The Fairfax County Police Department's Animal Services Division declared March its first "Foster Parent Month" in preparation for predicted summer showers of cats, cats and more cats.
"In Fairfax County and most shelters, cats are now starting to outnumber dogs in terms of coming into the shelter," said Michelle Hankins, community program manager for the Fairfax County Animal Shelter. "One or two [cats] become five or 10 very quickly. We're just trying to get ahead of the curve and welcome some new volunteers."
In what Hankins labeled "kitten seasons," cats contribute greatly to the animal shelter's total of 5,000 animals per year. The foster program, which began in 2006 with 58 animals, now benefits about 320 animals yearly. Foster parents care for animals over a certain amount of time until they can be adopted. These animals include litters of kittens, pregnant cats, special-need animals and smaller mammals.
"It's a temporary way station for these animals so they can, in the end, have a positive outcome," Hankins said.
Prospective foster parents must be at least 18 years old and submit to both a home visit and criminal background check. Foster parents typically care for an animal or litter for up to six months.
Cynthia Kochendarfer of Centreville has fostered about 80 animals since 2006. These include a recent adult cat that had undergone eye surgery and three kittens with ringworm.
Foster parents are required to return the animals after care, and Kochendarfer said it's a rewarding experience.
"You learn to take in the animal and get it ready for a home and just be happy that you take them back to the shelter in much better condition than when you took them in," said Kochendarfer.
The animal shelter will host an orientation session on March 18 for those interested in becoming a foster parent.