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Hospice foster, also known as "fospice," is a great way to ensure that a shelter cat can live their last days in the comfort of a loving home.

Hospice foster, also known as “fospice,” can be a wonderful way to provide a loving home to a cat at the end of their life. Photo by JaneA Kelley

November is Adopt a Senior Pet Month, and if you’re like me, you see stories of old cats in shelters and your heart breaks. You want to take the poor creature home and help them recover from whatever happened that led to their appearance in the shelter. But then Realistic You chimes in: “Senior cats can be really expensive to take care of, with the medications and blood tests and all.” And then your heart breaks again because you want to help a senior cat or a sick cat, but how can you do it? Guess what: there’s a program just for you, and it’s called hospice foster, also known as “fospice.”

What exactly is hospice foster?

Just what it sounds like: you work with an animal shelter to provide a temporary (or permanent) home for a cat who is old or who has a fatal illness. The shelter pays for the veterinary care, and usually the food as well, and you provide love, a warm lap, and trips to the vet as needed.

A lot of shelters have formal hospice foster programs, and a lot of wonderful people have opened their homes and hearts to a cat who was nearing the end of their life. But even shelters that don’t have formal hospice foster programs may have an informal network of volunteers who are willing to take in hospice cats despite the inevitable heartbreak.

I’ve felt a calling for hospice foster for a long time. I’ve certainly seen several cats through their long–and short–lives with me. I know it hurts every single time you have to send a cat across the Veil, but I also know that will never stop me from having cats in my life! Right now it’s not realistic because I already have three cats, one of whom (Thomas, that handsome guy in the feature photo) is going to be 19 in March. I also don’t think it would be fair to bring an old or sick hospice cat into a home with three cats in it already! But I don’t think I’ll ever forget about my desire to do hospice foster when the time is right.

But what about the emotional cost of hospice foster?

It’s true, hospice foster isn’t for people who have a hard time facing death or lack confidence in their ability to give appropriate medications and make the humane decision when the time comes. I personally have gone through some very dark times in my life and survived those, and I’ve had to make that heartbreaking decision several times over the course of my life.

What I do know is that although the parting is sad, and I certainly do cry and grieve over the loss of each cat friend I send off, I come through each experience just a slightly better and more compassionate person. I’m not afraid of death–never have been, really–so the idea of being with an animal (or a person) while they’re moving toward death doesn’t freak me out.

If you think you might be interested in doing hospice foster, I suggest that you take a lot of time to think about it before volunteering. I’ve been thinking about hospice foster for years, ever since Siouxsie turned 17 or so, and I know how I feel about the subject.

Check out this Q&A with a woman who does fospice for Best Friends Animal Society for some perspective from a hospice foster volunteer.

How do you sign up for hospice foster?

Most of the shelters I know of require you to sign up as a foster volunteer first. You may need to attend at least one volunteer orientation, depending on the shelter’s guidelines.

If you’re interested in hospice foster, expect to be asked about your experience with aging or ill cats and your comfort level with giving medications. The shelter may want you to do some short-term fosters first, or they may be comfortable starting you right off with fospice. The requirements, protocol and procedures vary from shelter to shelter.

To wrap things up …

Hospice foster can be an amazing and wonderful experience. As long as you’re realistic about your lifestyle, experience level, and ability to handle illness and death, you will have a successful experience with fospice. You’ll have the support of the shelter and your fellow volunteers, and you’ll be giving a cat in need an incredible gift.

Old cats certainly don't lack a sense of humor!

Thomas wants you to know that taking care of cats who have fewer tomorrows than yesterdays is really not a bummer at all! Photo by JaneA Kelley