With bunny season just a hop away and local shelters often overwhelmed with homeless rabbits, the Rabbit Advocates (RA) rescue org is seeking to increase its rescue capacity by finding new foster families. “Often we are the last resort for a rabbit in peril,” states the RA website. The organization does not have a shelter, but relies on a network of loving, private foster families who are responsible for the socialization, food and medical care of the rabbits in their care. RA helps new foster families by providing a starter kit of supplies, access to medical assistance funds when available, and educational materials and mentoring. Learn more about RA or fostering rabbits at RabbitAdvocates.net.
I am responsible for three rescued adult dogs, a teenage son, and a pre-teen son both adopted from the foster care system. Added to the nuts and bolts of everyday life (house, yard, car, work), you might think this adequate to keep a person occupied. Truth be told, it’s often more than enough.
I’m not delicate like crystal; I’ve never been fragile. I’m more like the recycled green and blue glassware you would find in our cupboards - sturdy. I can withstand rough handling, even a fall onto the wood floor. But my sister’s recent death, piled onto the pre-existing drama that accompanies the raising of troubled children, changed things. This recycled thick and sturdy glass of a woman clattered onto the granite countertop. And shattered. I’m now gathering the pieces – large shards, slim slivers, tiny particles – to put myself back together again. Fragmented and disorganized, I know how all the king’s horses and all the king’s men felt.
I just want to take a nap.
So … it makes perfect sense that while trying to glue the shards of my broken life back into a usable vessel, while missing parent-teacher conferences and forgetting appointments, while failing to return phone messages and misplacing bills, I would agree to add caring for an elderly West Highland Terrier and two new foster puppies to my load.
Sometimes, life can’t get any messier.
Here’s the thing. The Westie is dapper as they come. Easy-going and confident, he gets along with our Pitties like water on a garden. And, as we learned with foster puppy number one just a few short weeks ago, there’s nothing better than puppy-love when heart mending is called for. The new babes drop me to my knees with their raw need and open-hearted trust.They jump on my shins, extend their little front legs as high as they can, keep their gazes steady on my face. My heart melts when bright round eyes and innocent short-muzzled faces trigger in me a spurt of maternal hormone called oxytocin. Understanding the science behind the warm-fuzzy feelings does not diminish my experience.
My younger son struggled with letting go of our previous foster puppy and we talked a lot about saving lives. The two border-collieand pitbull mix puppies we are nurturing now were pulled from a shelter. They will find loving permanent homes because we are willing to provide them a temporary home. We’re saving their lives, or at least participating in the effort. That’s cool.
I sit in front of my computer; a 10-pound milk-chocolate and white pup with a brown spot around his right eye like Petey from The Little Rascals snuggles on my lap. Miniature snores accompany the click-clack of the keyboard. During the recent tough week, this little guy has followed me everywhere, stared up at me with clear blue eyes, begged to be held, pressed his wet nose into my arm, my belly, my chest. His presence has caused rush after rush of affection to flood my weary body, finding empty spaces and filling them with puppy-warmth. This afternoon I sank into the couch with my feet on the ottoman and he and his sister nestled beside me. I read a good short story, a poem, and listened to an audio book.
I took a nap.
Make no mistake. A lot of extra work is involved in puppy care: midnight forays to the back yard for urgent pooping and the ensuing escalated clean-up duty, repeated dashes to nab shoes and socks and electrical cords before sharp puppy teeth rip render them un-usable, managing the utter circus underfoot in the kitchen as half a dozen dogs wait for meals. But these travails are endured without suffering. Soft steady gazes, sweet breath, hot-tongued kisses and the undeniable sensation of adoring and being adored – these are the payments for my efforts.
A lot of repair is needed in my life right now. But I don’t need all the king’s horses and all the king’s men. Foster puppies are helping to put me together again.
Cat Adoption Team has more than 50 kittens waiting to enter its foster system, but the inn may be full if more foster families aren’t found quickly. The shelter is still operating out of a temporary trailer due to a flood in April, and the facility is at capacity. CAT offers fosters training, support and a “baby bag” filled with supplies. Foster families take kittens or cats into their homes, nurture them and get them healthy and strong so they can be adopted into forever loving homes. The folks at CAT say that in 2011, more than 700 cats and kittens got a second chance at life thanks to foster families. Learn more at CatAdoptionTeam.org/fostering.
When I told my teenage son a foster puppy was coming to our house that evening, he rolled his eyes.
“Why us?” he asked, his voice whiney, as if it really was us who would be doing the work, “why should we do all the work? So annoying.” He turned back to his computer and Facebook.
By the next day, said son had posted numerous pictures of the uber-cute foster puppy on his FB page.
“You know what?” He sounded incredulous. “I get more ‘likes’ from these puppy pictures than any of my other Facebook posts.”
“Still annoyed?” I asked. He smiled but didn’t answer.
I fostered quite a few dogs in the past, before my partner and I took in two foster kids, whom we then adopted, this son and one other. Our plate was full enough for several years, no need to add any foster dogs. But the boys are older now and our own dogs – pitbull mixes as it happens – are flexible and friendly. We have room for one more dog at a time without coming apart at the seams.
Our first foray back into foster care was last year. At the time we had two dogs. Now we have three. Do the math; you can see how that foster situation worked out. This go-round, we are committed to being a successful foster family, which means we will let the dog – no matter how cute, cuddly, and loveable – move on to another family for adoption.
