Grief Transforms to Joy Through Fostering Kittens


Jean Wilder’s broken heart over the death of a beloved cat is now overflowing with love for the almost 400 kittens she has fostered since 2001.

Wilder is a Kitten Foster Parent for Humane Society Silicon Valley (HSSV), saving the lives of young cats and socializing them in preparation for their new adopting families.

“It’s so rewarding to see these little kitties develop and become social,” she said. “It’s probably the most fulfilling thing I’ve done, work-wise.”

The 33-year Santa Clara resident used to be an analyst for Hewlett Packard, but now she considers it her job to make sure the kittens that stay temporarily in her home are ready to get along well with both people and other cats and become “nice family pets.”

This new volunteer job is the legacy of a beloved cat she owned 11 years ago, Wilder said.

“I had this cat named Gomer that I loved like people love their children. I was so attached to that cat,” she said. Sadly, Gomer died before he was 4-years-old. “I was heartbroken.”

After a lot of tears she said she, “knew I couldn’t just cry the rest of my life.”

She heard about kitten foster parenting, and attended a training class at HSSV. The tears were replaced with joy, as she welcomed her first litter, and then another, and another.

In a front room of her home reserved just for the kittens, Wilder feeds and plays with her charges. She takes the kittens to HSSV on a regular basis for medical treatment and routine vaccinations. The food and medical costs are covered by the nonprofit.

Besides socializing the kittens, one of her goals is to keep them healthy until they are around eight-weeks old, when they are spayed or neutered and then placed for adoption.

Wilder has cared for just a few kittens at a time from one litter, but at the height of “Kitten Season”—which runs early spring to late fall—she has had as many as 13 cats from multiple litters.

She lovingly names each kitten, and carefully prepares information on the unique personalities and quirks of each one to aid in the adoption process.

Although Wilder has cared for hundreds of kittens over the past 11 years, she said she still experiences “pre-adoption anxiety” over the thought of handing them back to HSSV.

“I hate it when I have to let them go,” she said. But she proudly added that every one of the kittens she cared for eventually found a good home.

Two kittens found their home with Wilder, however. She kept her 11-year-old cat Girlie from the very first litter she cared for, and Peggy Sue, now 7.

Many of the kittens have also found homes with friends and family. She joked that no one will talk to her anymore for fear of winding up with a new cat.

Currently HSSV officials are searching for 40 new foster homes like Wilder’s to care for an estimated 1,000 kittens expected to be born this season in the Silicon Valley. Last year they saw a 14 percent increase of kittens born over 2010, totaling more than 800 kittens cared for by 90 foster families.

Wilder praised HSSV for how well the organization trains and supports the foster parents not just with food and medical treatment, but also with emotional support.

“I enjoy it so much,” she said. “If you like animals, I encourage anyone to do it.”

The Humane Society has free classes for anyone interested in becoming a Foster Kitten Parent. The next class is 6 to 8 p.m., Wednesday, May 16, at the HSSV headquarters, 901 Ames Ave., Milpitas. The class repeats 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturday, May 26, and throughout kitten season. Visit or call: 408-262-2133 x186 for more details.

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  1. […] 3) Adopt a Cat: June is Adopt-a-Cat Month, sponsored by the American Humane Society. It’s on the heels of what they call “kitten season”, when a plethora of kittens are born between spring and fall, winding up in shelters. Visit the Humane Society of Silicon Valley (HSSV) to find out more about how to adopt, and to see lots of cute kitties waiting for homes. In addition, staff members are always looking for people who will act as foster owners, taking care of the kittens until they can be adopted out. This year HSSV has a “Kittenflix” feature on its website to promote kitten adoptions. You can see adorable videos of the kittens in action, as well as a running tally of how many kittens have been adopted so far this season. Learn more about how all those kittens are lovingly fostered in preparation for adoption by reading our story about Jean Wilder, kitten foster mom expert. […]