Sunday, May 1, 2011

Sunday Scoop: Foster Homes

One thing I've learned is that the animal rescue world has a lot of people with very strong opinions. Sometimes sharing those opinions causes divisions that do more harm to animals than good. This is one reason I try to keep my blog a bit more light-hearted. Well, that plus I want you to like me. But once in awhile, I like to be more serious. So I'm bringing back the Sunday Scoop feature, in which I share my opinions on various aspects of animal rescue. Over the next several Sundays, I'm going to share the scoop on rescues, shelters, and foster homes. Let's start with the scoop on foster homes.

Let's say you're part of a rescue group - the only one in your area that takes in dogs from your local animal control facility. You do your best to recruit foster homes, but it's a small area and right now you only have four foster homes in your group. The animal control facility calls you about this dog:

They tell you that she was picked up as a stray, and is out of time. They say she's very young, and a bit shy. They ask if you want her, or if they should euthanize her. You go see her in order to get more information, and you spend a little time with her. You find out she's good with other dogs and seems fine with cats. She doesn't show any aggression and you know that she wouldn't take very long to get adopted if you could just fit her into a foster home. So you reach out to your four foster home volunteers, and find out their status.

Darby fosters for you and usually takes in small dogs. She takes in just one at a time, and does a fabulous job getting them ready for adoption. They get a lot of one-on-one attention, play time with other pets, they go places with her to get them socialized, and she brings them to adoption events regularly to find them new homes. She's your ideal foster home, but she already has a foster dog, and one more that is waiting to go to her as soon as she has room. So there's no way she's going to be able to help with this stray dog.

Next you contact Reagan and Jack. They would be a perfect foster home for this dog, because they have children, cats and dogs of their own, and foster pets. Reagan is very experienced with dogs and you know the stray dog would quickly come out of her shell in a home like this. However Reagan and Jack already have two foster dogs that are special needs, and don't have the room for another foster right now. So you move on to your next foster home.

Kirsten has taken in several foster pets lately.  You decide to stop by and visit her to see how it's going, before asking if she can take in one more.  When you arrive at her house, she shows you into her back room which is lined with cages.  There are several dogs who begin barking as soon as they see you.  You can see the dogs are physically healthy and the cages are clean.  Kirsten tells you that she's been letting the dogs go out in play groups in the backyard, so they can get some exercise.  But there are so many dogs there already, that you know they aren't getting much attention. You can see that Kirsten is very devoted to these dogs, but you also know that the dogs are basically living their entire lives in crates.  They aren't being house-trained or learning about life in a home.  And although Kirsten offers to take the dog, you are concerned that another dog will be more than she can handle.  You decide to contact your last foster home before making any decisions.
Sue has been fostering for several years.  She is very experienced with dogs, and is your main "go-to" foster home.  Sue usually has four or five foster dogs, but right now she has a litter of six puppies in addition to the three adult foster dogs that she has.  You're not sure if she's going to be able to take in another one, but you know that if she thinks she can handle it, the stray dog will be happy there.  You have been to her house many times, and the dogs are given enough freedom to learn what it's like to live in a house, while still having enough rules and structure to be well adjusted.  The dogs go to adoption events almost every weekend, and every attempt is made to place them into good homes.  You tell Sue about the stray dog and ask if she can help.  However Sue tells you that as much as she would like to help, she needs to get at least one of her other foster dogs adopted first. 

What do you do?  The dog is not a purebred or even close to a purebred so you can't get her into a breed-specific rescue.  You've contacted some other all-breed rescue groups but they're all full.  Do you send the dog to Kirsten and hope for the best?  Do you tell animal control to go ahead and kill the dog because you don't have any openings? 
Once you make your decision, you call Animal Control to let them know.... and they tell you about these two dogs who are in the exact same situation - out of time.  They're just puppies, and they're really sweet.  What should you do about them?
Salt & Pepper
This is what rescue groups face every day.  We can only save a few, and there is always a trade-off for each foster home as to how many they save versus what level of care they provide the dogs in their home.  I try to work with each foster dog I have - to give them a bit of one-on-one time, and some basic training - to teach them and to make them more adoptable.  This means I take in less foster dogs than some other foster homes who are able to save more dogs.  It means some dogs die because I don't fit them in.  And yet I have enough foster dogs that I can't always give my fosters as much attention as they want. They spend more time in crates than I'd like. But my goal is to save my fosters from somewhere worse, whether that's the shelter or the streets, and as quickly as possible prepare them to go on to something better - a loving adoptive home.  I believe this is what fostering should be.  

