Volunteers don't get paid, not because they are worthless,
but because they are priceless...Sherry Anderson
If it’s the middle of the night, it’s a good bet that Karen Hermann is awake and feeding kittens.
Karen is one of our dedicated volunteers and staff members who regularly fosters kittens for the shelter. She is also a long-time Lead Volunteer and member of the Board of Directors for Friends of Upland Animal Shelter.
As Karen will tell you, all types of kittens enter the shelter…newborn kittens, kittens who are older and can eat on their own, kittens with mothers who are nursing them, and expectant mothers ready to give birth.
Young, orphaned kittens are some of the most at-risk pets in shelters because they require intensive around-the-clock care. For the just born and very young ones, it is the first critical hours and days of feeding them every 2 1/2 to 3 hours and keeping them warm that makes the difference between life and death.
When kittens come into Upland Animal Shelter, staff will try to find a foster who can take them. That’s when Karen and other volunteers get a call for help. A lot of times, the call is for older kittens who can sleep through the night, eat solid food, and just need a few weeks in a home environment.
Other times, the call is for newborns that will need a lot of support until they are big enough (2 pounds) and old enough (8 weeks) to come back to the shelter to be spayed or neutered and adopted. Less often,the call is to foster a mother cat needs a quiet place to raise her kittens.
If no fosters are available, many of our kindhearted staff members who already work their day jobs will take the youngest ones who need the most care, nurse them through the night, and many times care for them until they can be adopted. That is why we always welcome new volunteers who would like to foster and have the time, energy, and dedication to help us care for our most vulnerable animals.
For Karen, her volunteer work started in 2010 when she saw an advertisement in the Daily Bulletin about an upcoming orientation on how to foster young animals for Upland Animal Shelter. A confirmed dog lover, she went to the orientation determined to foster puppies. She came home with two kittens. Her husband, Jack, expecting a batch of puppies, heard the tiny mewing of the baby kittens and said in slight bewilderment, “Do I hear kittens?”
When she first started fostering, Karen didn’t know anything about taking care of kittens and “learned on the job” with a lot of support from shelter staff.
Then, as now, her days consisted of doing everything she could to help them survive…from bottle feeding, cleaning crates, washing bedding to providing heating pads, supplying stuffed animals for cuddling, and watching for any signs of lethargy or illness.
To make sure she didn’t miss a feeding during the night, she began setting her alarm clock for every 3 hours. To this day, she still sets her alarm clock at night, but notes that she’s gotten so used to the routine that she often gets up before the alarm clock goes off.
If it sounds like all work and no play, it isn’t. Not only do kittens need careful tending, they need human companionship and socialization to become well-adjusted, adoptable animals who like being around people. That’s Karen’s favorite part of her day (and night). In the Hermann household, there's always lots of cuddles, plenty of toys, and a few pet costumes too...
Over the years, Karen has fostered hundreds of kittens. It’s rare for her house not to have little ones in one or more rooms at any given time. In fact, last Fall, Karen had the most kittens she’s ever had at one time…she had three litters, including one Mama cat with 9 kittens and 8 orphaned kittens for a total of 17 felines! When Karen became ill unexpectedly and was hospitalized for a short time, Jack took over their care and feeding without a hitch.
Fostering is now a way of life at the Hermann household with not only Jack, but also Kendal, her granddaughter, and Daisy Mae, their own rescued dog, helping with all the animals.
And, just for the record, the Hermann's have fostered a few puppies too.
Right now, Karen is fostering an expectant mother cat and awaiting the arrival of kittens any day now. Time will tell if she beats her own record of fostering 17 cats at one time.
And, if all that isn't enough, another part of Karen's day is volunteering at the shelter. After getting up all night to tend kittens, she regularly (almost daily) comes to the shelter to clean the cat kennels and make sure the cats are all doing well.
Remember last Fall when she had 17 kittens at her house? She also came into the shelter every day to help shelter staff deal with a ringworm outbreak. She “suited up” and put in overtime to make sure the infection didn’t spread. Jack did too.
Because she’s in the shelter so often, Karen also knows all the cats who are in the shelter at any given time and keeps a watchful eye on them. Recently, she was concerned that Black Smoke was hiding too much in his kennel and wouldn’t be seen by potential adopters. She took the time to replace his covered bed with a box that she will slowly make smaller over the next few days so that he gets more comfortable being seen. That way, he’ll have a better chance of being adopted.
What does Karen say is the hardest part of being a foster? Losing the ones that are in such poor condition when they come in that it’s impossible to save them. It is heartbreaking, but then she thinks about all the ones she’s helped save and that gives her strength and courage to continue.
The other tough part is bringing kittens that she has bonded with back to the shelter so they can be adopted. But that’s also her other favorite part…when a kitten (or puppy!) that she has fostered gets adopted. That’s always a good day and why all of our fosters do what they do. Plus, as Karen says, there’s always another batch that needs to be fostered...
As you can see, Karen is an amazing person with an indefatigable spirit and energy, and her love and compassion for the animals in our care shines through.
We thank her, Jack, and Kendal (and Daisy Mae) for everything they do for Friends of Upland Animal Shelter and all the animals who come through the shelter.
Until the day spaying and neutering is so successful that we don’t see unwanted kittens enter the shelter, we are grateful for volunteers like Karen and our staff members who open their homes and sacrifice a little sleep to care for our most at-risk animals.
Has Karen inspired you to become a foster? Join us at our Foster Orientation on March 16 at 6:30 p.m. at Upland Animal Shelter, 1275 San Bernardino Road, Upland to learn about opportunities to help.
Don’t worry…we won’t ask you take 17 kittens! We’ll be sure to match you with the number and age of kittens and puppies that you are comfortable handling.