These days at Kathy Paeplow's home in Safety Harbor, pets outnumber humans almost three to one. There is one dog, plus five resident cats and seven foster kittens.
Chaotic? Not really.
"They all get along. . . . And it's very rewarding," says Paeplow, 48, who started volunteering at Friends of Strays about nine years ago, and soon joined its foster pet program. "We all had busy schedules, but we wanted to volunteer as a family. I thought this was a good way to do something together."
And a family project it certainly is.
Over the years, the family — which includes husband Ron, 65, Paeplow's sister Kris Rennie, 50, and Paeplow's children, Katie and Michael Wiszowaty, 14 and 16 — have cared for at least 300 kittens.
And that's not counting the kittens fostered by Paeplow's mom, Annie Rennie of Clearwater.
Foster parents typically keep the kittens until they're about 2 pounds, or 8 weeks old. That gives them enough time to get socialized and trained, and be ready for adoption.
Friends of Strays, a nonprofit organization in St. Petersburg, has had the foster program since the group was started in 1978. The program helps strays get socialized, says Robert Mohler, Friends of Strays volunteer coordinator. "They know what to expect when they get their forever home."
Friends of Strays supplies food, bottles, crates, toys and anything else the kittens need, Annie Rennie says.
"Kittens really need people and a safe environment," Paeplow says. "We first keep them in a big crate, so they feel safe and secure. . . . Younger ones, first we feed them by hand or bottle. (Friends of Strays) won't put them up for adoption until they're physically and mentally healthy."
Foster homes are also needed for dogs and for older cats that need extra care.
Paeplow's daughter Katie, 14, recalls about three years ago, when she woke up one night to find that one of their guest cats had delivered two kittens, right there next to her. Katie helped deliver the rest.
In a couple of weeks, the current litter — Lucie, Cocoa, Anna Maria, June, Lantana, LaBelle and Sanford — goes back to the shelter, where they will stay until adopted.
"You really do miss your babies, but you know they're going to a great home," Paeplow says. "We often get letters or phone calls (from the new owners). . . . And there are always new litters that need help."
The program is ideal for any pet lover, single or married, with kids or without, they all say.
Fostering "added another dimension to our lives," Paeplow says.
She urges everyone to consider fostering, even if it's just one time. "You don't have to be the crazy cat lady like me."