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Foster pet parent finds joy in caring for animals, saving lives

Lisa Knoll can't help but chuckle as she tries to keep some control over two squirming kittens, climbing on her, meowing and catching their tiny claws in her T-shirt.

Lisa Knoll, foster pet parent, holds a pair of kittens (Helga and Eugene) from the Circle of Friends Humane Society of Grand Forks. Knoll has provided foster care for the humane society's animals for three years. (Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald)
Lisa Knoll, foster pet parent, holds a pair of kittens (Helga and Eugene) from the Circle of Friends Humane Society of Grand Forks. Knoll has provided foster care for the humane society's animals for three years. (Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald)

Lisa Knoll can't help but chuckle as she tries to keep some control over two squirming kittens, climbing on her, meowing and catching their tiny claws in her T-shirt.

Knoll, of Grand Forks, is a foster pet parent. For the past three years, she's been providing loving care and a temporary home for kittens, and some cats, from the Circle of Friends Humane Society. She's taken in 81 animals.

These orphaned, domestic short-hair kittens, Helga and Eugene are about 6 weeks old, Knoll said. "I got them when they were about 4 weeks old. They were brought in together."

Kittens that young need extra care, the kind of care normally provided by their mothers. So Circle of Friends staff turn to generous volunteers to provide it.

Helga and Eugene will stay with Knoll until they're 8 to 10 weeks old, and reach 2 to 2-and-a-half pounds, when they can be spayed, neutered and put up for adoption.

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Circle of Friends needs other volunteers like Knoll.

"We have a desperate need for more foster pet parents," said Lauralee Tupa, executive director.

Dogs, cats, kittens and puppies may need foster care for several reasons. They're too young to be adopted or are recovering from illness, injury or surgery.

Since the foster care program was initiated, more than 1,000 lives have been saved, according to the society's website.

Fostering helps young animals become socialized and learn to interact well with adults and children-qualities that will make them more adoptable.

It also frees up kennel space and allows foster parents to get to know the animals' personalities, which is useful information for prospective adoptive parents.

The humane society supports foster pet parents by providing everything the animal needs, including food, blanket and toys.

Big batch

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Knoll's first experience with fostering could qualify as "baptism by fire."

Shortly after she was asked if she wanted to learn how to bottle-feed kittens at Circle of Friends, and she did, she was asked to foster a litter of eight kittens, she said. They were 10 days old.

Soon after, she was asked if she could take one more, a kitten that was a week younger.

"I took him home too," she said.

The foster experience "was so rewarding, I haven't stopped since," she said. "Every litter is different. Every kitten is different. It's awfully fun."

These tiny helpless creatures needed to be bottle-fed every two to three hours. Another job is helping them to become socialized, which is usually very easy, depending on their age, she said.

She accelerates the process by taking them to her workplace, Andy's Harley-Davidson, so the little fur-balls can get used to the touch of other hands and deeper men's voices.

"My employers are really quite great," said Knoll, who feeds the kittens every couple of hours at her desk. "They sleep the rest of the time."

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"I can still answer the phone," she said.

She also takes them to a relative's home to play with kids-all in an effort to prepare them for transition to a permanent adoptive home.

Special room

When Knoll bought a new home six months ago, she told her real estate agent a room for the kittens "was No. 1 on my list," she said. "She must have thought I was crazy."

The room is outfitted with toys, blankets, jungle gym, supplies and a kennel, but having a separate room isn't necessary to become a foster pet parent, she said. "I tend to overdo things."

The rewards far outweigh the sacrifice.

"When you come home, no matter what kind of work day you've had, or relationship issues or family troubles, the kittens run to you-and within 20 minutes you're giggling," she said. "You can't feel bad about anything."

The toughest part may be returning the kittens to the humane society, although that's gotten easier, Knoll said. "It helps, for me anyway, to take another batch right away."

"(But) the first time, I literally ran out of the shelter, I was crying so hard, I didn't want to do it in from of them."

She still gets attached to the kittens, she said. "But I know that, for the few months they were with me, they were loved and cared for and spoiled a little bit."

Pamela Knudson is a features and arts/entertainment writer for the Grand Forks Herald.

She has worked for the Herald since 2011 and has covered a wide variety of topics, including the latest performances in the region and health topics.

Pamela can be reached at pknudson@gfherald.com or (701) 780-1107.
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