Right now, a litter of puppies is being born in a shelter, where the odds are good that they will die of a disease. Another litter, cute and healthy, is being euthanized due to a lack of space. In other animal control facilities, owner surrendered dogs are being accepted in the front and taken directly back to have their lives ended, as there are no empty kennels and no mandatory hold times for dogs whose owners don’t want them. Somewhere, a kennel manager is walking the row of dogs whose hold time is up. There are six of them, but only three open runs in the adoption area, which means some of these dogs will die today. She smiles as she passes the last kennel though, happy in the knowledge that a rescue has already said they would take this dog.
According to the ASPCA, three to four million pets are euthanized each year. Sixty percent of the dogs who enter shelters will die. Across the country, many people work tirelessly to change these statistics. If the thought of all those wagging tails being forever stilled breaks your heart, get involved! You can make a difference.
While you can always donate your time or your money, Rescues are always in need of foster homes. If a group doesn’t have a place for a dog to go, they can’t accept him into their program. When you foster, you are providing a temporary home for a dog in need, while the shelter or group searches for a forever home for the dog. With most organizations, the group meets the dog’s medical needs. You provide food, shelter, lots of love, and in many cases, training.
Rescue dogs typically come with many unknowns. While most groups do some sort of temperament testing, much about the dog is a mystery. Some dogs are not housebroken and have not been trained in basic manners, so they need to be lovingly taught. As a foster home you can train the dog while he lives with you. Potty training, leash training, basic obedience skills – these are just some of the things you can do to help make your foster dog a better pet. By hosting the dog in your home, you can provide information an adopter will want to know. Is the dog afraid of storms? Is he timid around men? Does he love to fetch? Does he need a ton of exercise? The training you do makes the dog more adoptable, while the information you provide helps the rescue group find the perfect home for your foster dog; one where he will be a beloved family member.
The amount of time you foster a dog varies greatly with the dog and the group. Some organizations will give you a set time period, while others ask you to keep a dog until a forever home is found. Ask the group what the average foster time is, and tell them of any limitations you have. The need for temporary homes is so great that groups will usually find a way to use you.
Fostering isn’t always easy. While some dogs will fit into your family like they’ve lived there forever, others have fears or bad habits that make them challenging to deal with. There is great satisfaction, however, in working with one of these dogs and watching him bloom into a pet anyone can enjoy.
In our local area, there are many groups that would welcome your assistance. The Lee County Humane Society (334-821-3222) has a foster program. For Paws (334-502-7900) and Rescue K911(256-896-4694) are all-breed rescue groups, while my own Starfish Labrador Rescue Network (334-332-0068) focuses on Labs and Lab mixes. All these groups need foster homes in order to keep rescuing.
“Hershey” was a stray chocolate lab. Twenty pounds underweight with many infected dog bites and severe kennel cough; he was considered unadoptable, but the shelter workers thought he was worth saving. I was contacted, and because a foster home was willing to take him, I was able to rescue him. A few weeks later, his wounds have healed, and his kennel cough is cured. He’s gained weight, and his coat is growing shiny. Housebroken and gentle with children, cats and other dogs, he also knows “sit,” “down,” “shake” and “speak” and can open doorknobs. This sweet, special dog is alive only because a foster home was waiting to give him a chance. Please, make the difference in another dog’s life. Open your heart, and your home, to a foster dog!
Karlene Turkington, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, is a lifelong animal lover who has been training dogs for over 20 years. Readers are welcome to send their questions to: info@TrainMyK-9.com. Information provided here is a basic overview of issues. Specific health or behavioral concerns should be discussed with your veterinarian or qualified animal trainer or behaviorist.