A devastated dog owner whose beloved white Jack Russell died just before the pandemic has since fostered 23 different cats to keep her company and ease her grief.
Personal assistant Ros Smikle, 54, was heartbroken when her 12-year-old pooch, Daisy, passed away in January 2020, but was not emotionally ready to take on another full-time pet.
Instead, Ros, of Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, whose son, Josh, 25, lives in Manchester, became a foster mum to moggies from a local rescue centre waiting to find a forever home.
She said: “The cats have actually been a saviour for me.
“I’m single and my son lives in Manchester, so during the first lockdown, I didn’t have contact with anyone apart from work.
“It was a very isolating time for many people, but I was kept company by the cats who came to stay with me.”
She added: “I’m usually given one at a time, but I did take in a family of three moggies at one point.”
The shortest amount of time a cat usually spends with Ros is one week, but one stayed for six weeks before finding a home.
She said: “At first, I thought I would struggle to say goodbye to them, but I actually love the variety that come through the door.”
She added: “I enjoy getting to know all of the different cats, as they all have such individual personalities – each one is a different character.”
Ros first began fostering felines from Peterborough Cat Rescue in February 2020, a month after losing Daisy.
She said: “Daisy had a history of epilepsy and was going blind. I think anyone who has had to make the decision to put down a long-term pet will understand how traumatising it is.”
She added: “I adopted Daisy from Wood Green, The Animals Charity in Cambridgeshire back in 2008 when she was six months old, so it was very difficult to come to terms with her loss.
“I wasn’t ready to take on another permanent pet again, but the house felt empty, which is why I started thinking about fostering.”
And fostering cats in need of a temporary home has certainly kept Ros busy.
She said: “I help to interview prospective adopters, meet them and introduce them to the cat. We also go to their home and check that the house is suitable for a cat, although during lockdown, that was all done by video.
“And then when the day comes, we have a doorstep exchange, where I hand over the cat, dropping them off at their forever home.”
But while Ros has devoted her spare time to giving these moggies a loving home, she has also benefitted from the companionship.
She said: “I’ve now fostered a total of 23 cats since March 2020, and I am still enjoying the revolving door of cats in and out of my home and seeing them go to loving forever families.
“I chose to foster cats instead of dogs simply because the cat rescue was more local to my area and it’s been a wonderful experience.
“If circumstances allow, I would definitely recommend that people feeling isolated should look into homing a pet, whether permanently or through fostering.”
She added: “Most local rescue centres are crying out for fosterers or volunteers to help in some way, and the reward by far outweighs the commitment.
“I can say, hand-on-heart, that fostering cats during lockdown has had a hugely positive impact on my mental health and will continue to do so now that restrictions have been lifted.”
A survey by Cats Protection showed that 93.7 per cent of owners say that having a cat helps their mental health and Ros could not agree more.
She said: “Having something to keep me company during lockdown and give me something else to focus on has been invaluable.
“I suffer a lot with anxiety and the cats have been incredibly therapeutic for me, especially through these turbulent times. Their love and affection for me is entirely unconditional.”
Julie Butcher, a pet expert at Webbox Naturals, says that pets are known to support those with mental health problems in a number of different ways.
She said: “Not only do pets offer companionship, but they can boost your self-confidence and give you a sense of purpose.
“Caring for an animal will make you feel wanted and needed, while the responsibilities like feeding and playtime can help provide you with a structure to your day, making you feel more grounded and offer a sense of achievement.
“However, getting a pet is a really big step and one that should only be taken if you have the time and commitment to correctly care for it. It isn’t a decision that should be made lightly.”
For further information, visit www.webbox.co.uk