irst it was Fluffy, who had five kittens shortly after she arrived. Next came Lucy and her five 3-week-old kittens. Most recently was Lucky, who arrived pregnant and just recently gave birth to three kittens.

A feline maternity ward? No, these cats are house guests of Arnold residents JoAnn and Joe Lamp. Or foster pets, to be more precise.

Earlier this year, the Anne Arundel County SPCA started a foster pet program as an extension of the care given at the shelter. Volunteers take in the animals--dogs, cats, puppies, kittens and even a few rabbits--until a permanent home can be found for them.

On average, it takes a month for an animal to find a permanent home, but sometimes two to three months can pass.

In those cases, or when an animal comes from a household in which it was the only pet, a foster family can offer more socialization than a shelter.

For the Lamps, who already have nine cats, Fluffy proved too irresistible to let go. So they adopted her. Perhaps it's no surprise, because JoAnn is an SPCA volunteer and Mike serves on the board.

"Most foster parents don't adopt. But some do," said Sue Beatty, director of operations at the county SPCA. Foster pet owners are not expected to adopt the animals, just provide food, shelter and care.

For more information about the Not 4 Gotten program, call: 410-268-4388; e-mail: info@aacspca.org; or visit the Web site: http://www.aacspca.org/.