As you all probably know, we love interviewing wonderful people, and today’s no different.
Melissa Lamprey, more known as Mel is what we would call a pet superhero. She—with the help of her husband Zane—fosters cats and dogs in her wonderful home in Los Angeles.
When cat rescues need somebody to do the task of fostering a cat who’s been through the worst experiences, they know Mel’s the fittest person for the job.
We’re really excited to ask you some questions Mel, let’s get started!
Mel, can you give us a little bit of background about you? Also, can you tell us about your first interaction with a cat—the earliest you can remember?
Of course! I’m a freelance TV producer in LA, working mostly in travel and food television. My husband and I also own an outdoor apparel company, Adv3nture. My focus is on the give-back program of our brand in which 3 trees are planted with every item purchase.
Having grown up in farm country, I’ve been around animals my whole life. Snakes, rabbits, ducks, dogs, cows, pigs, lizards, frogs were the norm for us. But, ironically, never cats, as I was actually raised with a dislike of them.
The house I grew up in taught that cats were dirty outdoor animals, most often dangerous, aggressive and disease ridden. I actually avoided them.
It wasn’t until I was a few years out of college that I got my first cat. At that time I had a close friend who had grown up with cats and I basically learned from her that cats could be great pets.
So when my youngest sister called one day from back home and said “Someone threw another box of kittens into the corn field again… would anyone you know want one?” I told her that I would take two and find them both homes.
I gave one to a friend and ended up keeping the other, a very vocal Siamese, that I named Shaemus. He absolutely threw me for a loop with his love and dedication.
He was one of those kittens that had to be carried around because he was so underfoot, begging for attention all the time. I remember going to the library to get books on how to care for a cat, to make sure I was doing it all right. I couldn’t have been too bad at it, as he’s still with me at 18 years old.
When did you start fostering cats and how was your first fostering experience? Did you think it was going to be easier than what you expected, or the other way around?
Well, I had kind of a rough, uneducated start in fostering. About 5 years back, we decided to get another cat. We wanted another Siamese, as Shaemus had been pretty much the most perfect cat you could ask for.
I called some Siamese cat rescues and one of them said that they didn’t have any, but had heard that the shelter in Downey had a few. So, we went to Downey and found one who looked perfect, albeit a bit ill.
In the cage next to him were two other Siamese cats who also looked to be in poor condition. I sent their photo to the rescue and they told me that if I paid to get them that they would foster them and adopt them out. Which I did.
Within a day after adopting Willoughby from Downey he fell very ill, as did the other two I had pulled. After about a week, the person/rescue who was fostering the two sick kittens text me very late at night and said they wanted to let me know that the two kittens were very sick and likely going to die in the next 24 hours.
Having already been dealing with our very ill guy, I understood this but was unwilling to accept it.
My husband immediately got into the car and went and picked the two up. One of the kittens, Pumpkin, was the closest to death I had ever seen a kitten, then and since.
I made a deal with him at 3am that night that I would hold him and love him and that if he needed to pass that he absolutely could, but… that if he made it until the vet opened at 7am that we were fighting hard.
He made it, with daily IV’s and so much time and medicine. However, due to the infections/viruses, he was permanently damaged and quickly developed severe rhinitis. Willoughby developed chronic asthma and the third, little Maisie lost some of her vision.
After a few inexperienced tries at adopting them out, we quickly realized that no one wanted a cat that sneezed crazy snot all over the house and that it was difficult to find adopters willing/able to commit to consistent medical care.
And…ultimately we felt that we were responsible for them leading the best lives they could moving forward. So, despite thinking we would never be more than a three cat family, they all stayed with us.
That entire experience opened my eyes to rescue, fostering, shelters, and severe feline illnesses. All of which I previously had zero contact with. I really hated the helpless feeling I had in that I knew that I didn’t have the experience needed to deal with everything that was wrong with these cats.
And also, there was the knowledge that if someone wasn’t willing to spend the money to have the kittens basically living at the vet, that they would have died. The shelter was no help, suggesting that they would euthanize the cats if they were brought back. I generally felt from every direction the unfortunate attitude that “there are so many cats, and cats die every day…so..…”
There was just a lot I didn’t know. And once your eyes are opened to things that you can help….you can’t go back.
