Friday, May 25, 2012

Please Consider Opening Your Home & Fostering

Saving lives is everybody’s business

By Erika Longman

Wow! It has been an exhausting couple of weeks. I have lost count of how many emails I have received
about urgent situations requiring immediate attention. Most of my rescue friends are overwhelmed and
stressed beyond comprehension. At this time of year especially, the calls just keep on coming. Owners
needing to surrender pets, found strays, litters of unplanned, unwanted babies; the list is endless, but
in most cases the available resources were maxed out months ago. Nobody has room to take these
animals in.

The news is no better from my friends running shelters. In Fort Worth Texas 560 animals were brought
into the shelter last week alone! Rather a big problem given that the shelter’s normal maximum
capacity is 400 animals…and I’m sure the place wasn’t sitting empty before the first new residents
arrived. Again, there are too many animals and nowhere to put them.

Now the point of sharing this information is not to sadden or upset anyone. I most certainly do not
want to stir up yet another debate about ‘effective shelter management’ or ‘rescue operations 101’.
None of that will do a darn thing to help any of those animals. No, what I want to do is share one simple
truth and by doing so, hopefully inspire everyone to get proactive and discover the sheer joy of saving
innocent lives.

The fact is, almost anyone involved in animal welfare will agree that one simple change would allow
them to help more animals and ensure that fewer of them are needlessly killed. Just one. What is
that magical panacea? Having access to more foster homes. Yup, it’s that simple. If every rescue
organization and shelter (that operates a foster program) could find just a couple more good fosters, the
ripple effect would be enormous. When a rescue is able to place an animal into foster, they are then
able to take on another animal. Often times that animal will come from a shelter, thereby opening up
kennel space for the next stray that is picked up. Taking just one animal into your home can in effect
secure the future for several others.

Of course opening your home to a foster animal is a serious commitment and not one to be taken
lightly. However, I think often times people fear it will be far too difficult an undertaking and thus, don’t
give it a try. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard, “I wish I could foster but……”. The reasons vary
greatly but in all honesty, there are not too many that couldn’t be worked around with some dedication
and creative thinking. Although it’s not going to be a cakewalk, some animals do transition almost
flawlessly. In most cases, however, you’d be wise to expect some degree of disruption. With a good
plan in place, those disruptions should be short lived, and the euphoria you feel when you can stamp
an issue ‘resolved’ is not something I can even attempt to describe. In the end, an open mind and a bit
of understanding are the cornerstones of a good foster. That and a willingness to follow the rules are
really all anyone needs to succeed at fostering.

There are a few steps you can take to help ensure that your fostering experience is a good one. My
first piece of advice is to do some research. Each rescue organization and shelter has its own set of criteria and their own way of doing things. Shop around and find a good fit. Speak with the people
who oversee the foster program. Ask questions, express concerns and make sure you feel comfortable
dealing with the organization. The most important thing you can do to set up a good relationship is to
be honest. You don’t have to be an expert in whatever species you choose to foster. Mostly, you just
need to be clear on what is expected of you as well as what sort of support you can expect and how to
get it.

For a lot of people, the thought of taking a foster animal into their home seems a lot like diving head
first into a body of water….with a blindfold on. It shouldn’t. Your help will be so greatly appreciated
that in fact, the experience will be more like being gently led into a wading pool, with someone holding
your hand all the way. If it’s the cost that’s holding you back, don’t worry. Generally, all veterinary
fees are paid by the organization and food is also supplied. All you need to provide is a safe home and
love and guidance.

Fostering is a great way to get hands on experience with different species and breeds. A perfect way
to find out which pets fit best with your home and lifestyle before making a lifetime commitment to a
pet of your own (or a second or third pet). The benefits for both parties are endless, but I think for me,
the best part of fostering is that it’s perfectly fine to suffer the occasional failure. I did. Their names are
Tucker, Carla and Snowball and I love them all dearly!

**Erika Longman is an Animal Welfare advocate and dedicated foster provider. As a disaster responder with both Canada’s OERS and The Humane Society of the United States' NDART team, she is working hard to ensure that emergency managers understand the importance of including animals in their plans and responses.  When she's not busy volunteering with rescues both near and far, Erika spends her time rehabilitating hard to place dogs and enjoying her own pack of misfit animals.
Carla was a Mile 26 rescue
Erika fostered Professor for Moosonee Puppy Resuce