Lori Irby's tiny foster kitties are the perfect snuggle buddies for the residents at the senior living community where she works.

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senior woman give a tiny kitten kisses
Credit: Courtesy of Lori Irby

Lori Irby is a special person. By her own counting, Irby—who has been fostering rescued animals for the ASPCA since 2019—has taken about 60 pets into her home over the years, usually three or four kittens at a time. 

Because many kittens brought into shelters are not fully weaned, Irby needs to bottle feed several times a day, so they come into work with her at The Meridian, a senior living community in Anaheim, Calif. With the addition of a playpen and several mewing kittens, the office manager found that her workspace suddenly became a very popular spot. It gave Irby an idea.

"I started getting a lot of residents who liked to come by and play with the kittens," she tells Daily Paws. "So I asked our activities director if she could put me on the calendar one day for kitten therapy."

That one day became an overwhelming success, leading to regular weekly sessions where as many as half of the facility's 200 residents can come play with the kitties.

"It definitely brightens their mood," Irby says. "A lot of times, residents will come down and do the kitten therapy because they can't maintain their own pets. We encourage residents to have pets, but some of our residents have mobility issues or can't clean the litter every day." The time they spend with the kittens is a way for pet lovers to still get valuable contact with animals, which science says can improve mental health and lessen feelings of loneliness.

Irby says that the kittens were a valuable point of interaction during the height of the pandemic in 2020. During times when visitation was highly restricted, kitten therapy gave the residents a safe way to socialize and share a little affection with some animals who needed it.

montage of six seniors hold a kitten
Credit: Courtesy of Lori Irby

Her fostering and socialization efforts also help out the shelters where she volunteers, where there's no shortage of cats who need forever families. 

The end of October signals the end of the feline breeding season in many parts of the country. And as more and more kittens are born, rescue organizations find themselves inundated with baby cats who suddenly need homes. And as shelters rapidly run out of space, pet fosters become increasingly vital to animal health and safety.

"The shelter is the last place that you want cats to be," Tina Reddington Fried, director of the ASPCA's Los Angeles Volunteer and Kitten Programs, tells Daily Paws. "From bottle feeding to socialization, there are so many things that these little kittens need that can't be met in the shelter environment."

The ASPCA's Kitten Foster program says they're in great need of additional caregivers in the Los Angeles area. For folks who have room in their homes (and their hearts!), fostering a kitten can be a very rewarding way to help animals in need. And like the residents at The Meridian can attest, it's also a fabulous opportunity to snuggle some sweet little kittens.

As for Irby, she says that despite having so many adorable kittens in her home, she's fully set on continuing to foster the little fluffs who come her way, and is yet to adopt any of them. After having seen so many kittens come through her home and go on to be successfully adopted, she says she doesn't have plans to stop.

"I like being able to save lives and helping to socialize them," she says. "I take a lot of pride in my kitten care."

If you're located in the L.A. area and want to make a difference for the region's most vulnerable feline populations, visit ASPCA.org/FosterLA to get involved.