If you like the idea of giving an animal a home but perhaps can't commit to a lifetime of care, maybe fostering could be the answer

Every year in Norfolk, hundreds of animals arrive at the RSPCA in need of care. Some stay at the charity’s animal shelters, but many go out to the home comforts and love of foster carers.

Some look after certain types of animal, while others are happy to take pot luck. Sue Dye, who works for the RSPCA as Animal Welfare Coordinator for the Mid Norfolk & North Suffolk branch, is a cat carer who specialises in kittens, pregnant mums and cats that have Feline Immunodeficiency Virus.

For Sue, who lives in Norwich, it all began eight years ago after she and husband Ken moved up to the county from Orpington in Kent. Newly retired, she volunteered at the city’s RSPCA cattery. When that closed, she became involved with the mid-Norfolk branch, working on the reception desk.

Great British Life: Sue Dye with a pair of kittens she has been caring forSue Dye with a pair of kittens she has been caring for (Image: Dominic Castle)

One day, she was asked to look after two kittens that needed care... and was hooked, in particular on looking after feline mums-to-be. “I absolutely love going through the pregnancy stages and helping deliver them and seeing them grow from tiny little things up to the time they go,” she says.

She even had two pregnant mums over Christmas, who produced their little gifts just before the big day. Looking after tinies can be time-consuming, she says, as they might need feeding three or four times a day – more if they are being bottle-fed.

While the charity pays for food and all necessary equipment, what you bring as a carer, says Sue, is “your energy, your time, your patience.”

It’s not just kittens that require patience. “One of my first FIV cats was Digby. He sat behind the sofa for three months. He’d come out and eat, then he’d go back in. It was a matter of coming in, sitting here, just talking to myself, talking to him but not really interacting, until he eventually came out – and then he was the most loveable cat. That’s the rewarding part.”

Great British Life: One of the kittens Sue Dye has been fostering for the RSPCAOne of the kittens Sue Dye has been fostering for the RSPCA (Image: Dominic Castle)

There is plenty of help available from the RSPCA. “There is a good support team – if you don’t know something, or are worried about something, they’ll always help you and guide you through it,” she says. The RSPCA will also collect the animals for routine vet appointments, though it is preferred that foster carers have a car for emergencies.

If a carer wants a break, or to go on holiday, the RSPCA will take the animals back. How long carers have the animals can vary considerably; Sue has had cats for a few days and up to six months.

The role gives her a great deal of pleasure. “I don’t think I could be without it now; I find I’m giving back something and learning new things about cats.” Ken too gets involved when he can; “He does love them!” she says.

Parting can be sweet sorrow, as it is hard not to become attached, but Sue takes comfort from the knowledge that they are going on to good homes. “It can be quite sad, especially if you get attached to them – my husband says ‘No more!’ - but it’s something I really enjoy doing,” she says.

Great British Life: Happy hog - Custard, one of Terry Hayden's rescued petsHappy hog - Custard, one of Terry Hayden's rescued pets (Image: Dominic Castle)

In Loddon, Terry Hayden and his family started looking after animals in need for the RSPCA shortly after lockdown started. It was a friend, Andy, who works for the charity, who got them involved.

“He said they were looking for fosterers and that was it, basically, “says Terry. “We said yes, we’ll give it a go.”

Now the family have quite a menagerie. They have looked after more than 20 rabbits, plus assorted guinea pigs and birds, though they didn’t go far. “We ended up adopting all the birds; one love bird, four cockatiels, a parakeet, two zebra finches and three budgies!

Great British Life: Who doesn't love a love bird?Who doesn't love a love bird? (Image: Dominic Castle)

“One of the cockatiels we have was found in a dustbin with no feathers on his head – he’s bald – and they would have struggled to find a home for him so we said ‘we’ll have him’,” saysTerry.

In the garden are rescued chickens, a Muscovy duck, rabbits, guinea pigs... and two large, friendly pigs called Rhubarb and Custard. They were extracted from a small flat in Great Yarmouth, where they had been kept in a bath.

“I think they thought they were German miniature pigs,” says Terry as he scratches the ear of one of the amiable sows. “But they weren’t!”

Of course, not all the animals are in need of help because of some horror story. Some simply cannot be looked after by their owners for a number of reasons.

Great British Life: A Muscovy duck relaxes at Terry Hayden's homeA Muscovy duck relaxes at Terry Hayden's home (Image: Dominic Castle)

There is an additional bonus for people considering fostering animals, says Jen, Terry’s wife, as the RSPCA picks up the costs and offers full support.

“It is ideal for people who’d like to have pets but perhaps might not be able to afford their own animals,” she says. “We provide the attention and care and feeding, everything else is all sorted.”

While letting an animal go to a new home can be a bit of a wrench, there is great satisfaction in being a carer, says Jen.

“You know they are going somewhere nice to someone who wants them and will love them – that's what you are there for, that’s the stepping stone you provide.”

Could you be an animal fosterer?

If you think you’d like to get involved, visit rspcanorwich.org.uk/get-involved/fosterer-application/

Or, if you have any questions, email woof@rspcanorwich.org for more info.