As the weather continues to warm, animal shelters and rescues in the D.C. Metropolitan area are overwhelmed with animals of all species, breeds, ages, and sizes. For instance, in 2010 the Montgomery County Humane Society (MCHS) took in approximately 450 live animals in February, but intake jumped to over 1,000 live animals in July of the same year. So as the animal population grows and the threat of euthanasia becomes more imminent, area shelter and rescues are pleading with area families to consider becoming a foster parent in the hopes of finding these homeless animals permanent, loving families.
“Fostering is one of the most personally rewarding things you can do to help humane societies meet the needs of the most vulnerable animals,” states Lisa LaFontaine, President and CEO of Washington Humane Society. “I have fostered over 120 dogs, cats, kittens and puppies over the years and each and every one has a place in my heart. Simply put, fostering saves lives.”
Every animal welfare organization establishes their own foster program requirements, with varying guidelines on time commitment, medical cost coverage, and required public interactions. There are entire rescue organizations based solely on foster homes, such as Virginia-based Homeward Trails Animal Rescue, who are only able to accept animals into their program if there is a foster home willing to host the dog or cat. "I've been a foster for over five years now and for me it has always been about saving a life,” states Shanie Bartlett, Homeward Trails foster parent. “People ask me all the time how I can bring a dog into my home, love them, treat them like my own, and then let them go. My response is that I am honored to have the opportunity to make a difference and match a homeless dog with their forever home and once I do this, then I have the ability to help save another little soul."
For rescue groups fortunate enough to have brick-and-mortar facilities where they can host dogs and cats until adoptions, foster homes still provide a valued resource beyond providing more space. “For animals that don't show well at the adoption events, fostering offers the opportunity to blossom in a home environment,” explains Marcia Tiersky, president of the Board of Directors for the Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation (LDCRF). “We have many dogs that had been with the rescue for months, and after a few weeks in a loving foster home, showed their true wonderful personalities which helped them find a forever home.”
Beyond rescue groups, open-admission public animal shelters typically host a foster program of their own. For instance, the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria (AWLA) sends approximately 150 animals into foster care each year, usually focusing on neonatal animals or animals needing specific medical attention. Diann Hohenthaner, Foster Program Coordinator for AWLA, explains that “with the help from our foster caregivers, our most vulnerable animals receive the extra care and attention that they require."
MCHS foster parent Aleksandra Gajdeczka focuses her fostering on dogs with simple behavioral issues. “Some dogs are a real diamond in the rough -- too rough to be appreciated in a shelter setting. With the right care, training, and love in a foster home, those animals can really learn to shine. Our first foster, Lollie, transitioned from an under-loved, under-fed, under-trained stray dog found in a dumpster to a gorgeous and perfectly-mannered celebrity house pet in the few months she lived with us. Without a foster home, she may not have ever had the chance."
Foster parents not only provide a safe haven for an animal risking euthanasia, but also help match an animal with the perfect adoptive home. “Our foster system allows volunteers to provide our orphans with a home environment in order to evaluate their habits and behaviors,” explains Kristen from Mid Atlantic Great Dane Rescue. “Since foster volunteers get to know their orphan dog ‘up close and personal’, they offer a potential adopter more information about the dog which helps MAGDRL make a better match between the dog and their adoptive family.”
While foster care offers obvious benefits to homeless animals in need, the benefits to foster parents are just as numerous. Many people use fostering as a way to test their compatibility with bringing a new animal into their home. “Fostering is beneficial for both the foster parent and the cat... It only allows you to experience the joys of caring for a cat temporarily,” states Francine Pivinski of the Animal Welfare League of Montgomery County.
Fostering for others is a unique way to keep a flow of new animal faces coming into the home on a regular basis. “I wanted to adopt more animals, but my husband said the best he could agree to is to let me foster,” states LDCRF foster parent Marianne Burke. “Now I feel there is something wrong in my life if I don't have a dog or two to foster.”
Others use fostering as a way to try out other species of animals in their homes, such as guinea pigs or rabbits. “Fostering can be a great option for people who love animals but cannot commit to the 10 to 12 year lifetime of a rabbit,” explains Kathleen Wilsbach of the House Rabbit Society of Maryland, DC, and Northern Virginia. “Foster parents are often surprised at how much they learn about rabbits through the foster program."
But for the majority, fostering is most about the satisfaction that comes from opening your home to a creature in need. “For me, there's only one thing better than saving the life of an innocent dog or cat who can't speak for itself,” explains Beth Stevens, foster parent for the Animal Welfare League of Arlington and LDCRF. “That's seeing how much joy that animal brings to the family who adopts him.”