I walked into a room bursting with drawings of elephants and rabbits, books cascading from the bookcases (Shakespeare in a fat volume), and a colorful rug, all recently pulled out of storage and artfully arranged. Why was I there, you ask?

It took 3 years for 4 cats, 2 dogs, and 2 humans, Eric and Leia (names changed for privacy), to become a family again. The humans never gave up on their wish to reunite with their cherished cats. Here’s what happened.

When the couple lost their home, Westside Animals for Adoption and its partner, Best Friends Pet Resort & Canine Academy, offered to keep Eric and Leia’s four cats, Lady Malot, Lady Ann, August and Alex in our safety-net boarding program. The dogs were lucky enough to stay with their humans throughout the three years of unhoused living.

Eric and Leia, their two dogs, and four cats drove up to our facility in their “house on wheels” packed to the roof. Their car remained the couple’s permanent home throughout the three years until last month.

Meanwhile at our boarding facility we gradually transformed a room with four walls and three windows into to a kitty palace. Staff took it upon themselves to bring toys, hang streamers, build shelves and perches, and regularly refresh bedding and scratch boards. One cat liked to play in the water dish then take sopping wet paws to the cardboard scratch boards.

It was peaceful watching the cats relax on the cat trees or snooze in the cubbies. When done with that, they would jump to the perches to get a bit more height and a new view. A couple of the braver kitties balanced on the kitchen window sills to oversee our comings and goings, and bat at flies.

Little did we know that the promised few weeks of care would turn into months then years as the couple struggled to find affordable housing. Not until medical problems became life-threatening did they get needed housing assistance and placement into a small apartment. There they would squeeze all six pets and their stored belongings. I learned that Leia was the artist in the family.

What is safety-net boarding or fostering?

Progressive animal shelters and nonprofits are transforming into resource centers to better serve pets and people in communities. For example, instead of taking found pets to the shelter, the finders are encouraged to foster the pet, if possible, while they search for the owner. Most found pets are actually within blocks of their homes. Then animals stay out of the shelters.

Another innovation is temporary fostering or boarding when people need short-term pet care. Under-resourced people no longer have to give up pets just because they are hospitalized, homeless, jailed or in a transition. Some programs use boarding facilities, as does Westside Animals for Adoption. Others foster in homes or animal shelters.

Would we safety-net board again? Yes! We do it daily. At any one time we have 4 to 10 pets staying from days to years, like the cats. It’s not our intent to keep pets that long, but life has a way of interfering with well-laid plans. You, our community, donate generously for the veterinary care when needed. Volunteers walk the dogs and play with the cats. We keep pets alive, out of shelters and in homes where they belong.

The many joyous reunions here leave no doubt about the benefits of keeping families united. Seared into my memory is watching the four cats, one by one, pad out of their traveling crates. They were home.

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