by Joyce Brandon
Joyce is a part of Animal Compassion Team, an animal rescue in Squaw Valley.
We receive e-mails from time to time from adopters who like to give helpful advice to our foster families. Just recently we received an e-mail advising one of our foster moms not to allow puppies to kiss her face, according to our adoptive mom; it is a terribly disturbing behavior when it is carried forward into their permanent home. A while back, a foster mom was chastised for not teaching her foster kitty to forego the very problematic habit of counter surfing. Obviously, the foster mom lacked discipline as this very curious kitty was jumping on the kitchen counters in her new home.
I actually find these e-mails amusing but they certainly indicate a misunderstanding about what a rescue foster is called to do, so I thought I might talk a little about this selfless act of kindness. Read thoroughly, consider carefully, and if you can answer “yes” to the question “is foster care for you,” pick up the phone and call your local rescue group. I guarantee they can use your help.
Bottom line: foster families save lives. They are a rescue group’s first line of defense, sometimes the only hope, and always our heroes. They often mean the difference between life and death for a homeless animal.
We have become a disposable community. When something doesn’t feel good, work right, or suit our needs, we toss it and buy new. Unfortunately, for many, this includes their pets. The economy has also taken a toll on what once were secure homes forcing many well intentioned families to surrender their pets. What are the options for those pets?
The shelter is an option all too often used. In Fresno and surrounding communities, choosing this option is a lot like playing Russian Roulette with four or five bullets in a six chamber gun. Our Fresno shelter, by their own admission, kills nearly eight out of every 10 animals that enter its doors. Not an option anyone should ever use when faced with re-homing their pet.
Rescue groups exist to save the lives of homeless pets: no other reason. Most rescue groups are not fortunate enough to have their own facility and rely completely on foster homes for their lifesaving work. Even those rescue groups with facilities benefit from the use of foster homes.
When ACT receives word that an animal, or group of animals, needs our help, the first thing we do is go to work looking for a foster home. We have many dedicated repeat fosters that we rely on heavily. When they are full, we set about recruiting new ones. Not everyone who tries fostering enjoys the experience. Some give it a try and then don’t offer again. We appreciate the effort and realize fostering isn’t for everyone.
For me, a visit to the shelter early in my fostering career was a life changing event. I had been called to the shelter to pick up a hound mom and her litter of pups. In the kennel next to her, was her teenaged daughter, also surrendered to the CCSPCA. We had to walk the mama dog out past the kennel this young dog was housed in. The young dog let out a wail that went straight to my soul. Her despondency was heartbreaking and very clear.
On that day, in that kennel, I figured out that these animals feel despair to their depths and have an understanding of their hopeless situation. I put my name on her kennel card, and sure enough, she got very sick in the shelter and I was called to take her home, too. Be clear, had I not tagged her, she would have been killed. It took a huge effort to get her well, but she did recover and move on to a new home.
Foster men and women who last are those who understand that without their efforts the animals they are caring for would be dead. That is motivation enough for most to keep going. My home has not been without a foster animal or two since that day.
When comparing notes with other fosters it seems that there are certain things you can count on:
You can count on disruption to your life. Settling in a new animal almost always causes a little turmoil around the house. Your existing animals need to adjust to having a new friend living in their space. Sometimes it’s a match made in heaven and sometimes it takes a day or two, or more, for everyone to settle down. They almost always do given a little time.
Your family members may need to adjust. I can’t count the number of little dogs I’ve brought home that seem to have it in for men. My husband has been great at teaching them to trust. We have a little dog that still chases my teenaged daughter down the hall. It comes with the territory if you foster enough.
You can count on extra time on the road. Vet visits, spay appointments, and adoption events, are all part of the deal. When you take on a foster animal you are committing your time to make sure the animal stays healthy, is fully vetted, and makes it out to adoption events. The more the animals are made available, the more likely they are to be adopted quickly.
You can count on heartbreak whether it comes from sending an animal over the Rainbow Bridge or giving them a hug goodbye as they leave for their new home: loving them costs you something.
You can probably count on a bit of redecorating. If you foster enough, you will likely have a door or two nibbled on, and carpet…well …. What’s that?
You can count on friends and family members believing you’ve lost your mind. Some may even be very outspoken and critical, albeit well meaning. You will need to reassure them that you haven’t lost your mind and set about educating them about the plight of homeless animals.
Now in case you are all feeling discouraged and thinking to yourselves, “no way would I ever foster,” let me continue with all the things you can count on:
Your own animals become better socialized with the constant coming and goings of new and varied pets. They learn tolerance and many learn that new fosters mean new playmates. Your family will learn about compassion, giving, sacrificing, and loving unconditionally that they might not have an opportunity to learn elsewhere. You can count on learning new things and making new friends. Some of the best people you will ever meet are associated with rescue groups. These are people who know how to give of themselves.
You can count on some redecorating if you foster enough. You know that old carpet you just hate? Well, say hello to new Pergo and tile floors! You will fill your time with lifesaving work and I don’t know what could be more rewarding. Your life will take on new meaning as you become a voice for the voiceless.
Sure, training and socialization are a big plus and one of the great things about a foster-based rescue program; but that is a bonus and not the focus of the program. Saving lives is the focus of the program. We count on our adopting families to provide the lifelong care and commitment to training that turns a pet into a family member.
As you nurse that little one back to health, as you see the gratitude in the eyes of that death row dog, as you see the joy in the faces of their new family, you will have a sense of purpose and accomplishment like none other. The rewards are tremendous!
Become a foster parent today. Call your local rescue agency and find out how you can become a lifesaver. The animals are counting on you.
Learn more about ACT in their article here at KRL & watch for a new adoptable pet from ACT on our home page every week.