The project titled: Fostering cats for health: How do cat fostering programmes benefit companion animals and humans? set out to gain a better understanding of the benefits cat fostering programmes bring to companion animals and humans.
The focus on fostering programmes and felines was novel, as little is known about animal fostering. Most research on animal- human relationships has previously examined other species, such as dogs and horses, even though cats are amongst the most popular animal companions in industrialised countries.
The project aimed to contribute new knowledge about cat fostering and human-cat interactions to support successful cat fostering, including better understanding of how this form of interspecies communication works.
It also aimed to address ongoing issues in the field of human-animal studies, such as animal/human agency, anthropomorphising, how exactly humans and animal companions interact, and the challenges and benefits of interspecies relationships.
The research questions posed included:
What are the motivations and expectations of volunteer fosterers when joining and experiencing a cat fostering programme?
What influence does the programme have on the health and wellbeing of the fosterers and the cats they care for?
How exactly do volunteer fosterers care for their animals?
The researchers worked with Wellington SPCA volunteer fosterers through two focus groups, and a video study following real time interactions between fosterers and cats.
General Discussion of Research Findings:
The focus group discussions highlighted the fosterers’ deep understanding of the importance and complexity of looking after foster animals. They were able to articulate a range of practical and emotional benefits of fostering, not only to their charges but to themselves. A sense of belonging to a community of fosterers was positively and widely valued amongst the participants of the study. Underpinning a positive sense of community was having good support from the SPCA. The video study documented the ways a skilled fosterer socialised and handled one of her charges. Noteworthy was the fosterer’s knowledge of and attentiveness to her charge’s behaviour.
Organisational support: Fostering is an emotionally and physically demanding role. The organisational support makes a significant difference in the fosterer experience. There is a system of care around the animal. Fosterers play an important part in providing this care, but there are multiple parties involved, including the vets, SPCA staff, and other volunteers. Supportive relationships and good communication are essential for a successful outcome for animals and humans.
Fostering a strong community: Being connected to a purpose and other people is one of the best predictors of continued fostering. Creating more opportunities for fosterers to connect with each other, to share knowledge and provide informal support can promote positive fostering experiences. For example, many of the participants reflected on how coming to the focus group discussion was a great learning opportunity and helped them meet other fosterers.
Giving agency to fosterers: Fosterers may spend considerable time with the cats and as such are experts is aspects their fosters personality, development preferences and behaviour. If they are given agency and control not only in the home but also outside the home in decisions affecting the fosters, they can make significant contributions to the welfare of the animals.
Continuous training: Organisations should provide opportunities for on-going training so that fosterers can learn and further develop their practice. One of the biggest sources of challenge was dealing with the unknown or the unforeseen. There is a recognition that there will always be a level of uncertainty when someone receives a new foster, but training and getting fosterers better prepared for managing unforeseen events may help to reduce the stress associated with uncertainty.
Healthy Pets New Zealand would like to congratulate Dr Anne Haase and her team for completing this project and providing a thorough report with these recommendations. We’d also like to thank Royal Canin for their support in helping us make the Human-Animal Bond a key area of research in NZ. We hope to bring you the full report here soon.