Losing a beloved pet is heartbreaking, and though well-meaning friends might urge bereaved owners to 'get a new puppy', many don't feel ready for a replacement.
That's how Cambridgeshire personal assistant Ros Smikle, 54, felt when her much-loved white Jack Russell Daisy, died aged 12, just before the pandemic. She missed Daisy desperately, but didn't have the emotional bandwidth to engage with a new puppy.
But as her son Josh, 25, now lives in Manchester, almost 200 miles away, Ros found herself alone for the first time in years - and her solution was to become a cat-fosterer.
Now, she looks after the cats from a local rescue centre who are waiting to be adopted and find their 'fur-ever' homes.
“The cats have actually been a saviour for me," said Ros..
“I’m single, so during the first lockdown, I didn’t have contact with anyone apart from work. It was a very isolating time for many people, but I was kept company by the cats who came to stay with me.”
She added: “I’m usually given one at a time, but I did take in a family of three moggies at one point.”
The shortest amount of time a cat usually spends with Ros is one week, but one stayed for six weeks before finding a home.
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“At first, I thought I would struggle to say goodbye to them, but I actually love the variety that come through the door.” Said Ros.
“I enjoy getting to know all of the different cats, as they all have such individual personalities – each one is a different character.”
Ros first began fostering the felines from Peterborough Cat Rescue in February 2020, a month after losing Daisy.
“Daisy had a history of epilepsy and was going blind," explains Ros."I think anyone who has had to make the decision to put down a long-term pet will understand how traumatising it is. I adopted her from Wood Green, the Animals Charity in Cambridgeshire back in 2008 when she was six months old, so it was very difficult to come to terms with her loss.
“I wasn’t ready to take on another permanent pet again, but the house felt empty, which is why I started thinking about fostering.”
And fostering cats in need of a temporary home has kept Ros busy.
She said: “I help to interview prospective adopters, meet them and introduce them to the cat. We also go to their homes and check that the house is suitable for a cat, although during lockdown, that was all done by video.
“And then when the day comes, we have a doorstep exchange, where I hand over the cat, dropping them off at their forever home.”
But while Ros has devoted her spare time to giving the cats a loving home, she has also benefitted from the companionship.
"I’ve now fostered a total of 23 cats since March 2020, and I am still enjoying the revolving door of cats in and out of my home and seeing them go to loving forever families."
“I chose to foster cats instead of dogs simply because the cat rescue was more local to my area and it’s been a wonderful experience," added Ros.
“If circumstances allow, I would definitely recommend that people feeling isolated should look into homing a pet, whether permanently or through fostering.
“Most local rescue centres are crying out for fosterers or volunteers to help in some way, and the reward by far outweighs the commitment.
“I can say, hand-on-heart, that fostering cats during lockdown has had a hugely positive impact on my mental health and will continue to do so now that restrictions have been lifted.”
A survey by Cats Protection showed that 93.7 per cent of owners say that having a cat helps their mental health and Ros could not agree more.
“Having something to keep me company during lockdown and give me something else to focus on has been invaluable. I suffer a lot with anxiety and the cats have been incredibly therapeutic for me, especially through these turbulent times. Their love and affection for me is entirely unconditional.”
Julie Butcher, a pet expert at Webbox Naturals, says that pets are known to support mental health in a number of different ways.
“Not only do pets offer companionship, but they can boost your self-confidence and give you a sense of purpose." She said.
“Caring for an animal will make you feel wanted and needed, while the responsibilities like feeding and playtime can help provide you with a structure to your day, making you feel more grounded and offer a sense of achievement.
“However, getting a pet is a really big step and one that should only be taken if you have the time and commitment to correctly care for it. It isn’t a decision that should be made lightly.”
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