In 2011, Nikki Martinez was in distress. After an emergency surgery led to her getting a radical abdominal hysterectomy, she was ordered to take three months of bed rest. During that time, the Las Vegas native fell into a deep depression that “took a toll on me physically and emotionally,” she recalls.
Her silver lining came the day she was permitted to drive again. On her way to a doctor appointment, she happened across a small kitten that had jumped into the middle of the road. “It wouldn’t come, but I could tell it was visibly sick,” Martinez says. “I could see the green discharge on its face, and she had a raspy meow.”
The kitten eventually came to her. It had an upper respiratory infection that needed to be treated, Martinez later found out during a visit to a vet. That should’ve been the end, but when Martinez later checked in to see if she could transport the animal to a no-kill shelter, she found out it was already gone. Animal control had picked it up.
“Go down there and get it,” Martinez’s husband had said.
And she did. For $50, she adopted the kitten, nursing it—and herself—back to health. “It was something I needed at that time,” she says. “Instead of focusing on myself and my own health problems, I was focusing on her and getting her better. I could no longer have children, but I could [carry] out my maternal instincts on her.”
Martinez’s aunt and uncle wound up adopting the kitten. They named her Lola.
Five and a half years later, Martinez has gone on to foster hundreds of kittens. Her Instagram profile, @myfosterkittens, which boasts about 245,000 followers, has become a platform for educating people on foster care and the epidemic of cat overpopulation.
Photos by Krystal Ramirez
“My aunt calls this all Lola’s legacy, because that’s where it started,” she says.
Martinez gets her fosters from the Nevada Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals as well as others she finds on her own. She stresses that it’s really not as difficult to foster as people think it is. Rescue organizations never give you more than you can handle, tailoring fosters to your schedule and comfort level. They’ll also supply essentials to take care of your furry friend. From food to necessary medications and vaccines, they’ll assist you.
Saying goodbye poses the real challenge.
“[When] my first litter got adopted, I cried for two weeks,” Martinez says. “Like, ugly-cried at the shelter on adoption day.”
How does she deal today? She keeps fostering. In between being a full-time volunteer Bible teacher, pet sitter and dog walker, Martinez currently looks after eight cats, which is less than her average of 10. “I take it to the extreme,” she admits.
Photos by Krystal Ramirez
Martinez purposely requests critical-care foster cats—those with complications, like Sparrow, an adorably scruffy 5-week-old with a missing leg, and Bunny, a green-eyed beauty that was covered in fungus when Martinez first found her. Both have recovered phenomenally.
Not all are as lucky. An expressive little kitten with the likeness of a baby Groot, Jonas was rescued from a backyard in 115-degree heat, but Martinez recently lost him in June after five days. Most upsetting, she says, is that spaying Jonas’ mother could have prevented this. That’s what compelled her to start working with the Community Cat Coalition of Clark County, a volunteer organization that performs TNR (trap, neuter and return) for free-roaming cats.
“TNR stops the problem at the source,” she explains. Less breeding going on in the streets means less kittens born in harsh conditions and less need for them to enter shelters and possibly get euthanized.
TNR is a more active approach to tackling cat overpopulation, but it by no means discounts fostering, which Martinez likens to a roller coaster. She says it truly comes down to giving and taking chances, because ultimately, “it takes just a little bit of effort and time to change their whole life.”