FAIRMONT - It doesn't take a lot to foster a shelter animal, say volunteers with experience providing temporary housing and socialization for pets still in need of a forever home.
"You just have to be a normal person with a big heart," said Ginger Fortescue.
And she should know: Fortescue has taken in cats for nearly a decade.
T.J. makes herself comfortable on the shoulders of Emily Lagerstrom at the Carl Nettifee Memorial Animal Shelter. T.J. has been fostered by Ginger Fortescue, and Lagerstrom has fostered cats for the shelter, as well.
"Probably more than a hundred," said Fortescue, a retiree. "I've always got fosters at my house."
Emily Lagerstrom fostered a litter of kittens over the summer and Nancy Fetters has fostered cats for a couple of years.
"We need more people who are willing to love these animals enough to foster," Fortescue said. "We need people to be more aware."
Some people don't feel they can foster because of time, finances or space, or because they already have pets.
Lagerstrom said she was leery about getting involved because of the possible cost. But leaders like Karen Folkers, president of Martin County Humane Society, and other shelter volunteers provide help.
"Karen and everyone here made it very easy," Lagerstrom said. "Even loaned me a big kennel and blankets."
The shelter provides food, litter and any medications needed, said Fetters, who is treasurer for the humane society.
"I didn't even have to do the laundry," Lagerstrom added. She just brought it all back to the shelter.
"I don't have to do anything for my cats except empty the litter box and make sure the food bowl is filled," Fortescue said.
The women estimated they spend about two to three hours a week taking care of their furry charges. That's especially important to Lagerstrom, who works and goes to school, taking pre-veterinarian classes.
"Give 'em fresh water, food and let them sit on your lap while you watch T.V.," said Fetters.
"It's teaching them about human beings," Fortescue explained. "Socializing is a very important part of fostering."
Animals need to be comfortable with humans before adoption, so they stand a better chance of staying in their forever home. Fortescue tries to give her temporary roommates the same experience they'd have if they were staying forever.
"I turn them loose and they have the run of the house," she said. "They become a part of my family. They sleep with my mom or me or wherever."
Getting them familiar with sharing a house with other animals is also part of that socialization. All three women have pets of their own and said it works fine.
Lagerstrom said she was concerned about her own cat's reaction before she brought home five baby kittens, but it didn't take long to put her fears to rest.
"He wanted to play with them and groom them," she said, a definite sign of acceptance in the feline kingdom.
Fostered animals can stay two or three months; it just depends on circumstances. Some people see a foster animal, fall in love and have to have it, Fetters said. Others may stay longer.
You don't have to have a lot of room to foster animals, either. One thing you do need is permission from your landlord if you rent. Lagerstrom's landlord gave her permission to foster the litter.
And don't worry if circumstances change, the volunteers said.
"Nothing's permanent," Fortescue said. "If something doesn't work out, call the shelter."
The women issue one warning.
"It's really hard to let go," Fetters said, especially the first time.
"It's in God's hands," Fortescue said. "We just have to trust they're going to be OK."