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These days, fostering is not just for dogs and cats.
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When a senior shelter cat named Byron needed a quiet home while undergoing four months of radiation treatment to combat hyperthyroidism, staff at Lynnwood, Wash.-based animal rescue organization PAWS identified the perfect foster home. With experience in long-term fostering for senior and often very sick cats, Rachel Bishop (also a PAWS employee) brought the cat home. She served as Byron’s lifeline, overseeing his care and making sure the homeless kitty had plenty to purr about. Once he was healthy again, Byron was adopted into a happy “forever” home.
A vital component of rescue efforts, volunteer fosters like Bishop help care for animals at all stages of their lives — from young, healthy and immediately adoptable to those like Byron who need medical care before they can be adopted. Foster care often gives homeless animals the love, care and confidence that helps them find permanent homes.
Here, we share stories of people who put their passion for fostering animals to work, often making a difference between life and death for the pets in their care.
Dog lover Beth Dovi of Davis, Calif., says few things in life are more rewarding than helping a homeless dog find a new home. She’s been fostering dogs for more than six years for the German Shepherd Rescue of Northern California. Founded in 2002, the organization re-homes about 250 German Shepherd Dogs a year with help from hundreds of dedicated volunteers. Without a physical location, the organization relies on a network of fosterers to care for the dogs in the volunteers’ own homes. Foster providers like Dovi put their love and experience with the breed to work to help saving homeless German Shepherd Dogs.
In addition to basic care, Dovi says that a fosterers’ job is to get to know the dog as much as possible, from figuring out how well the dog is trained to how the dog reacts around other animals and children. The job might also involve care while the dog receives training or medical treatment, such as Tawney.
When a vet discovered that Tawney needed hip surgery, Dovi agreed to foster the young dog and transport her to all of her follow-up appointments. Dovi also worked with Tawney at home during her recuperation, encouraging her to walk and performing stretching and rotation exercises to keep the muscles flexible.
Dovi connected with the perfect adopter — a family with a daughter who would give the dogs lots of attention. “Tawney was a very sweet and pretty girl, and my 8-year-old male shepherd really liked having her around,” Dovi says.
“If my work helps get at least one German Shepherd out of a shelter, it’s absolutely worth it,” Dovi says.
Eleanor Garrett can’t imagine her life without foster dogs. For two years she and her family have fostered more than 20 homeless senior dogs in their Paoli, Pa., home. “It’s one of the things I am most proud of in my life,” she says. “Through fostering senior dogs, I feel like I’m able to make an impact in the world and teach my children to value the life of animals.”
It all started when Garrett and her husband, Matthew, adopted Duke, a blind 14-year old Miniature Poodle, from Senior Dog Haven and Hospice in Wilmington, Del. He had been abandoned in a veterinarian boarding facility when his elderly owner passed away.
“Duke was an amazing little dog that gave us such joy,” she says. Duke couldn’t hear or see, but if anyone opened the fridge, he came running. He’d find a hand to nudge if he needed attention. Inspired by Duke, Garrett and her husband started fostering other senior dogs, many of whom stayed for the rest of their lives. In cases of senior or hospice fostering, some rescue organizations cover the cost of veterinary care and sometimes even food.
“So many people tell me that they can’t foster because they couldn’t imagine having to give the dog up,” Garrett says. “It is bittersweet to see them go. I have not had one dog in my house that I wouldn’t have kept forever, but I would gladly deal with the heartbreak of saying goodbye over the possibility of a dog dying alone and unloved in a shelter.”
Homeless kittens become lucky kittens when they find themselves fostered in Connie Rosen’s Columbia, S.C. home. Like the recent foster kitten actually named Lucky. This 1-day old tuxedo kitty was brought in to Pawmetto Lifeline, an animal rescue organization in Columbia, from a litter of five found in an awful state of neglect.
“He could only take a tiny amount of milk at a time, and I didn’t think he would survive the first feeding,” says Rosen, who has been fostering kittens for more than 60 years. “Nine days later, he’s not totally out of danger but holding his own and starting to show his personality — purring and kneading, or as they say here in South Carolina, ‘making biscuits.’”
Just hearing Lucky purr makes Rosen smile. In addition to her role as a fosterer, she’s known at Pawmetto Lifeline as the “kitten bottle feeder.” Rosen cares for kittens, like Lucky, specifically during the fragile stage when they otherwise would have been nursing from their mothers. She makes formula, introduces the kittens to the bottle, feeds, burps, washes the kittens and even helps them go to the bathroom.
“I do all of the things around-the-clock that the mother would do,” Rosen says. “It is much like caring for a newborn child, except these babies fit in the palm of my hand, with room to spare.” Rosen estimates she has fostered 75 to 100 — possibly more! — kittens over the years.
Fostering a homeless animal can take on many different forms, and it can include a variety of animal species. For Kevin and Pat Byrne of Potomac, Md., on-site fostering at Days End Farm Horse Rescue in Lisbon, Md., means access to animals they love, like horses and goats. For Banjo the Quarter Horse, a visit from his foster family means lots of carrots and leisurely walks in the pasture. His foster family gives him extra attention and care that he loves. The extra shine on his coat from all of their TLC might also help him get adopted.
“We groom him, pick out his hooves and make him look and feel good about himself,” says Kevin Byrnes, who also likes to give the horse a cool hose-down during summer months. “Sometimes we just spend time out in the field with him, getting to know him and letting him get to know us.”
For Pumpkin the goat, a visit from the Byrnes means lots of chin scratches, grooming and a devoted audience.
Onsite fostering permits people like the Byrnes, who love horses and other animals but do not have the acreage or capital to provide for a horse where they live, to have the opportunity to have contact with the animals and assist in their recovery. “We find it very stress-reducing to be around goats,” Byrne says. “They are very affectionate, lovable animals who are comical to watch and play with.”
Kitson Jazynka has been writing for dog, horse and children’s magazines for 20 years. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband, their two boys, a German Shepherd Dog named Rex, and a very tolerant cat. She has volunteered for cat rescue and horse rescue organizations, and also writes children’s books and magazine articles about animals and wildlife rescue for National Geographic Kids.
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