"We have room for 70 dogs in the network," says Bouressa. "Of those, 20 are Emergency Fosters, the rest Public Partners. Though in a crisis situation, we remove the limits from our Emergency Foster Program. We took in 113 cats and dogs after Hurricane Katrina, and they all became Emergency Fosters in addition to the 40 already in the program."
ACN also runs a foster-to-adopt program. Some people, Bouressa explains, badly want a pet, yet find it hard to actually take the plunge. Others lose a beloved dog and feel they are betraying him or her by adopting again so soon. But when given the opportunity to temporarily foster the dog who has caught their eye, almost all jump at the chance. Frequently, the foster turns into an adoption.
Critics say foster-to-adopt programs turn dogs into returnable goods. Bouressa strongly disagrees. "It is a way to save more animals. Adopters get to know the dog and avoid the surprises that often lead to returns. If it isn't the right fit, we simply adopt the dog into another home and the foster-to-adopt volunteer can try another dog. Many continue to foster after they adopt because they see the difference they can make."
The program has also proven to be the answer when one family member wants to adopt and another family member is unsure. This is what happened with Amber and Katie Beane. They had a full house already, to be sure: two daughters (a teenager and a baby), four cats and two dogs. A third dog, Buddy, the youngest of the pack, had recently died. When the family stopped by Pet Harmony, ACN's store for rescued pets, to buy some supplies, bringing home another dog was not on Amber Beane's agenda.
"We saw this shy, sweet, Walker Coonhound mix, around six months old. And Katie said, 'We need another dog!' Amber laughs. "I just rolled my eyes. I thought it was the last thing we needed." But the dog, Miles, did strike her as too shy for his own good. So Amber consented to foster him long enough to give him a chance to come out of his shell, to become more adoptable. It worked. Within days, Miles was prancing around the Beane property as though he owned it, opening doors by himself, cozying up to the cats, and entertaining his dignified elders—13-year-old Samantha, a Border Collie mix, and 11-year-old Bella, a Springer Spaniel/Lab mix. A week into the foster, Amber could no longer remember why she had thought Miles ought to be someone else's dog.
Bouressa understands why people cite heartbreak as a reason not to foster. She has fostered more than 100 animals herself and knows firsthand the feeling that no one could ever provide for the pet as well as she could. "People become foster volunteers out of compassion for abused and abandoned animals. The same compassion, however, often derails the situation. For me, the only way to give up a pet is to meet and interview the adopters. Then—and this is what I urge everyone to do—I think about the next dog I can save. My role is to be a temporary safe haven."
It is this willingness to nurture, however briefly, that saves thousands of dogs like Estella, Pip and Miles—so that they can love and be loved for life. Animal rescue professionals dearly hope more people will embrace that outlook. After all, we do dogs a serious disservice if we love them so much we cannot bear to help save them.