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One Pet Foster Volunteer's Experience | Community Spirit

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One Pet Foster Volunteer's Experience
One Pet Foster Volunteer's Experience

The Foster Experience
By Kirsten Stade, WHS Volunteer

My boyfriend Florian and I have been fostering dogs in the DC area since early 2008, first with several rescue groups and now with the Washington Humane Society (WHS).  These four years have contained their share of urine-stained furniture; shredded electronics, upholstery, and a passport; uprooted landscaping; and seemingly futile efforts at peacekeeping in a household with what some would say is too many critters under one roof. But above the sometimes deafening chaos, I have never questioned what I believe is a defining truth: fostering animals is the most important thing I can do in this lifetime.


I began fostering with WHS after volunteering there, and being so impressed with the warm, caring, appreciative, and fun spirit I encountered among the staff. As I learned about the shelter's programs for enrichment and positive, reward-based training of the animals in its care, I realized how great it would be to foster one of these dogs, who had so much "value-added" from all the efforts of volunteers and the training programs that teach them the skills they need to succeed in the world.


My first WHS foster dog was Sandy. For several months I had had "only" two dogs—my two impulsive, reactive, loud, energetic “foster failures” (meaning I adopted them!) Fozzie and Lamar, who are more than enough to keep me busy. I must have been feeling vulnerable though when I received an email about a 10-month-old red pit bull type pup whose cage mate had gone to rescue, leaving her lonely and stressed out at WHS's New York Avenue adoption center. I arranged to pick her up the next day.


Sandy was a raging little fireball of energy, careening through the house in the evenings and flying through the air to land on the couch, or on our laptops, or on our heads. There were certainly those moments in which I beseeched the Universe—and my friends, family members, and colleagues—to send me a really good adopter, really soon.
 
And then there were moments in which I held her and she made those little snorting noises she made when she gave kisses, when I wanted time to stop so I could lie with her, just like that, forever. My connection with Sandy was on a spiritual level; I felt I had a kinship with her. There was something about her little, innocent baby face and the gratitude and need for affection that came pouring out of her, that made me feel this was a connection I couldn't let go of. 

Then Lamar would growl, Fozzie would bark, or Sandy would start squirming and chewing again, and I remembered the wisdom of keeping that revolving door of foster dogs going. After five months Sandy met an adopter who could not have been more perfect for her. She lives in Baltimore and goes for long walks greeting everyone in the neighborhood with her Dad, whose experience of adopting her was so positive that he now has a foster dog as well, in addition to Sandy.

Once again we were down to two dogs, and thinking we'd take another break from the kind of sustained intensity that Sandy had brought. But resolutions like that are made to be broken, and one day after volunteering we couldn't exactly say no to Collette, a 6-month-old blond lab mix pup.


Collette was calm in the house, loved other dogs, loved people, was affectionate but not pushy, good in her crate, and easily amused by tennis balls. In short, the kind of dog you wouldn't mind having around for a while. Lots of other people had the same idea about her though, and it was just a few short weeks before she was adopted, by a wonderful woman who works from home and takes her for runs along the beach and play sessions with her mom's friendly dogs.


The take-home lesson from Collette is that fostering doesn't have to entail a major upheaval to one's home and life. Truly there is a foster situation for everyone: long-term fosters who become foster failures, short-term or temporary fosters, calm older fosters, loving puppy and kitten fosters—all are getting a break from the shelter and freeing up valuable space, so that lives are saved.

We're down to two dogs again, thinking we’ll maybe take a bit of a break so Fozzie and Lamar can relax. We’ll see how long that lasts!

To learn more about the WHS Foster Program, visit www.washhumane.org/foster.