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Why Foster? Make a Dog Ready for a New Home
Every dog needs a forever home, fostering helps dogs to find one.
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Mac was the hardest for me. He arrived about a year ago, just before Thanksgiving. He was my sixth foster dog in about as many months, and the first one who truly tested my commitment to the big-picture cause of rescue.

He was still a pup, less than a year old, a purebred yellow Labrador who would command well over a thousand bucks from any breeder with a decent website. Mac’s body, though, made it clear that he’d been neglected. On the day he pranced into my back yard giving love and kisses, I could see not only his ribs, but also his collarbone and spine. I wondered if he’d been left tied to a tree, or was perhaps abandoned by a family who simply moved away, before he landed in the gas-chamber shelter that gave him three days to live. He had terrible diarrhea following his transport from the Carolinas to the rescue in Pennsylvania; at first, he didn’t even want to eat. Poor Mac’s stomach must have hurt every single day of his life.

Mac and my own dog, Blue, became immediate pals. They ran in the yard, played tug in the den and cuddled in front of the fi replace on chilly nights. I fed Mac the same high-quality food that Blue gets, took him with us on walks in the park and treated him like a member of the family. As his health issues vanished and his body recovered, his spirit exploded with an even stronger glow. He looked like a completely different dog, and everywhere we went, people stopped me to comment on how gorgeous he was.

They were absolutely stunned, literally set back on their heels, when I told them he was a gas-chamber rescue now available for adoption. The very thought of a dog like Mac being abandoned really messes with most people’s ideas about who shelter dogs are, just as the thought of a normal-looking person like me being a foster mom messes with many people’s belief that only “crazy dog ladies” have foster pups in their homes.

Valerie Price has been shattering those same misconceptions for the past fi ve years. A student adviser at a college in the San Francisco Bay Area, she has fostered more than 150 puppies for Smiley Dog Rescue while working as a student counselor and studying for a master’s degree in business administration.

“People are always surprised when I tell them that these puppies were going to be put down in the shelter,” Price says. “These are beautiful, wonderful puppies. The problem is not with the dogs. It’s the owners who need to be more responsible. I wish people would spay and neuter and stop backyard breeding. That’s why I do this. There’s nothing wrong with these dogs, and I want to speak for them.”

Price has two dogs of her own, Whiskey, a Husky-Samoyed, and Misty, a mutt. Whiskey likes to be in charge, which is why Price sticks to fostering puppies instead of older dogs. Whiskey accepts puppies and often helps nurture them, even when the litters are as big as eight. Price went so far as to build a “dog room” onto her home, a space with a doggy door to the yard and furniture that looks like a bedroom. There’s even a television that the puppies can listen to between her lunch-time visits.

She’s had a few pups like my foster Mac, dogs who, for whatever reason, stuck out and made her want to adopt. But she found the strength to let them all go after the rescue cleared the adopters via its application process and an in-home visit.

“The first few times I fostered, I cried when they left,” she says. “I wanted to keep the second one that I fostered, and the rescue lady told me to be strong. She said the first or second ones are the hardest. It felt like I was losing a child. But the people who adopted those first ones live nearby, and I got to meet the families, and we still stay in touch. The only thing that made it easier is that if I kept the dog, then that would be the end of fostering. I want to have my home open because there are more dogs who need me.”

My first five foster dogs for Lulu’s Rescue  came and went so quickly, I barely got to know them. They were puppies, and puppies are usually adopted the fastest; some of my fosters stayed less than two days. I’d been nothing more than a way station on their journey, a place for them to be safe until their families could collect them. I thought they were cute, but we didn’t even come close to bonding.

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Submitted by Erica | December 11 2012 |

Kim, you inspired me to foster with your book Little Boy Blue back in September! We've fostered three now, all now adopted to good homes. :)

Submitted by Casey | January 8 2013 |

Tears are flowing as I read your article, sent to my by a fellow rescuer. The timing could not be better as I have been in tears for two days as I said goodbye to my foster, Max. I had him for just a bit longer than you had Mac. He is also my 6th foster. It has been difficult saying goodbye to all of them, I thought none would be as hard as my 4th, Rocky, who I had for two months, I thought wrong. Max has proven to be just as hard. I told Max on his last day with me that if I hadn't gone through the heartbreak of Rocky I would not have been able to help save him and there is another out there like him that needs me. I know he didn't understand what was happening when he left and I wish he hadn't looked back, but he did and it killed me. Anyway, thank you for this article. The timing for me to see it could not have been more perfect. I will continue to foster no matter how hard it gets...I can't imagine being harder than this and I know it might happen again, I also know it is part of the process now.

Submitted by Bev | January 13 2013 |

This is a side of fostering that I guess I hadn't let myself think much about....I really admire those who firmly accept the reality that, as Price says, "if I kept the dog, then that would be the end of fostering." I wonder if I could do that. I of course fantasize having a huge ranch where I could make a forever home for all my rescues...yes, and an unlimited budget...I know it's not realistic, so I need to really be ready for this aspect of fostering: the letting go. Wow, I really am moved by the courage and strength of commitment fosters have! I hope someday i can develop that quality and share in that work. Till then, maybe my words can help these fine people be all the stronger!

Submitted by Polley Ann McClure | February 6 2013 |

I appreciate the recent articles about rescue groups and fostering. We defi nitely need all kinds of groups saving and fi nding homes for homeless animals. However, there is a one-sided perspective in these articles: that “animal-control shelters” are all places where animals are given short sentences and then “gassed.” I realize there still are too many shelters like this, but I believe that the shelter community is seriously changing. Many have already adopted “no kill” as a mission, and others see it as a goal they are working toward. I am president of the SPCA of Tompkins County, N.Y., one of the fi rst open-access, no-kill shelters in the country, now celebrating 10 years of no-kill operation. I know of any number of other shelters moving in this direction.

Submitted by Allison | February 23 2013 |

I love the officers at the animal controls we pull dogs for our rescue from. They never want to be the last place the dogs live -they are county employees and if they are open-admission, there are only so many kennels available. One we work with has 30 dogs a day brought in, at least. The officers there do their very best to help the animals get out to responsible rescues or be adopted. They run "CHARM School" -where people from the community come in to work on basic obedience with dogs in their care weekly. They have a public presence at events and foster strong relationships with rescues and local businesses. But with 30+ dogs coming in daily...they still have to euthanize for space. Finding places for the larger dogs continues to be incredibly challenging. If you have ideas that work and will help them decrease their euthanasia rates, please email me so I can get you in touch with them!

Submitted by Sonya | May 23 2013 |

Know how hard it is to give them up. We foster kittens and cats and have turned one of our bedrooms into their special room. We have had one foster failure and have another adult foster living in the house with ours. Some are so hard to give up and when you see signs of abuse, it just tears you up thinking what these dear animals have been thru. Thank you for what you do and writing this article, it is so rewarding when you hear from the adoptive owners and hear how happy they are in their new homes.

Submitted by Sarah | August 6 2014 |

I am currently fostering a dog that I rescued from a kill shelter. I adopted her knowing I couldn't keep her and I've been trying to hard to find her a new home. When I first brought her home she was timid, shaking, refused to go to the bathroom outside and hated waling on a leash. Now she is happy, so undoubtedly trusting of me, goes on three walks a day, and goes outside regularly. We still have to watch her for when she gets that "prance" to know when to take her out, but she has very few accidents in the house. I haven't had any luck getting her adopted though and very few people are willing to help me find her a home... How did you find your fosters homes so quickly? Any advice? It will HURT when I need to let her go, but it will be the right thing to do. I just need to know how to do it.

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