I based the example above on real life people and dogs (names have been changed!)  I aspire to be like "Sue", who is based on the president of the rescue where I volunteer.  She is my hero.  Of course there are a lot of areas where I can improve (just ask Ziggy!)  Some things I've learned from others in rescue are that the best foster homes are good at saying "no", even when they know they're a dog's only hope, for the sake of their other fosters.  The best foster homes do whatever they can to find good homes for their dogs.  They take them to adoption events every chance they get, and they follow up on every phone call or e-mail they receive.  They have good people skills in addition to good dog skills.  And in the end, they not only save lives, but they improve lives of both dogs and people.  

For those of you wondering what happened to Ginger and Salt & Pepper - Ginger was a dog I took in several years ago when she was out of time at an Animal Control facility.  She was adopted into a great home.  And Salt & Pepper were dogs at the same animal control facility whom I had to say "no" to due to lack of room.  They were later euthanized. 


Cupcake said...

Rescue groups do such a great job. Foster parents try so hard. When a dog has to be euthanized, it is not the fault of the foster that has to say no, it is the fault of irresponsible people who haven't taken care of their animals.

I agree that you shouldn't foster so many dogs that none of them are getting the correct care and attention that they should. We can only hope that one day the animal population won't be so out of control.

giantspeckledchihuahua said...

The whole situation (rescue, shelters, etc.) is heartbreaking. Although, I never got close to hoarder status, I frequently felt that I was just one dog away. It's an easy line to cross.

My heart goes out to the rescuers, fosters, rescued and fostered.

Frankie Furter said...

I really admire peeps who foster.

Jess and Glacier said...

I totally agree with Cupcake.
What you do as a dog foster mom is amazing and I hope some day to be doing what you are. Reading your blog is incredibly informative and I'm glad you illustrate the triumphs and difficulties of fostering.

Kari in WeHo said...

It has to be so hard to keep getting those calls :(


Two Grad Students and a Pittie said...

thanks so much for all you do. it must be so hard. we rescued our pittie and try to promote rescue.

Two Pitties in the City said...

Thanks for the insight. We've learned so much about dog rescue, and taking on our first foster, was in part due to what we learned from you. We've only been involved at the 'middleman' level, where we don't have to make decisions about who gets pulled and screening adoption homes, but I can't imagine how difficult that must be.

SassBoutique said...

I continue to learn more and more as I attend each adoption event. It is a difficult situation, receiving numerous emails and pleas each day for animal who is out of time. I have a lot of admiration for my fellow volunteers. They are truly amazing people, and incredible mentors. They work hard to give each animal the best that he or she deserves in life. And the reward is that the animal goes to a wonderful, loving forever home. Thank YOU for all you do!!

Kolchak Puggle said...

It is such a heart wrenching thing to do, but I wholeheartedly agree.It is a delicate balancing act and you just have to trust yourself to know when enough is actually too much. If you try to save them all - you will end up on Hoarders trying to explain that your intentions were good. Bravo to you for knowing what is possible for you and your fosters.

Anonymous said...

thanks for this realistic and somber look at the rescue world. i think a lot of people never think about this side of things, having the luxury of the middleman who makes the hard decisions.

Bailey said...

We have benefited greatly from breed foster. Bailey came from a foster situation where I suspect the person had more time to devote to the dogs she had. He was a puppy, but house broken when we got him. That is not an easy challenge. He also had learned basic commands. He had none of those skills when entering foster. She also had a good deal of knowledge about him that she passed on to us. As new dog owners this was very helpful.

We adopted Katy many years later. Foreclosures had not only increased the supply of dogs needing homes, but decreased the number of people available to foster. Some of the groups long standing fosters were hit by foreclosures. Katy was part of a larger foster home. She was safe, provided medical care, and obviously opportunites for adoption. With more animals and fewer people to manage them, the individual personal time was not feasible.

I am amazed by the work the foster families do with these dogs. It is sad when all the dogs cannot be saved. However, it is so important to see the wonderful families that have been created by the sacrifices made by the foster families.

Nadine, Chewy and Lilibell said...

I admire you and everyone who works in rescue and fostering. I could never do it myself, as I would definitely end up a hoarder trying to save every single one who needed it and would be wracked by guilt and tears with the ones I said no to.