Four-Legged Fosters–Helping shelter animals from their forever homes
Fostering a shelter animal can be a life-changing experience—not only for the pet, but for you as well. Shelters and adoption centers use fostering for a variety of reasons: to free up space, allow an animal recovery time from an illness or surgery, help an animal that is not thriving in the shelter, or train an animal for a specific program. The main responsibility of the person fostering is to provide a safe, loving home environment for a temporary period of time–from a few days to a few months.
The Connecticut Humane Society relies heavily on fostering to care for the hundreds of animals they take in each year. In 2018, over 900 pets were fostered across their three locations. “Fostering definitely helps us to be able to take in more animals,” says Susan Wollschlager, marketing and communications director for CHS. It’s also a way to enjoy the companionship of an animal without having to make a long-term commitment.
“I wanted to volunteer with animals,” says Wilton resident Nicola Davies as to why she started fostering for the Westport CHS. She mainly takes in kittens. Nicola’s sons enjoy helping out with the litters. Fostering with your children teaches compassion, responsibility, and patience. It’s important that your kids understand they aren’t keeping these animals, but helping them find their forever homes. According to Davies, the first litter was the hardest one to give back, but it’s gotten easier because now she is mentally prepared from the beginning. Plus, she says with a laugh, “I have two cats and a dog, so I’m kind of at capacity.”
Fostering kittens involves feeding, sometimes via bottle, and socializing. “You have to monitor how much they eat and if they’re gaining weight,” Davies says. Sometimes a kitten gets sick—upper respiratory infections are common—but the CT Humane Society fully supports their foster families with medical assistance. “There’s always someone I can reach if needed,” says Davies.
The Norwalk-based Pet Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) also uses fostering as a means to get animals out of the shelter. Chloe Ettari, the executive director of a non-profit, signed up to volunteer at PAWS because she says, “I know the importance of good volunteers in my job, so I wanted to help out.” She was asked to foster Sheldon, a pit bull mix, because the shelter was getting overcrowded. PAWS provided her with all the necessities to care for him, although she confesses to buying him some toys and a new bed.
Each weekend, she brought Sheldon back to PAWS for their adoption hours. She also brought him to social gatherings and the park to expose him to potential adopters. Time kept passing, and no one adopted him. Although she didn’t think she’d ever want a big dog, “I found myself growing attached to him,” she says, “and getting protective when there was someone interested.” One day, she realized she and Sheldon were meant to be. She formally adopted him and couldn’t be happier.
Ettari hopes to foster again in the future. “It’s a great way to help out and test the waters to see if you’re ready to bring a dog home forever,” she says.
Mary-Jo Duffy, a Wilton resident and head trainer for Pets for Vets at ROAR in Ridgefield, has 25 years of experience working with animals and has fostered dozens of dogs. “Every experience teaches you something new,” says Duffy. It can take up to two weeks for your foster animal to settle in. “There’s definitely an acclimation period before you see the animal’s true personality,” she adds.
Having other animals in the house can be a benefit. Duffy says her two dogs help socialize the foster and act as role models for the new arrival. It’s important to remember a few guidelines though when fostering if you already own pets: set mealtime rituals to avoid conflicts; put away high-value toys; crate your foster when not at home; always use a leash when outside; and, although you’ll want to shower love on the foster, don’t neglect your own pet.
Growing attached to the foster animal is a definite risk. Duffy claims she gets attached with the first 24 hours, but has yet to keep any of her fosters. “It’s important to look at the bigger picture, knowing you are part of this animal’s journey to a new life,” she says.
If you think fostering is right for you and your family, reach out to your local shelter and find out how you can get involved.
Lend a Hand
›› PAWS (Pet Animal Welfare Society) / pawsct.org
›› Animals in Distress / animals-in-distress.com
›› CT Humane Society / cthumane.org
›› ROAR / Roar-ridgefield.org
›› Outreach to Pets in Need / opinpets.org
›› Looking Glass Animal Rescue / lgarinc.org