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Every single day nearly 5,500 dogs and cats are killed in animal shelters across the country simply because they don’t have a safe place to call home. Shocking as this number may seem, it has decreased dramatically over the last 30 years and is down from 17 million animals annually to two million annually, according to Best Friends Animal Society.
This progress has been possible in large part because of generous people who are willing to open their hearts and homes to foster animals when a shelter runs out of space. This allows more adoptable dogs and cats to wait patiently for their forever homes.
Have you ever thought about fostering animals in your home? I know I have. I wanted to find out a little more about what that experience is like, so I sat down with someone who has nearly 20 years of fostering experience, my aunt Susan.
Susan Groshong of Columbia, Missouri has been fostering dogs since 1999. Her specialty is fostering pregnant “mama” dogs and their puppy litters. She welcomes the mothers into her home a few weeks before they give birth and keeps them and the puppies until everyone is old enough and ready to go to their fur-ever home. She currently fosters with two organizations, Central Missouri Humane Society and Second Chance, Columbia. It’s also worth mentioning she has been awarded “Foster of the Year” by the Central Missouri Humane Society three times, most recently in 2017.
When asked how she got started fostering dogs, Susan says she started out volunteering with the Central Missouri Humane Society walking shelter dogs and taking them to visit residents at area nursing homes. Someone she met through that experience was involved with Second Chance, a no-kill animal rescue that branched off from the Humane Society, and convinced her to give fostering a try.
“I really came to it wanting a second dog,” Susan remembers, “and my dog Lucky didn’t really like other dogs. But we went and picked up a dog that was not doing well in the shelter – she was very skittish and a dog really needs to have more confidence in order to show well [to potential adopters]. We thought being in foster might help her to gain confidence and show better. She was a Boston Terrier mix, but I think cuter than a Boston Terrier. My dog liked her and my cat was fine with her, and my husband came home one day and said, ‘this is the perfect sized dog. We should just keep her.’ So we adopted our first foster dog. I guess you could say we ‘foster failed’ right off the bat.”
Although Susan and her family adopted their first foster dog, she says she really did enjoy the experience of fostering, so she volunteered to do it again. She recalls, “pretty quickly after that I got puppies as fosters and I really really fell in love with having puppies, and that's where I really fell in love with fostering.”
A common question Susan hears from people wondering about her fostering experience is, how do you let go of the dog you’re fostering? Susan’s response to that is, “You have to see the bigger picture. The right person is out there for each dog and when that dog finds its person, then I can continue to foster and help more dogs.”
She shared a story with me about running into a former foster dog and his new owner. She reminisced that this particular foster dog had taken awhile to place, but eventually he found the perfect home. Seeing them together she could see how much the dog’s owner loves him too. She says, “I feel like that dog’s got such a better home than he would have had with me.” That moment when a dog finds its perfect match is what Susan says is the most rewarding part of fostering for her. She adds, “a lot of times it’s the dog who picks their people.”
However, fostering dogs is not without its challenges and heartache. Susan has had to deal with newborn puppies who haven’t survived, but also says it can be really challenging when a dog goes out to a potential adopter and is returned multiple times. She believes the rewards outweigh the challenges though and Susan stays optimistic by saying, “That's something I need to get on the other side of, that we're going to find the right one for this dog and you've gotta keep trying.”
To anyone who might be interested in fostering, Susan says it’s good to have a designated space for your foster animals in your house. If everyone gets along well, it can be with your other pets and sometimes fosters want to be a part of the family. Another piece of advice for first time fosters is to either pick up the pet on a weekend or take the day off from work, so that everyone has a chance to get acclimated before you leave the dog(s). She says, “it's going to take a little extra time at the beginning, just as it would if you adopt a new dog.”
If fostering doesn’t sound like it’s right for you, but you’re still interested in volunteering with animal rescues, Susan offers this advice: “Ooh, definitely do it! It's a good thing to do and there are all kinds of things you can do: you can walk dogs, clean things for them, give dogs bath or grooming, and you can learn new things if you want to as well. You can really find anything that suits your personality.”
I haven’t decided if fostering is right for me right now, but I’m so glad to know someone who does.