Quite simply, I can foster, so I have to foster. No it’s not always easy, or clean, or fun, but I can do it…so who am I not to?
What about when they’re ready to be adopted? Is it hard for you to say goodbye?
Ohhh man…. I’m the worst! Lol!
Yes! It’s SO hard. When each foster cat leaves my reaction ranges from crying to crumbling dramatically onto the floor and bawling my eyes out…for like a ridiculously long amount of time. Yep.. I’m that girl. There have been fosters that I don’t let my husband mention by name…because it’s still too hard.
I’ve found that the longer you have them, and/or the more they’ve been through, the harder it is for me to see them go. And since we typically take medical case fosters, we often have them for long periods of time.
We currently have a bonded pair of foster cats that have had multiple surgeries, and they’ve been with us for about 15 months! It will kill me when they leave.
I’ll have a major week long break down, then I’ll pick myself back up and look for the next special needs rescues that need me. Because that’s just what’s needed.
I read one time something someone wrote about fostering that stuck with me, “ I let my heart break a little each time so that their’s never does again.” It’s so true.
Is it common for people to ask you why you have so many cats? What do you tell them?
Yes! This is a very common question. I usually say “We own 5 cats and currently have ___ fosters.” (Right now that would be 5 personal cats and 6 foster cats.) But honestly, I’ve been known to lie and just vaguely answer “..we have like 3 cats.” when dealing with someone I don’t want to explain my life too.
There is a lot of prejudice and judgement around owning cats out there and sometimes I’m too tired to deal with it.
What you do with all the cats you foster is amazing, it takes a lot of work but it has to be really rewarding. How many cats did you foster last year? And how many cats are you fostering as of now?
Thank you! Yes, it is rewarding. When you get to keep in touch with adopters and watch your fosters flourish and be loved it’s pretty amazing. It’s pretty accurate to say that most of the fosters I’ve worked with would have died without rescue…so to see them in forever homes living their best lives is everything.
Since January we have fostered 4 puppies and 14 cats/kittens. I currently have 6 foster cats.
Oh man…. How many have we fostered all together.…? I always intend to sit down and do a full count, I actually would love to make a book with a photo of each one, but if I had to venture a guess, I’d say there have been about 100 fosters through this house. Likely more.
And your own cats? Do you introduce them to the fostered ones? What do you do to introduce them?
This is another great, and commonly asked question!
We observe pretty strict quarantine rules, in an effort to contain illness.
Unless a foster is going to be with us for a long time, it will never likely meet our own cats. So, for example, a litter of kittens might be with us for about 2 months by the time they’re healthy, vaccinated, spayed/neutered. They would stay in their foster room until the day they leave.
In contrast, some of these medical fosters are with us for very long time….so after they have passed a usual 2-3 week quarantine, are vaccinated and if they are friendly, they might be free to roam the house. Some get only day-time house access, while others have full access.
If they are allowed to start “integrating into the pack”, as we say, it’s always slowly…they move from an upstairs foster room to a downstairs room with glass walls.
They stay in that downstairs room for weeks while they get to see/hear/smell every day house action to get used to it. Then we introduce the cats that we know are always accepting.
Our cat Pumpkin is always welcoming to strangers, so we generally start by bringing Pumpkin into their room to hang out, eventually opening the doors for cats to flow in and out.
That being said, every single foster is different and we have to assess each for what is best for them and for our own cats. We never want to stress our house out.
What about your lovely dog Bodie? How does he welcome the new members?
Ha! Bodie doesn’t care one bit about the cats, lol. They are “just there” to him. The cats in turn have no reaction to him either.
The little ones have climbed all over him and have even slept on top of him, I think he is so big that he doesn’t really register as an animal to them? Occasionally one steals his bed and he stands there staring an whining about it until I come and solve the problem.
One of our previous fosters, Flower, was a tiny little thing, just 5 pounds and had missing bones in her front legs. She was pretty helpless, so sweet, and moved with great difficulty.
She always used to take Bodie’s bed and Bodie would just stand there over her and whine and whine. It totally cracked me up, a 5 pound handicapped cat versus a 175 pound monster dog and he was helpless! I have quite a few phots of those two together.
