This couple has fostered 200 kittens and has no plans to slow down.
Photography by Samantha Bonpensiero
The first two were a brother-sister duo named Donny and Marie. They were just a few weeks old when Christine and Michael Maconnell welcomed them into their El Cajon home. Over the next month or so, the couple transitioned the kittens from bottle-feeding formula to eating canned food five times a day. They closely monitored their health and, as Christine says, “marinated” the kittens in love.
“We fell in love with those first two,” she says. That was 2012. Since then, the couple has lovingly “marinated” 198 more kittens before returning them to San Diego Humane Society for adoption. When they picked up their 200th, SDHS marked the occasion by throwing the couple a party at the Kitten Nursery and Foster Center—spelling out “200” in balloons.
Though kittens are usually fostered in pairs, the Maconnells generally take up to five at a time, and once they took six. “We get them in the socialization stage, when they’re mostly off the bottle and you’re just there to feed and play and get them used to household things,” Christine says. Eight years on, you might think some of the adorableness would have worn off. Nope! “We’re still shocked at how cute they are.”
Christine used to bring Kleenex when she returned a kitten. Now before she can get sad, she walks across the street and begins the process of fostering a new one. It’s easier that way. And after all, there’s work to be done: SDHS cares for up to 3,600 kittens under 8 weeks of age every year—just a fraction of San Diego’s feral cat population, estimated to number 3 million. SDHS provides safe harbor for many kittens at its 24-hour nursery and satellite facilities in Oceanside and Escondido. Most of them go to foster homes.
“Every spring and summer, shelters are inundated with young kittens in need of care,” says SDHS Foster Supervisor Ben Campos. “We’re fortunate to have dozens of dedicated foster homes. Even so, these folks are pretty special.”
Between batches of kittens, the Maconnells disinfect a room in their home that’s been emptied of furniture except for toys and cat towers. There’s no need to buy anything: SDHS provides every necessity, including pens, litter, food and toys. “All it takes is your time,” Christine says.
“Fostering makes it easier for pets to be adopted and helps prepare them for their new homes,” she adds. And it isn’t just the kittens who grow stronger. “It teaches kids about caring for animals. It teaches pets about living with different animals. Everyone is a better because of animal fostering.”
/ Did you Know? /
If you find a litter of kittens, SDHS recommends feeding them and the mother cat, and removing the kittens only once they are weaned and when the mother can be spayed at the same time (upon removal of her litter, an unspayed female will go into heat and breed again). For more tips, visit sdhumane.org/kittnap.
To All the Kittens They Loved Before
The Maconnells have fostered over 200 kittens. Here, they tell us about a few of their favorites.
“They were the duo that started it all! They were even featured on the morning news wrapped up in ‘purritos’ (like a burrito, but cuter!).”
“Someone had cut the tips off these sweet babies' ears, then they got sick. But both recovered and went on to be rambunctious, playful kittens.”
“Cloe was such a love bug. She was adopted by a volunteer at San Diego Humane Society, and we get picture and video updates.”
“At the time, Belle was the smallest kitten we'd had. She also got sick but responded great to treatment and was soon running and playing.”
“She and her sisters were all fun, playful and silly, but
Guliana was the biggest ham! Whenever it was picture time, she started posing.”
“The perfect mixture of sweetness, gentleness and sheer craziness! He came to us with his sister and they were adopted together.”
“Sweet Hermia left right away to be a kennelmate for another solo kitten. Puck was silly and loved playing with his other three siblings.”
“She was part of the fivesome that put us over the 200 mark. Mascarpone was perfect—just look a that face!”
“Toffee is one of the best kittens we've had and was Michael's favorite! He was with us for 11 weeks and fell in love with our cat Teddy.”