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El Camino Hospital nurse fosters kittens with special needs

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Courtesy of Diane Foxen
Diane Foxen takes care of sick infants as a nurse, as well as kittens, above, with special needs.

Most days, Diane Foxen works 12-hour shifts as a nurse caring for sick infants in the neonatal intensive-care unit at either El Camino Hospital or Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. When she returns home, her day is far from over – Foxen has kittens to care for.

Not just any kittens, either. As a volunteer for Humane Society Silicon Valley, Foxen specializes in fostering kittens with ringworm.

“I know that if I were alone after work, it would be really hard,” the Sunnyvale resident said. “Having my kittens gives me somebody to hold and touch and love – and to give back to society.”

Since 2009, Foxen said she has fostered nearly 200 kittens, caring for as many as 13 at a time.

“Having a foster parent of Diane’s caliber taking on some of the most challenging cases has been critical to our mission,” said Cristie Kamiya, HSSV chief of shelter medicine. “Diane has literally saved the lives of the many kittens she has taken in. Without her, and our many dedicated foster parents, we would not be able to have the lifesaving impact that we do today.”

The first cat Foxen fostered, Smudge, had cancer was given only six months to live. Under Foxen’s care, Smudge lived three years longer.

“After that, I started getting phone calls from the Humane Society, saying, ‘Hey, Diane, we’ve got this really sick kitten – it’s just like NICU nursing – can you take care of it?’” Foxen said. “And so now my specialty is fostering very sick ringworm kittens.”

Ringworm is a treatable skin fungus, but it is highly contagious among kittens. Because it spreads, many cats with ringworm are put down despite being otherwise healthy, according to Foxen. To care for them, she isolates the kittens in a room and gives them medicated baths and oral medication each week.

Facilitating adoption

After such extensive care, Foxen said it can be difficult to let the kittens go. To cope, she creates what she calls “kitten adoption bags” for their new families. The bags contain each kitten’s favorite toys, pictures, Foxen’s homemade cat collar and a letter introducing herself encouraging the new owners to reach out.

“You have to be in the mindset that you can’t keep them all, and if you do, then you’re not saving any more,” Foxen said. “Every kitten you can let go of to be adopted out, you can save another by bringing it into your home and fostering.”

After a long shift in the NICU, the kittens always make her laugh and smile, she added.

“They help on those really bad days when we’ve lost a baby or had a heartache,” Foxen said. “People say, ‘You’re a neonatal nurse. I could never do that. You’re a hero.’ But to me, my kittens are my heroes sometimes.”

Foxen strongly encourages people to consider fostering animals as way to give back to the community; they might just develop the same kind of strong connection she has with her kittens.

“Having this transition from a kitten that may not make it to this healthy kitten that is now running around and playing, that is just reward in itself,” she said. “Having a foster – whatever animal – I highly suggest it; it can really help people make it through tough times.”

For more information on fostering with Humane Society Silicon Valley, visit hssv.org.

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