Pumpkin is our only cat who tries to get Bodie’s attention and Bodie just ignores him. We’re lucky in one sense, as there has never been fighting or chasing or any issues whatsoever, but sometimes I’d love to see Bodie playing with a cat.
That being said, I’ll count my blessings and be glad that fosters get dog experience in an easy and calm way.
Talking about new members, can you please tell us about the adorable Quill? How was she when she first met you and how’s she doing now?
Quill is pretty ridiculous!
Jackie, who runs Friends For Life Rescue Network text me one night and said “I have something for you.” (She’s become a great friend since I started fostering for her and she knows how to suck me in!) I had recently told her that I could take another special needs case as long as it was a structural deformity or injury. (Versus long term disease or internal injuries/deformities) She sent me a photo and I was like “See you tomorrow!”
My husband and I drove to pick Quill up and obviously were instantly smitten. I have to say, that while I try, and mostly succeed at being objective, my husband Zane is such a sucker for these injury cases…he falls hard for them, lol.
So far Quill has been healthy as far as illnesses. Our attention is focused on why she is developmentally delayed. As of today, she weighs just one and a half pounds, but she’s over two and a half months old, making her pretty underweight.
She also refused to eat on her own for the first week we had her. We were syringe feeding until we taught her to drink out of a bowl. She still will not eat kitten food, unless we hide it, pureed into her milk. She has some bowel mobility issues which initially caused some emergency enemas, and she also will not urinate or defecate on her own, so we are still stimulating her.
Aside from those concerns, her legs are being medically addressed. She was put into splints the second week she was with us, then had them removed for a week. During this off week we are back to heavy physical therapy in an effort to keep the ligaments loosened and to build muscle strength. She will be getting her next set of splints this coming Monday.
Let’s say somebody is interested in fostering cats, what’s the most important advice you would give him/her?
The rescue/group/agency you will volunteer for is the most important first step:
Before you start, talk to the owner or person in charge to get a feeling for them. If you can, reach out to fosters who currently volunteer for them and ask how they feel.
Unfortunately, what I’ve found is that there are good and bad rescues, which is just life. Do some social media stalking. I worked with one once (and only once) that was ran like a mean girls high school situation, it was terrible.
Know your time commitment:
What is the length of time you can or are willing to keep a kitten/cat? Some rescues will expect you to keep it until it is adopted, other just to a certain age or health level.
Know your financial commitment:
What are you expected to supply for your fosters? Even if a rescue will supply you with litter and food, make sure to consider things like the laundry you will be doing, the sanitizer you will need, paper towels for cleaning, etc. There can be quite a few hidden costs that add up.
Where will the foster doctor be/what are their hours?:
While most fosters don’t have to go to the doctor as much as I do, it is something to consider. I’ve had to drive an hour and more to vets, which gets pretty difficult.
What is the organization’s policy on euthanasia and how far will they go to save a life?:
You’ll want to know how far a rescue will go for a sick kitten. This often has to do with finances. You’ll want to know their policy on euthanizing and if it matches your own.
Whose job is it to get them adopted?:
Are you expected to take them to adoption fairs? Meet and greets?
Do you get a say in who adopts them?
What's the funniest or quirkiest thing you've seen a cat do?
I love “smashy face,” when a cat smashes their face awkwardly against surfaces to sleep. It looks impossibly uncomfortable and like they can’t breathe. Our Maisie does that.
Our Willoughby tears up paper. For no reason, just shreds it by holding it down with his feet and using his mouth. It’s adorable. And weird.
I love blanket sucklers, of course.
Pumpkin “looks for us” in the house by calling out with a weird meow. It’s ridiculously adorable and so specific I’ll hear Zane yell from upstairs or downstairs “Mel, answer Punky, he’s looking for you!” Once you yell “Pumpkin, I’m up here!” he comes running.
It’s always funny when they attack the tv.
Two cats shadow boxing are hilarious. It’s like the most non-violent silly fight.
It’s pretty funny that our dog, Bodie, is subservient to every cat in the house. He outweighs them by about 165 pounds, but they are definitely the bosses.
Follow Mel on Instagram! @mellamprey