by Wendy Hunter
Wendy Hunter is a volunteer with the Animal Rescue of Fresno. ARF will be sharing their animal rescue adventures with us now every month.
“Fostering is so rewarding, I used to think they took a piece of my heart. Instead, they take a piece, but leave their paw prints imprinted on my heart.” — Mindi Miller
Are you looking for adventure? Excitement? The thrill of the unknown? Are you seeking enlightenment? Elation? A zest for life? Is your world humdrum? Desolate? A true bore? Is your furniture spotless? Are your floors spic n’span? Could your house pass the white-glove test? Then perhaps you should consider becoming a foster parent! Being a foster parent can quite possibly alleviate all the symptoms of a dull day-to-day life. Just imagine all the possibilities! A slobbering, drooling, bundle of joy, tracking dirt onto your carpets, leaving hair on your pillows, howling at your friends, and lifting an enthusiastic leg. And if you think I’m talking about a toddler, then you’ve been hanging out with some interesting characters.
What I’m actually talking about is dog fostering, the act of taking a complete and total stranger, fuzzy feet and all, into your well-appointed home. Or your well lit double wide. Or wherever it is you hang your hat. People from all walks of life have discovered the joy of opening their doors and giving many deserving animals a temporary place to call their own until they’re adopted by their “furever” family. And though on the surface it may not seem like fostering dogs and fostering children have anything remotely in common, the similarities are not as far off as you might think. For example, whether it be a tyke or teenager, a puppy or pooch, they all require, love, care, patience, and attention. In addition, each can certainly benefit from companionship, guidance, understanding, and a stable home life. But since I know nothing about kids, and maybe just a little bit more about canines, let’s see if I can expand your horizons, and pique your interest. Perhaps it will encourage you to offer your own welcome mat to a dog in need.
You might be wondering what motivates people to foster dogs and why you should care. There are many reasons why fostering is so important, but perhaps the most critical is that many shelters just don’t have enough room for the volume of homeless dogs, plain and simple. To prove that point, here are some very scary statistics from the ASPCA’s website:
Approximately 7.6 million companion animals enter animal shelters nationwide every year. Of those, approximately 3.9 million are dogs and 3.4 million are cats. Each year, approximately 2.7 million animals are euthanized (1.2 million dogs and 1.4 million cats).
Yes, you read that correctly. The numbers are staggering, and even though it may seem like an uphill battle, many adoptable dogs have a fighting chance to survive, thanks to the fostering process. When dogs are fostered, they have the opportunity to become socialized with other pets and people, to enjoy the benefits of regular exercise (which they may not have access to in a shelter), and to grow and thrive in a secure environment. Fostering is also excellent for puppies too young to be adopted, as many are able to grow up with their mother before adoption.
Other dogs benefiting from a foster home are those recovering from surgery, requiring a bit more time and TLC. In addition, those humans who foster are able to become familiar with their dog’s quirks and characteristics, providing valuable insight to potential adopters. And for people who may not be ready for a long-term commitment, fostering is the perfect way to help a dog get ready for the next chapter in its life.
For long-time foster mom Mindi Miller, ARF’s volunteer coordinator, fostering is pretty much second nature. Her current houseguest, Driannah, is a wiggly, caramel-colored Chihuahua mix, who has delightful puppy breath and loves snoozing atop a large purple dinosaur. Miller has fostered many pregnant mommies, and helped to deliver and bottle-feed babies through sweltering summers and windy winters. When asked why she fosters, Miller responds, “Why not? Fostering starts with the simple decision of why not make a difference.” Having fostered for nine years, she continues, “I can make a difference and help one dog at a time, with the realization that man is not all that bad.”
And when people ask how she’s able to eventually give up her foster dogs, Miller replies, “The honest truth is, it’s hard. But knowing a dog died because I said ‘no, I cannot foster’ hurts more. The reward is watching that puppy or dog leaving with their new family.”Her last foster dog, Mack, was a perfect example of that leave-no-dog-behind attitude. Mack was born with several serious medical issues, including an open fontanel (common in Chihuahuas), a reducible hernia, and an abnormal gait. Obviously, a lot of big challenges for a very small dog. However, these issues didn’t dissuade Miller. “My job was to figure out if he was adoptable, to take him home and get him close to ready.” Ultimately, he was selected for the journey to our friends at Animal Humane Society in Minnesota where he was placed in an adoption program for shy/fearful dogs, and eventually underwent successful surgery. One morning, Mack was put up for adoption, and miraculously found his new family that same afternoon. For his foster mom, Mack’s success is a lesson to each of us. “He was a completely different dog when he left. We can all look past some things, and give everyone a second chance.”
For some people, volunteering at ARF started the snowball effect that introduced them to the world of fostering. Cori Pearson says she never could have imagined being a foster parent until she got involved in euthanasia rescues. She remembers one of her first times “pulling” from the CCSPCA. “An ARF volunteer pointed at some barrels. The contents of these barrels were animals that no longer had a life. I became a foster, because I knew what the ending story for the dogs were if ARF and I were not there.” Regarding the puppies she’s raised, Pearson says, “I often fostered because ARF did not have room, and the only way the puppies would have a future was if I did. Even though the dogs were already at ARF’s facility, they were too young to be adopted and susceptible to disease.”
This is where Pearson stepped in. “By me fostering, I protected the puppies from viruses like Parvo and distemper, and prepared them for their future families. I socialized, I potty-pad trained, and I loved them until one day someone else would take that role.” And Pearson’s take on the difficulties of letting a foster go? “I never had too much trouble giving up my fosters. Animals are a lot of work, and often I begged for a break.” But in the end, she admits it’s all worth the effort, “Fostering isn’t always easy, but it’s always worth it.” Indeed.
Sherrie Robertson could tell you a thing or two about fostering puppies. For the past four and a half years, this ARF volunteer has fostered many a litter of them, with or without a mother. Her first litter was from the Madera SPCA, and was named for the three volunteers she accompanied there. She is happy to say, “It made my heart swell with happiness that we saved these babies from inevitable euthanasia.”
Sherrie has endured many hardships while fostering, including losing several puppies to Parvo, having to cradle and comfort them as they crossed over the Rainbow Bridge. She remains in contact with many of the families who have adopted her fosters, including one in Vancouver, Canada. Sherrie also is a “foster failure” story, who ended up adopting one of her own puppies, Gertie, the house princess. Sherrie is currently fostering her fourth mommy dog and puppies. Her reason is very simple. “When I see pictures of my now-grown foster pups with their loving families, it makes it all worth it.”
Finding the perfect home for any foster dog can sometimes be difficult, but many searches have a joyful ending. This was the case for Janet Rusk and her family after the loss of a beloved cat left their dog in a very lonely state. “Our older dog was a rescue from our daughter, so we know how special they can be. It’s so important that you know what kind of dog will fit your family. After just a few weeks, we found a companion for our dog at ARF.” A former foster, Heidi adjusted to her new household within a few days. Says Rusk, “This sweet loving dog is so much a part of our family. Her foster mom has contacted me several times to see how she’s doing. I know that her fostering made a difference.”
If you are interested in fostering, please contact us for approval at canine@arf-fresno[dot]com.
Check out more animal rescue stories in our Pet Perspective section. Advertise in KRL and 10% of your advertising fees can go to a local animal rescue.