At their cat café Kitty Cantina, Tori and Justyn Cozza serve coffee, tea, and plenty of kitty love for people looking to adopt.
feline foster hero winners, Justyn, Tori, daughter holding three kittens
Credit: Courtesy of Justyn Cozza

People who foster animals have a special place in our hearts. They step up to help unhomed creatures stay safe while teaching the pets to trust and socialize with humans to become more alluring for adoption! Fosterers also have to resist the temptation to simply keep all the animals, which we'd totally do. 

For instance, consider the incredible willpower of self-professed "cat nerds" Tori and Justyn Cozza. Since founding Kitty Cantina in 2020—a feline sanctuary and cat café in North Spokane, Wash.—they've had only two foster fails. Justyn Cozza tells Daily Paws he knows this doesn't seem like a lot, but there's a reason for it.

"There have been so many close calls, but we know the more we keep in our home, the less we can help in the long run," he says. At home, the Cozzas, with help from their daughter Minka, care for adoptee Lady, a 2-year-old seal point Siamese, and former fosters goofy Minnow, 2, and lovable grump Wednesday, 3, who Cozza adoringly calls "house panthers." At Kitty Cantina, there are many more any given day of the week, so it's hard to answer when guests ask him how many cats he has.

"After rattling off sometimes up to 15 cats, some people look concerned—which is comical!—but it's an opportunity to explain what we do, why we do it, and share stories," Cozza says.  

At Kitty Cantina, the Cozzas feature adoptable cats from local shelter SpokAnimal, which is where they rescued their own feline family members. Tori has volunteered with the organization for many years, so it just seemed like the perfect partnership—and a super successful one, too.

"In a little over a year and a half, Kitty Cantina has facilitated nearly 800 adoptions!" Cozza says. "We hope to see that number steadily climb, and we have big plans for the future. We're also incredibly grateful for all our supporters and for SpokAnimal for teaming up with us to help save animals."

This unwavering devotion is why the Cozzas recently won the national Feline Foster Hero contest, promoted by Greater Good Charities and sponsored by Royal Canin. Launched in honor of National Shelter Appreciation Week in November, two runners-up receive a $1,000 grant for their favorite shelters, and the grand prize winner gets a $5,000 grant. Cozza says he and Tori didn't even know they had been nominated. "A couple of days after they announced the top 10 contestants, someone forwarded us the link. We were behind at that point but we rallied our supporters and made a strong comeback!" 

Justyn and Tori, feline foster winners: Justyn, wearing a "Save Cats" beanie, with a cat on his shoulder, and Tori with two cats.
Credit: Courtesy of Justyn Cozza

Naturally, they awarded the SpokAnimal rescue organization with the winning grant money. SpokAnimal plans to use it primarily for purchasing a handheld ultrasound device to help with imaging of pregnant cats, organs, and guiding needles, he adds. The couple also received $500 to help with food and supplies at Kitty Cantina.   

Liz Baker is the CEO of Greater Good Charities, based in Seattle. She says the Feline Foster Hero contest is one way to shine a light on the work these foster heroes do, reward them for it, and help the shelters they care so much about. "We believe fostering pets is a key solution to the animal shelter overpopulation issue and finding at-risk pets forever homes," she tells Daily Paws. "In addition to providing the pet with more space, a home allows pets to thrive while forming bonds with their foster caregivers." 

For the Cozzas, animal welfare is a passion, a career, a lifestyle, and a concept reflective of their family values. "Fostering special-needs cats, bottle feeding around the clock, socializing new litters—these are all things we love doing as a family," Cozza says. "Seeing our daughter's genuine compassion is just as rewarding as seeing a litter of cats through birth and all the way into new homes." True heroes indeed!