Samantha Weigel/Daily Journal
Dawn Beavis plays with April, a 5-week-old kitten she’s fostering through the Peninsula Humane Society.
Beavis uses a syringe to feed the kitten until it’s old enough to be adopted.
When Dawn Beavis began working as a Peninsula Humane Society’s adoption counselor seven years ago, she said she wasn’t particularly found of cats. But after fostering nearly 400 critical care kittens, she’s now a full-blown feline fanatic.
“I just started taking the little sick ones that everybody else had a hard time taking care of because of these small percentage chances of success. So I just kind of morphed to be the person who ended up taking these little challenging guys,” Beavis said. “I clearly had a very strong affinity for cats that I hadn’t realized until I got to work with them a lot, then I realized I just love everything feline.”
Kittens aren’t usually ready for adoption until they can be spayed or neutered around 12 weeks old. The kittens she fosters come to her around 9 days to 2 weeks old and are at a critical stage in their lives as they can’t feed on their own and their immune systems are weak, the El Granada resident said.
Most of the kittens she sees would have a very high mortality rate if they didn’t have their mother and weren’t cared for, Beavis said.
“I was just able to find the good in what I was doing even if they weren’t surviving … I gave them the best chance I possibly could,” Beavis said. “I was just able to find it within myself to give myself to love them and take care of them and just be accepting that sometimes I couldn’t fight with nature.”
But the PHS couldn’t ask for a better foster parent and of the 100 to 150 kittens that need fostering each year, Beavis takes anywhere from 40 to 80, said PHS spokesman Scott Delucchi.
“[Fostering is] a bridge, it’s a life-saving bridge for these animals. We know we will have homes for them, but we need to get them to that 10 to 11 weeks. It takes a special person because they do get attached to the animals,” Delucchi said. “The interesting thing about Dawn is it’s only happened twice out of 378, so she’s what we consider the ideal foster parent.”
With kitten season here, Beavis is expected to hit the 400 mark before it ends in the summer. Her two cats probably wouldn’t have been able to be adopted due to health concerns and she just couldn’t let them go, Beavis said.
The PHS has about 60 wonderful foster parents, half foster cats and the others dogs, Beavis said.
Being a foster parent is extremely rewarding because “you as an individual can make a huge difference in an animal’s life,” Beavis said.
But being a foster parent certainly isn’t all fun and games, there’s hard work and commitment behind it, Delucchi said.
“I’m not halfway joking, but Mother’s Day is around the corner and [Beavis] is a good candidate for mom of the year,” Delucchi said. “It’s messy work and again, people think about cuddling and that the kittens are so cute and watching them play and that’s part of it … but there’s also the messy end of it.”
She’s currently nurturing 5-week-old April and on Thursday she took three more 9- or 10-day-old kittens, Beavis said.
Being a foster parent isn’t just playing with the fuzzy felines, Beavis said.
It includes late night and early morning feedings by bottle and syringe from five to eight times a day before the kittens can eat on their own. Beavis said she also rubs their bellies with a warm cloth to help them go to the bathroom, often on her, until they’re able to use the litter box. Once they’re about 6 weeks and a little more stable, that’s when she gets a few weeks of playtime before giving them up for adoption, Beavis said.
Now that the PHS has opened its new kitten nursery, many that are more than 3 weeks old will be able to stay on site. But those that require more 24/7 help will continue to go with foster parents, Beavis said.
The first cat she fostered was a stray named Hissy who couldn’t be adopted because she hadn’t been socialized with humans and wouldn’t let anyone touch her, Beavis sad.
“Cats naturally need to be around people to like them, otherwise they’re scared,” Beavis said. “There’s a really important period in a cat’s life between 2 weeks and 7 weeks called a sensitive period. If they are not exposed to people early on, if they’re not, and just left to their own devices living in the wild, they’ll just become feral.”
Although she cried when Hissy was finally adopted, she’s always happy to see her foster kittens go where they’re wanted, Beavis said.
“[Now] it’s really easy to let them go because I send them off to good homes so it’s no longer hard to part with them. And I’m also an adoption counselor there so I also have a level of input of where they go to,” Beavis said.
She’s become so intrigued by cats she’s completing a cat behaviorist program and helps with the PHS behavior hotline, Beavis said.
“I’m not a crazy cat person. I’m quite normal. I like them, they’re cute, they’re funny, but their science became really interesting, their behavior became really interesting. I’m warm and fuzzy with them, but I just find them fascinating creatures,” Beavis said. “[Fostering] doesn’t feel like such a big commitment to me anymore because I’ve done it for almost seven years, because it’s such an integral part of my life … it’s just something I do now. It’s actually weird when I don’t have kittens.”
For more information about the Peninsula Humane Society or becoming a foster parent visit www.peninsulahumanesociety.org.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106