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The Joy of Dog Fostering
Finding fulfillment, saving lives


Attraction is often a mystery to the unaffected. Take Amy Weeden and her daughter Shelby. Earlier this year, they met and fell in love with an 11-year-old, one-eyed, blind and nearly deaf Chihuahua with a back end shriveled up from lack of use. Her name was Estella. She could barely stand, let alone go outside to potty. She had chronic renal failure. She ate little and only when fed by hand. She would not have lasted long in a shelter; she certainly would not have been easy to find a home for. The Weedens, however, were not deterred by Estella's condition. They had three other senior rescue dogs at homea pair of graying Dachshunds named Otto and Kisses, and El Capitan, another Chihuahua roughly the same age as Estella—and knew what was possible with love and patient care.


It was a one-in-a-million match.


The Weedens had found Estella through a search on Petfinder.com and traveled 100 miles to meet the tan charmer in the Lafayette, Calif., living room of the Goldlist family. As part of a school community-service project, Jay and Maureen and daughters Ashley, Haley and Shayla were fostering Estella and Estella's seven-year-old son Pip for Muttville, a San Francisco-based nonprofit dedicated to senior dog rescue.


Unlike their Great Expectations namesakes, our Pip and Estella both found happiness. Nowadays, Estella takes regular two-mile strolls. She is playful and well nourished, and her kidney problem is under control. She snores at night. Pip, for his part, is now a permanent member of the Goldlist household. After he ran away from an adopter twice, presumably to find his way back to the Goldlists, the family decided resistance was futile. And they still foster; their current Muttville charge is another elderly Chihuahua, an amiable gentleman named Clyde.


This Dickensian happy ending would have been implausible if the people involved had subscribed to the prevailing notion about fostering: It is too painful. In this respect, fostering animals is a lot like mountain climbing. Everyone agrees it is a noble pursuit—just not something to consider doing oneself. Surely it takes extraordinary courage and strength of character? Yes, opening your home and your heart to a dog only to part with him again weeks or months later can be emotionally bruising. But the willingness of foster volunteers to love and let go brings about an awful lot of good. Without foster homes, Muttville and thousands of similar organizations could not function.


In fact, some in the rescue world see fostering as the way to a future where shelters are largely redundant. Eileen Bouressa is the executive director of Animal Compassion Network (ACN), an animal welfare organization in western North Carolina that has adopted out over 10,000 animals since its inception in 1997. ACN's rescue activities are built around a network of foster volunteers.


"Fostering keeps animals out of shelters where communicable diseases can be common, especially for stressed pets," Bouressa says. "And housing dogs in private homes makes for happy, well-adjusted animals who make an easier transition into an adoptive home than they would coming straight out of a facility."


ACN has two types of foster homes, Emergency Fosters and Public Partners. The first are ACN volunteers who take in animals pulled from shelters and other desperate situations (death of an owner, abuse) until a new home can be found. The Public Partner Program is for people who need to re-home their own pet or a stray they have rescued so they can avoid surrendering the dog to a shelter. ACN pays for spay/neuter, testing, vaccinations, microchipping, deworming, flea and heartworm prevention, and food and supplies, and offers help to find a new home.




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Submitted by Jessica | December 15 2009 |

Foster homes are so hard to come by for rescue groups. I urge everyone to foster if they can. I think of it as doing a service for both the dog and his/her future family. My latest foster, Hank, has been with me since August. Raised on a chain in a yard his whole life Hank had severe separation anxiety (he snapped off his canines trying to get out of the crate and almost through himself through a glass door) and storm anxiety. Within 12 weeks Hank was cured of separation anxiety and his storm anxiety is much better. All he needs is a dramamine and some DAP on a bandana. He is fully trained, housebroken, incredibly social, adores kids and is beginning to learn service work. I will cry like a baby when Hank goes to a new home but I know that all the work I have done will ensure he stays in his next home forever, not in the backyard on a chain. Most fosters are not this much work, they usually only need to learn manners and basic obedience. I just happen to do a lot of rehab for anxiety and aggression. Fostering is heartwrenching when you send your boy or girl off to a new home but it's the most rewarding thing you can do for the dog and the new family. Rescues screen, interview and check homes so you can be certain your foster is going to a good home.

Submitted by Tara in Denver | January 11 2010 |

I have been fostering for 2 years now and own 3 dogs and 1 cat of my own. My husband had many reservations about fostering - mostly that he thought I would begin collecting dogs. Over my fostering time I have had healthy young dogs, elderly dogs, overweight, underweight, scared/shy, un-trained (come to me as "unmanageable"), you name it. When you see how much you help a shy dog learn to 'be a dog', how happy a previously un-manageable dog becomes with a little structure in their life; all of my sadness in letting them go disappears in my tears of joy. Yes, I cry when a foster leaves, but it is happiness of things to come for the dog that I don't have another way to express. My husband asks everytime a foster goes to it's forever home, so when do we get the next one, through his tears. Getting the next one is the best cure for any saddness you may feel when letting a foster move on to it's "real" life. I have nothing else that causes me as much joy as when I look at the pictures of fosters-past, I know all of these dogs are loved members of a family partly thanks to me!
If everyone could vow to foster just one dog, it would make a WORLD of difference to the animals, organizations and volunteers. It's just one dog at one point in your life...will you step up to the challenge??

Submitted by Kim - Riverside Ca | January 20 2010 |

I never thought that I would be able to foster. I did volunteer puppy raising for guide dogs many, many years ago and that was very, very hard, I ended up with both the puppies I raised, one was released from the program at a year and one worked for two years and when she "retired" she was again a part of my life! So I knew I just would never be able to foster, but since I started a part time job at my local pet superstore, I have become friends with our rescue organization that adopts out on the weekends and i have now fostered a total of 3 dogs. And while it is hard when they are living with you, i have 4 dogs of my own, it is even harder when they leave, but as the other posts suggest there is no greater joy than knowing that you did something to make their life a little better and more comfortable until they find that home, I am lucky because the people that have adopted the dogs I have fostered have brought them back into the store to shop! Each and every time I see them my heart swells, to know I played a part in their happy new life! It makes me so proud to have saved this dog and given them a safe home until they found their forever home! It is because of the dog living with me that makes it easier to place them with the RIGHT family, because I can give details to the rescue organization that the local shelter would not know, making the adoptive family more aware of the challenges that may lie ahead...fostering is a truly wonderful experience one that if you can open your heart and home you will be greatly rewarded!

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