New York’s Cuddliest Find Temporary Homes

What does it take to foster pets as a college student in New York City?

Several students offer their homes to foster the cats and dogs of New York City. (Photo by Casey Dawson)

“I woke up on a Friday morning, about to go to class, and I look out the window and there he is on the fire escape,” Tisch junior Hannah Whitaker said. “He’s just sitting really comfortable, just basking in the sun. And I’m like, ‘Oh my God!’”

The fire escape basker was Shadow, one of many cats that Whitaker has fostered through KittyKind, an all-volunteer organization that operates out of the Petco on Union Square. From runaway cats to unfortunately not-quite-potty-trained dogs, pet ownership can be stressful, exhausting and rewarding all at once. New York City’s foster programs provide a compromise for college students with busy schedules, allowing them to keep up with their studies while helping vulnerable animals.

Shadow is a cat of many names, previously known as Meadow, Lucifer and Michael. But his current moniker is a perfect fit for a cat that led Whitaker on a two-week hunt after he slipped through a temporary gap in her apartment AC unit.

Whitaker set up a cat trap and hung up flyers in hopes of bringing Shadow home. With the help of KittyKind volunteers and her roommates, he was safely recovered.

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Despite the nerve-wracking debacle, Whitaker said that fostering pets is a rewarding experience that complements her lifestyle.

“It’s nice because I don’t know what my living situation is going to be, even next year,” Whitaker said. “Cats live for a long time, and that’s a big commitment. I didn’t really want to commit, but I love cats and I want to help cats, so fostering seemed like a good thing to do.”

A foster dog of an NYU student. (Photo by Casey Dawson)

KittyKind provides food, medicine and free veterinary visits. Tisch junior Sarah Nelson fosters through the ASPCA, which provides similar assistance to include free Lyft rides to and from the organization headquarters on East 92nd Street.

In addition, most foster programs entail caring for each animal for a relatively short span of time.

Nelson had her cat for two weeks before it was adopted. Mark Slattery, an exchange student from Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, fosters dogs with his roommate, Stern junior Anna Maria Buraya. They foster through Muddy Paws, where Slattery says that he rarely has a dog for more than a week at a time.

“It definitely gets easier the more times you do it,” Slattery said. “Like the first time, I was completely overwhelmed when I was picking up the dog.”

While not something Slattery was initially planning on doing, he says that fostering has been a fun and unique part of his study abroad experience.

“I think it’s just the day-to-day side of it that just makes it enjoyable,” Slattery said. “I’ve found it a really good way to see the city because you end up going for more walks than you would otherwise. I’ve definitely seen more of the city and I’ve seen it in a different way than I would have otherwise.”

However, the foster pet parents warn that it isn’t all fun and cuddles.

“It is a commitment, for sure,” Slattery said. “It’s not something as a student that I would take on by myself. It’s good that we can split it between myself and Anna and we can manage our schedules around that.”

Whitaker also recognized how essential her roommates were in making fostering possible. Being mindful of the responsibilities that come with pets, no matter how temporary their stay, is important.

But for students who live off campus with the space and time to accommodate it, fostering can be a fairly budget-friendly way to help out local shelters and animals in need. Most organizations require fosters to be at least 21, have a stable and safe living environment and be committed to each fluffy friend.

“The challenge — and this is with any animal — is that now someone depends on you,” Nelson said. “But if you miss animals and need them in your life, I’d say, do it.”

A version of this article appears in the Monday, Nov. 18th, 2019 print edition. Email Casey Dawson at [email protected]

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