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The Joy of Dog Fostering
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"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.

 

 

 

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 57: Nov/Dec 2009
Rikke Jorgensen is a freelance writer living in San Francisco.

 Photography by Kira Stackhouse

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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!