T housands of animals in the Mid-South are without warm beds and loving homes. Some are strays, others have been abandoned by their owners because they fell ill or have grown old. Many of the local shelters and rescue groups are overflowing, but they strive to save the lives of as many of these homeless animals as possible. They hope to find permanent homes for all of them. Though that may sound like an impossibility, there are ways we can help, even if we can’t adopt.
Rescue groups need fosters to provide temporary shelter and care for animals waiting to be adopted. Fosters are expected to socialize the animals, train them as needed, and ensure that they are well-groomed and healthy to prepare them for adoption. Most organizations provide fosters with food, bedding, toys, and other necessities, as well as cover all medical costs associated with the care of the animals — including approved vet visits and medications for animals that need them.
As a volunteer foster for the Humane Society of Memphis & Shelby County, Hope Glover has opened her home to 20 dogs in just two years. Some have stayed for as little as a few days and some for up to three months. “When my daughter went away to college, it was just me, and I thought, ‘Well, what am I going to do with myself now?’” she says. “I had always volunteered for the Humane Society, but I had never fostered before, so I thought, ‘Why not? How awesome would it be to play with puppies all day?’”
Dedicated fosters are especially needed for puppies and kittens because animals that young are more susceptible to fatal illness and cannot be kept in a facility and put on the adoption floor until they’ve had their second round of vaccines. Some rescue groups can’t take in puppies and kittens at all unless they have fosters lined up.
Glover began her fostering journey by bringing in puppy siblings Gravy and Maddie two years ago. She ended up falling in love with little Gravy and adopting him (Maddie was adopted by a family friend), but he’s the only one out of her numerous fosters who has made a permanent home with her. Glover says it’s sometimes hard to let go of the pups once their time with her is up, but there’s always a bright spot.
“I think that what I hear the most is, ‘How do you do it? How do you not get attached?’ And it is hard. Some are harder than others,” she says. “I’ve had a couple that I really had a hard time letting go of, but then you see them get adopted and it’s all good.”
For a while, Glover fostered only parvo-positive puppies after one of the puppies she’d had at home began showing parvo symptoms. Since the disease is extremely contagious — lingering for several months in contaminated areas — and can be fatal to young pups, she took in sick puppies while they were in recovery. “If they were to stay at the Humane Society or the hospital, they would be quarantined in back rooms all alone, so they started sending them my way,” she says. “I had five or six that were recovering from parvo. And all of them made it; none of them died.” Once their parvo was gone, those puppies all went back to the Humane Society and were adopted.
Puppies aren’t the only animals that need fosters. Deb and Dave Eizinger do hospice fostering for the Humane Society, taking care of older animals during their last days. They’ve been fostering for three years and have had eight fosters in that time. “We’ve seen a lot of older animals pretty much just being tossed away like trash, or not cared for, or taken to Memphis Animal Services because the owners got a new puppy. It seemed like the older ones were much more difficult to place,” Deb says. “Being old is not a disease, although we do have animals that we take care of that have health problems. For instance, we had a boxer that had a brain tumor, but instead of her spending the rest of her time in a cage, she got to spend four glorious months with us.”
Deb calls her and her husband’s efforts a “soft landing” for these animals. “We want to make sure that they go out with some dignity,” she says. “Instead of them ending up on the side of the road or dumped somewhere, they have a warm bed, and they have an environment where they’re cared for.”
People ask Deb and Dave how they are able to foster older animals that don’t have much time left. “I think we get more out of it than they do,” says Deb. “I’m honored to be able to be there at the end of their life.”
The Humane Society of Memphis & Shelby County was built to accommodate around 250 animals, but that still isn’t enough space for the number of animals in need. “We are basically having to turn away animals every day because of space,” says Linda Larrabee, the Humane Society’s volunteer manager. “Fosters are important to us on so many levels because the number of fosters directly relates to how many dogs and cats we can bring in and rescue.” For every animal that is fostered, a space opens in the shelter for another animal in need.
Larrabee offers a variety of reasons why a dog or cat would need to be fostered. It could be an illness or an injury. The animal may be recovering from a surgery that would require kennel rest or ambulatory exercise. The animal may be too young to be in the facility with other animals. And these are the types of things that would determine the length of time an animal would need to be fostered.
“If it’s an animal that is recovering from a surgery, it could be two weeks of kennel rest,” Larrabee says. “For puppies and kittens, it would be until they have their second vaccine, at which time they would probably also be ready for their spay or neuter. If the foster gets a puppy at four weeks old, then it would be around two weeks until the puppy gets their first vaccine and three weeks later their second vaccine, so they would probably have that pet for five weeks.”
And Larrabee says they do their best to match fosters with animals that will fit into their household and with their lifestyle. For example, sometimes it will depend on space — if you live in an apartment or a house. Some people have other pets or children with allergies. Others may only have a short amount of time available to foster.
Even if people can’t foster, they can help in other ways. Many rescue groups need people to transport animals, say to a vet visit, from the shelter to a foster’s home, or out to a play yard. They even need volunteers to walk dogs and play with cats, so the animals won’t be confined to cages or kennels all day.
The Humane Society is not the only local organization that needs dedicated fosters and volunteers. Several rescue groups in our area are doing all they can to save the lives of abandoned or otherwise homeless animals. Right now, Hope Glover is caring for her twentieth foster, Soot, and she says the rewards are endless. “It makes me feel like I’m doing something worthwhile,” she says. “It really makes you feel like a hero. You’re saving a life.”
For more information or to apply to foster, visit:
Angels Among Usangelsamongusanimalrescue.org
Dogs 2nd Chance dogs2ndchance.org
House of Mewshouseofmews.org
Humane Society of Memphis & Shelby Countymemphishumane.org
Meows & BowWows Animal Rescuefacebook.com/meows.bowwows
Mewtopia Cat Rescuemewtopiacatrescue.org
Perfect Match Animal Rescueperfectmatchanimalrescue.org
Real Good Dog Rescuerealgooddogrescue.com
Sunny Meadows Safe Haven for Petssunnymeadows.org
Tails of Hope Dog Rescuetailsofhopedogrescue.com