How I Give Them Up: Why I’m Not Keeping the Kittens

OK, one thousand people have asked me if I’m adopting any of the Q or L or Weed kittens. Or the mamas. Are you adopting the mamas? PLEASE ADOPT THE MAMAS. And my answer is no. BUT WAIT. Pull up a chair for a minute and let me tell you why.

Once upon a time, I fostered Golden Retriever rescues. I will do that again someday when I’m off the kitten bent. And it was Very Hard giving them up to their furever families. Very, Very Hard. But the Hardest of All was Nikki.

Nikki was a 4mo baby when she came to us. Deep red like Clifford the Big Red Dog, she was rescued from the meat market in China. (“Aren’t there enough dogs to adopt in America?” you ask. And the answer is yes. Yes, there are. HOWEVER, there’s also an enormous market in the U.S. for pure bred dogs…or mutts that are predominantly a specific breed…and into any dog market vacuum come puppy mills. One of the answers to that dilemma? Provide rescue options from across the globe. Don’t allow the puppy mills a foothold. I love this solution. Then again, I consider myself more a Citizen of Planet Earth than an American, so I figure people and animals in need anywhere deserve our help. The end.)

So, Baby Nikki came to us off the plane from China. She was small and scared and snuggly. They told us she was a Golden Retriever, but that was a lie. Nikki is 50% muppet and 50% bear. Do a DNA test. It will prove I’m right.


Nikki was also blind. Or mostly blind.

A lot blind. That’s what she was. She could see shapes and light. Ish. But she bonked her way around a lot at first. I fell all the way in love with her. And my family fell all the way in love with her. For weeks, I took her to and from the doggy eye specialist arranged by Golden Bond Rescue. For weeks, I held her on my lap and gave her treats and told her everything was going to be OK.

She healed from surgery, but her vision was still pretty wonky. Which was fine, of course. That was fine with me and my family. She was integrated with us. She learned where the chairs were. She used the doggy door. She bonked less. She played with our Golden, Zoey.

And my family begged me to keep her. B.E.G.G.E.D.

I wanted to say yes. YES, OF COURSE WE WILL KEEP HER. How do you fall all the way in love and then say good-bye? Surely, we were too attached. So I waffled. But there was a voice at the back of my head that kept saying, “She’s not yours.”

It said, “She’s not yours. Or, to be more precise, she’s yours, but only for a time. And she will always be yours, but only in your heart.” And I struggled and argued with the voice, as I am wont to do, but the voice won. Eventually. And only because I’ve learned to listen to it. Only because I’ve learned it’s the best guide and it knows things I don’t yet understand.

I sighed, and I told the rescue agency Nikki was ready. She was ready for her furever family. I looked through applications. That’s how they do it at Golden Bond—they have the fosters pick the adoptive family. And as soon as I read their application, I knew. I just…knew.

Diana and Rowan had been watching the rescue’s website for a while.

Just looking. You know, as you do. Thinking about a sister for their first dog, Ella.

Then they saw Nikki. And that was it. She was theirs. They applied, and they waited. Nervously. THEY knew she was theirs, but would the rescue organization know?

Oh, I did. I totally did.

They came over the next night. We had a house full of middle and high schoolers—friends and friends of friends—running amuck and creating havoc and generally living their best, most Cheeto-filled lives. I told Diana and Rowan they were welcome…but it would be Full Chaos, so if they wanted to wait, that was fine. 

They did not want to wait. Because how do you wait for Nikki when she’s YOURS? 

They folded in seamlessly with our brand of crazy. 

They took Nikki home. But only after I made them promise to be my friend forever so I could stay in touch with our girl. A promise they made and kept. 

And I remember them asking, “How? How can you have her and give her up?”

But they are how. Beautiful humans waiting for this specific soul. 

I have a friend who fosters human children, and I asked her once how she avoids getting too attached especially when she knows the kids she has may have to leave her. “I could never do it,” I said. “It would break my heart.”

“Oh, I don’t avoid getting too attached,” she told me. “I get too attached. It’s what I recommend, actually. That’s what these kids deserve. A foster family who loves them with every ounce of their hearts. That’s what all kids deserve. Get too attached,” she said. “Get too attached.”

That’s when I realized fostering—or at least fostering well—means getting too attached. But it also means the little ones you love are worth the heartbreak. 

Don’t worry. I’m not pretending it’s the same to foster a human baby and an animal one. But they are shades of the same color. Reflections in a hazy mirror. To love knowing loss is likely is a particular kind of joy. And to hold a creature that doesn’t belong to you—to protect and shelter and love love love them all the way—is a sacred trust. 

So when you ask me if I’m adopting a Q kitten or an L kitten or a Weed kitten or the mommies—PLEASE adopt the mommies!—I’ll tell you no. And it’s not because I’m not in love with them. It’s not because I want them to go. It’s because of Nikki and Diana and Rowan and Ella. 

It’s because they’re not mine, and I’m not going to rob them of their people.  No matter how much it breaks my heart. 

They’re worth it.




P.S. I’m not saying I’ll never fail fostering. I’m just saying that before I keep any of my foster babies, I’ll have to be sure—really sure—damn certain—they’re mine. 





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7 responses to “How I Give Them Up: Why I’m Not Keeping the Kittens”

  1. You made me cry today. Although, it’s pretty easy to do lately. My human baby is going far away to college in LESS THAN A MONTH and my heart is breaking.

  2. Man. I foster human children and, while there is a difference between an animal and a human, the concept of attachment and heartbreak is the same. Thank you for writing so eloquently what I can’t.

  3. I’ve blog about the guinea pig fosters I take in, and every time I talk about bringing them back, someone says: keep them! You’ve articulated so well how I feel. I’m a stopover or a vacation from the chaos before they move on.

  4. Totally get this! Have been on both sides. Critters sent to their forever spots. And a family who loved my ridiculous but awesome dog saved her from a shelter and then let me have her. They went on to be able to save many more because of it. And this dog – this dog/alien mix of wiry fur, boundless energy, comedy, and idiosyncracies, was 100% meant to be mine.

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