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Foster Care for Shelter Animals Helps Them Get Homes

Biggie is being fostered by an EW staffer

Biggie the pitbull was scheduled to be euthanized at Los Angeles County’s Carson Animal Shelter on Dec. 11. He was so shy that no one was interested in adopting him, and the shelter was out of room. But, instead of being put to sleep that day, he was picked up, fed a hamburger and driven to Oregon thanks to a network of animal rescues, animal lovers and people who provide foster homes for pets in need. 

Fostering an animal, from baby kittens and dogs all the way to horses, involves giving a pet a home, for anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months. Anyone who has the time and space can do it. In some cases, experience isn’t needed. Many Lane County animal rescues as well as Greenhill Humane Society and First Avenue Shelter (FAS) are in need of foster homes for the animals that come in. 

“You can do this successfully without breaking your heart,” says Sasha Elliott of Greenhill. She says one of the reasons holding back potential fosters is fear they will grow attached and not be able to give the animal up. “Of course we all get attached; of course we fall in love, but your heart just gets bigger,” she says. “It’s so much more rewarding to foster than not to be involved at all.” 

Emma Scott of the newly formed Northwest Dog Project echoes that sentiment. Like Greenhill, NWDP is looking for good foster homes for the animals that come in. While some animals do well in a shelter, others, like Biggie, become stressed by the commotion and the parade of people coming though. Sometimes this stress means they hide, causing potential adopters to pass them by. Or in other cases, like Matt Cooper’s long-term foster dog Ruby, who spent more than a year at First Avenue, dogs get hyper and bark too much. Cooper says after only a week or two at home, Ruby more or less became a normal dog. 

Cooper calls Ruby a “rags-to-riches story,” as the pitbull mix was eventually adopted by Ed King of King Estate Winery. “She’s gone from a concrete kennel to this idyllic existence,” he says. And it wouldn’t have happened without a foster home.

Cooper, who owned his last dog for 17 years, says at some point he will be ready for his next lifelong dog, but for now, fostering allows him to be more flexible. He promotes his fosters on social media and meets potential adopters. 

While Cooper takes on dogs from FAS that are behaviorally challenged — he’s had his current foster, Paige, for nine months — other fosters are much shorter term. Elliott says Greenhill needs foster homes to bottle-feed kittens, which can take from two to six weeks to get the felines big enough to enter the shelter.

Darla Clark of Strawberry Mountain Rescue and Rehab utilizes foster homes for the horses she gets in. “A rescue is a shelter,” she says. “And while all nutritional and veterinary needs are met in rescue, any animal is happier in a home environment with a foster parent who can give one-on-one attention.” Also, she says, placing horses in foster gives her more room at her rescue for emergency cases. 

NWDP is building a facility, Scott says, and looking for foster homes for the dogs it rescues locally and from high-kill shelters in California. NWDP is looking for fosters for small dogs and for large breed puppies. One things she says is hard to find is fosters that are experienced with large breeds like pitbulls, who are able to take on “project dogs” but don’t have their own dogs. NWDP provides weekly training for the foster dogs and encourages the foster homes to be part of that.

Elliott says Greenhill and FAS run their foster programs similarly. Greenhill tends to get more dogs surrendered by owners, while FAS dogs are more likely to be strays. She says potential foster homes fill out an online application and Greenhill follows up with a call: “We talk to them about the program, see what they are looking for and determine if it’s a good fit for both of us.” 

She says that similarly to NWDP, Greenhill could use some experienced homes for larger breed dogs, but the shelter’s foster homes “get a lot of support and a lot of training so they don’t have to have previous training. We can give them tools to set them up for success.” This includes a 24-hour helpline, she says. 

Foster homes “let them be the dogs they are meant to be, not what society has forced them to be through neglect or abandonment,” Elliott says.

EW Associate Editor Camilla Mortensen is fostering Biggie, and has fostered for Save the Pets and Luvable Dog Rescue, and she previously fostered a horse named Sunny for Strawberry Mountain. After a couple weeks in his foster home — and the EW offices — Biggie has come out of his shell, begun wagging his tail and happily greeting new people and dogs. Biggie makes his debut at the Oregon Truffle Festival’s Joriad North American Truffle Dog Championships this week.

For more on fostering contact: Greenhill at green-hill.org, Northwest Dog Project at northwestdogproject.org, Save the Pets at savethepets.net, Strawberry Mountain at strawberrymountainmustangs.com or go to Petfinder.org and locate more local rescues with adoptable pets who may be in need of foster homes.