Petal Walker is a foster care inspiration. Fostering for the RSPCA in Townsville, the attentive mum to daughters Kayla, 15, and Amalie, 13, runs a lively household in balance with casual work and caring for veteran husband Rob - now medically retired after 25 years in the defence force.
With such a full plate, it’s hard to imagine there’d be time for another round-the-clock endeavour, but Petal is also a dedicated RSPCA foster carer who can barely keep count of all the animals that her family and three of their own forever cats have helped find happily-ever-afters for.
The Walker family’s Townsville abode has for the last five years been a loving home to the pit-a-pat of many paws - cats, dogs, kittens and puppies are the welcome additions that keep all-hands-on-deck with revolving schedules of feeding, cleaning, medicating, weighing, and of course, plenty of puppy-pats and purr-time.
It’s a very busy life, but according to a resolute Petal, she wouldn’t have it any other way. “You just make the time,” she says of the juggle, thankful for the full family effort. Despite his tough exterior, Rob has a huge heart for their animal kingdom, while Kayla and Amalie are equally enthusiastic devotees who consider themselves very lucky to have grown up practicing all the discerning skills of good foster carers.
As for many, the family’s venture into fostering evolved after the transformational experience of adopting their first cat. The idea flourished from “we really love this cat” to “the kids are getting bigger—what can we do to help?”
Now, years down the track, Petal insists, “If we don’t have fosters, the house feels so empty. We absolutely love it!”
So how do they decide which new pets to foster and add to their rescue roll-call?
“We take whatever we’re given,” Petal says as generously in her acceptance of extra animals. “You just take each animal as they come and adapt yourself to them,” she says “No two are the same. It’s always different.”
Think your family will suit fostering? Apply to become a foster carer today!
With time and experience, Petal has also learned that no two foster homes are the same and each family will have strengths that fit uniquely with certain animals.
“We get a lot of mums and kittens because our cats get along so well with other adult cats,” she says. It wouldn’t be a surprise to find up to three litters of kittens in residence at the Walker’s house, and as fate would have it, their own adopted cats are the perfect trio of teachers.
With such a well-rounded household of help, and guided by the family’s fostering mantra of ‘slow and steady’, Petal’s inspirational efforts to rescue and raise healthy, adaptable animals continues to be as rewarding for her and her family as it is indispensable to their community. To them fostering isn’t just a pit-stop for the end-goal of adoption - it’s about enrichment, wellbeing and improving an animal’s experience of life in the meantime.
Petal knows the pre-requisites well: time, love, patience and openness to learning, because, as she says, “You never stop learning.” And, when she speaks of the fosters for whom the spectrum of challenges can seem insurmountable - as it was for Pablo, a dog so severely emaciated he could barely walk - it’s clear that witnessing an animal’s resilience, determination and pursuit of joy in the face of hardship, is one of those rewards.
“Just to transform him from skin, bones and terror to this happy, cheeky dog - you can’t describe it, it’s just amazing to be able to help that way,” Petal says of Pablo’s brave journey to health.
And when it comes to those bittersweet adoption goodbyes, Petal and her family always focus on what’s best for the animal. “That’s how you get through all the tears,” she says, “It’s bigger than you.”
Of course, having a supportive fostering community helps and is a vital lifeline for carers to maintain energy and enthusiasm for the important work they do. After recent changes to the RSPCA shelter operations in Townsville, pound and foster program, Petal and Rob were among those concerned about the potential impacts on access to support and animal care. Since the shift, RSPCA’s Foster Care Coordinator, Mel Williamson, stepped in and well-and-truly up as Townsville’s leading advocate, and Petal can’t speak highly enough of her support.
“She’s one of the most amazing people I know,” she says in response to Mel’s 24-hour willingness to assist. Whether it’s administering fluids to crashing kittens at 2am, offering words of wisdom, laughing-out-loud over animal antics, or passionately concurring about the community issue of animals not being de-sexed - there is a great deal of valuable teamwork that goes on to help keep foster carers like Petal supported and their animals well cared for.
Fostering has many cheers and challenges, and Petal agrees it’s something people underestimate their own capacity for. She’s always happy to share her experience with interested others. Both Petal and Rob are not only committed to the long-term, but both have taken on additional RSPCA roles as Volunteer Animal Ambulance Drivers for the region - an increase from one driver to three and an invaluable service to their animal community.
Kayla and Amalie are also embracing a continuation of the animal life. “Fostering is now a part of them as much as it is a part of us,” Petal says proudly. Her daughters already talk of their own foster-ready adult futures, with Kayla even making solid plans towards becoming a vet.
Those humble beginnings of loving one lonely cat, to adopting two more, then onto fostering hundreds of animals certainly took a turn for the best! We can’t thank Petal and her family enough for the inspiring way they build their lives around animals in need and for the difference that makes to so many pets and their people. We wish them joy and success in all of their future fostering adventures.
Ready to get on board as a foster care family? Read more about becoming an RSPCA Foster Carer here.