Photos By Hillary Ehlen
John Stearns and Julie Jackson Stearns have opened their doors to those in need of love and support…both human and feline.
The Stearnses have been fostering kittens from CATS Cradle Shelter for six years and have been caring for children in the PATH’s Family Support program for a year and a half.
They first became connected with CATS Cradle Shelter when touring the facility. They loved how their cats weren’t kept in cages but lived in colonies with space to rest, play and socialize. They loved the team at CATS Cradle and admired the work they are able to do as a 100% donor-funded and volunteer-based organization. After having donated and volunteered there, they saw CATS Cradle’s need for kittens to be in foster homes and have taken in over 200 kittens as fosters since.
“What we liked about CATS Cradle is that they give you all the supplies. The litter, the litter box, the bedding, everything. All we had to provide was the love and bring them to open houses and medical appointments if they have them,” said Jackson Stearns. She expressed that fostering through CATS Cradle is not as much work as some might imagine. The placement is temporary, costs are covered and you get a 24/7 support system from the CATS Cradle team to answer questions…all you need to do is provide love and shelter.
“Because it’s temporary, it’s great for people who want to give their kids a kitten experience. It’s also great for retired people or people who love animals, but don’t want the commitment of having an animal all the time,” said Jackson Stearns. “If you foster, you’re getting that little dose of having an animal in your house and having that love. But it’s not permanent, so you don’t have that commitment of 15 years. It fills that need.”
As if their hands weren’t full enough from fostering kittens, the family felt a calling to foster children as well. After becoming empty nesters, the Stearnses felt it was a time to start researching and training to become caregivers to children in need. When they started researching the steps to become foster parents, they assumed that it was a full-time commitment. However, PATH’s Family Support program allows adults to provide mentoring services to families in need while also providing relief care. In Jackson Stearns’ own words, “The Family Support program is a commitment you give a family. The child will be in your home one night a week and one weekend a month. So it’s four to six days a month that we provide just love and extra consistency and working towards goals that the kids might have, but they’re living at home.”
Caring for both children and kittens has been an incredible experience for this family. As time has passed, they’ve seen how the kittens and the children help each other. “Since bringing kids into our home the past year and a half, we’ve seen that human and animal connection that helps kids cope with things. They have less anxiety and it reduces stress,” Jackson Stearns said. “It helps with interaction. When kids are talking to an adult or to others face-to-face, it can be a little awkward. But if you put a pet in their lap and they’re petting a cat or a dog, it changes that communication.”
Jackson Stearns describes the connection between fostering cats and caring for children as “just so amazing.” To a child, there are lots of situations they cannot control, but adding something as joyful as a kitten into their life gives them that extra delight. And on the other side, the kittens and cats benefit from the extra socialization and learn how to trust humans.
Humble abut the work she does, Jackson Stearns said, “It enhances your life, it’s not taking anything away. It’s not like you’re a superhero, because you’re not. You’re just living your life and loving. We need more of that.”
“It’s the best part of life,” said Jackson Stearns added. “When you have people that need a hand up, or animals that need a step up and you can just be there for them. I’m not overwhelmed, I’m not stressed, my life is more joyful and blessed and I’m the happiest.”
Want to add more joy to your life? Contact these organizations for more information.
CATS Cradle Shelter
9 9th St S, Fargo
1202 Westrac Drive, Suite 400, Fargo