animals is an integral part of the fostering experience, he said.
“You need to get the puppies acclimated to other dogs, children, other animals and different situations that life throws at you,” he said.
And as much as the fostering experience saves the lives of hundreds of animals, both the Ruggieros and Salada said they, too, get so much out of the process.
“We were lucky,” Kristian said, when describing how they were able to stop their current batch of kittens from being let go in a field.
“I think fostering is very rewarding,” Salada added. “Having puppies around lifts your spirits whether you want it or not.”
For those interested in volunteering as a foster or interested in adopting a pet, contact the SPCA of Niagara at www.NiagaraSPCA.org, or call 731-4368. Who knows, perhaps Lexie, Millie or Torie will be up for adoption by now ... if they’re not in their favorite hiding spot, a drawer in the Ruggieros’ living room coffee table.
Contact Sunday Lifestyle editor Danielle Haynes at 693-1000, ext. 4116 or follow her on Twitter at @DanielleHaynes1.