The first case tested our foster-only metal. Fourteen weeks old, the gray-and-white male pitbull puppy was the very definition of loveable. In the first five minutes, my eleven-year old son piped up with the predictable, “Can we keep him?”
“No.” I was emphatic.
Being an adorable puppy ensured that this little guy would have lots of interested adopters. The organization who rescued him – Born Again Pitbull Rescue – scrutinized applications and found a wonderful home for the young punk within less than a week of his arrival at our house. When someone came to pick up our foster puppy and take him to his adopters, my young son was not happy.
“What if he’s afraid? What if he can’t sleep through the night?” At the puppy’s departure he cried, worried for the dog’s safety and happiness.
“Maybe we shouldn’t do this again,” I broached with him later. Maybe, I thought, the process was just too hard for a kid who was former foster himself; maybe it triggered too many memories and feelings of loss and fear. “If we do, we have to let them go.”
“Why?” He wailed and put his head down on his folded hands.
I shook my head. I wanted to keep on fostering, but this isn’t just about me. “I think we’re not ready yet. We can wait a while before we have another one.”
“No.” He sat straight up. “I can do it.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.” He nodded. “It saves lives.”
That it does.
Fostering allows shelters to care for puppies too young to be adopted, to provide animals who need medical care or training the opportunity to get what they need, or to save animals who just need to be pulled out of an overcrowded shelter before they get put down.
If you’ve never fostered a puppy or a dog, contact the Oregon Humane Society, Family Dogs New Life Shelter, or the county animal control shelters and apply to become a foster provider. Breed rescue organizations need foster families too, so you might foster a pitbull, a pug, a retriever, or almost any other breed you love.
I won’t lie; it’s extra effort. But after all, as my son knows, it saves lives.
Are you one of the 33 percent?
That’s the percentage of Oregonians who volunteer.
Since you love animals, or you wouldn’t be reading Spot, I encourage you to experience the joy of volunteering to help this community’s pets.
When you volunteer, you are not in a vacuum. You meet interesting people, discover new friendships, enjoy a sense of accomplishment, learn new skills, and come away with great stories to tell friends and family. Sometimes you get fed, earn a t-shirt, or receive a shopping discount (depending on where you volunteer).
Last year nearly 64.3 million people volunteered across the country. Of those, 30 percent were women, 32 percent were married, most were between 35 and 55 years old, and 75 percent were employed (according to the US Department of Labor). VolunteeringInAmerica.gov ranks Oregon 14th among all states in volunteering: 33 percent of Oregonians volunteer and donate 115.9 million hours of service.
National Volunteer Appreciation week arrives later this month. For organizations that rely heavily on volunteers, appreciating volunteers is a daily opportunity. Without the hours donated, smaller organizations could not do the good work they do. Here are just a few suggestions for wonderful organizations in need of helping hands:
- Be part of a fence building work party for Fences for Fido, making sure dogs stay safe in their yards. Details FencesForFido.org.
- Take an energetic dog out for a jog through Oregon Humane Society’s Running Team. Details OregonHumane.org.
- Hand out cat food to low-income cat owners through Cat Adoption Team’s Cat Food Bank. Details CatAdoptionTeam.org.
- Offer the healing presence of animals in a therapeutic setting through the Humane Society of SW Washington’s pet-facilitated therapy. Details SouthwestHumane.org.
- Foster a litter of kittens, walk dogs, answer phones, stuff envelopes, clean kennels, promote adoptions, or take photos at your neighborhood rescue or shelter. All shelters need your help.
Every organization/shelter has regular volunteer orientations to provide training and information.
Like the words of musician Jewell, “my hands are small, I know. Meet likeminded folks and do good work for the animals of this community. Volunteer; we greatly appreciate it!
Animal lovers in the Northwest demonstrate remarkable passion and generosity for animal rescue and adoption. In some cases, a forever home is found only after months of rehabilitative care and nurturing. Dedicated foster families take in many animals, young and old, healthy and ill, and provide them respite from shelter life, as well as an opportunity to become more adoptable.
Many area shelters and rescues are often bursting at the seams with previously unwanted and neglected animals, and most rely on foster care in order for the system to work. While there are no hard statistics available on the number of animals currently in foster care, organizations such as the Willamette Humane Society (WHS) in Salem report that they have some 75-100 animals in foster homes in any given month. Oregon Dog Rescue (ODR) of Greater Portland says they regularly place more than 40 dogs in foster care monthly, while Sherwood’s Cat Adoption Team (CAT) foster families provide homes for more than 1500 cats and kittens each year.
Following is an exploration of how pet foster care works and what makes an ideal foster parent. It is this writer’s hope to inspire and inform those with little or no experience to consider fostering . . . who perhaps will find the experience not only a great fit, but an extraordinary experience that enriches times two: their lives, and their fosters’.
Graduating this year with a 3.3 GPA from Beaverton High School’s International Baccalaureate program, you could say Jill Wardrop is a good student. As the three-year president of her local Becca’s Closet chapter — an international organization providing dresses and accessories to high school students who can’t afford these things for prom — you could say Jill is a social advocate. Taking all that and adding in her work in the animal community, these categorizations don’t do her justice.
“It’s this whole, crazy dog world! I never knew I’d be a part of it, but here I am . . . in the middle!” she says.