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Many animal rescues rely on foster families

CarsThompsPlainfield then 7 gives belly rub Wendy Beagle one four fosters Thompshelped place permanent home.

Carson Thompson of Plainfield then 7, gives a belly rub to Wendy, a Beagle, one of four fosters the Thompson helped place in a permanent home.

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Updated: September 15, 2012 6:07AM



JOLIET — When Rachel Cowan was in high school, she worked at a kennel that was partnered with a humane society. She felt so sorry for the dogs, who were sitting there for months and becoming depressed, that she found homes for several of them.

So two years ago, Cowan, who felt dogs did better in foster homes than in shelters, decided to foster a 5-year-old dog rescued from an animal-testing facility. The fostering lasted just two weeks because Cowan adopted the dog.

“My advice to anyone fostering is that they need to remember they are making a world of a difference to the dog they are fostering,” Cowan said. “If it wasn’t for foster homes, dogs would be sitting in a kennel feeling neglected and unloved.”

The need for pet foster homes is great. The Humane Society of the United States (www.humanesociety.org) estimates 6 million to 8 millions dogs and cats enter shelters each year; about half of those pets are euthanized. Fostering a pet not only helps to save its life, it brings the animal one step closer to a permanent home.

How fostering works

Maggie Snow, public relations and communications coordinator of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Joliet, has fostered about 50 kittens over a 10-year period. Snow had been working at a radio station that featured weekly interviews with a local animal rescues to highlight a pet needing adoption. Pet fostering, Snow decided, sounded like a fun way to help needy animals.

Snow generally keeps kittens for a couple months, long enough for them to “bulk up” to a spaying/neutering weight, become social and resolve health issues because many had previously lived outside or in unfit conditions. When bringing new kittens into her home, Snow always considers the needs of her own two cats.

“One of my cats completely ignores the foster kittens,” Snow said. “The other cat is always irritated when the new kittens arrive, but ends up playing with them after just a few days. The only thing I really do to encourage peaceful coexistence is to give my cats space that the kittens can’t access.”

Although requirements for foster parents vary, one organization, Lucky Dog Animal Rescue in Washington, D.C. (www.luckydoganimalrescue.org), which rescues dogs and cats from high-kill shelters in five states, has a methodical screening process for its 200 volunteer foster parents. This includes an interview, home visit, landlord check (if applicable) and vet check.

Foster parents commit to the program by working two adoption events each month and working with dogs to resolve behavior issues such as barking, chewing and housebreaking. Most dogs are adopted within two weeks.

The rescue pays for all expenses and provides its foster parents with support and training tips. If a dog shows aggression to the foster parent’s children or existing pets, the dog is removed and boarded.

The program works. In 2010, Lucky Dog rescued 1,417 animals. All were adopted.

“We are responsive to our fosters’ questions and concerns,” said Mirah Horowitz, director. “We also give them final say over adoptions. Our fosters are exceptional. They rise to any challenge we put before them. We are truly lucky.”

A family effort

It was Vicki Thompson’s son Nathan, who was 11 at the time, who led the Plainfield family into fostering. After adopting Trixie, a beagle, Nathan became fascinated with rescue, so Thompson searched for one that would accept his volunteer help, which has included attending adoption events and fundraising.

Out of the Thompsons four fosters, the first was a “foster flunk” (The family fell in love with him and immediately adopted him). The longest foster was an 8-year-old “puppy mill mom,” Whitney, who stayed with the Thompsons for seven months.

One of Whitney’s eyes was surgically removed, which then became a breeding ground for frequent infections. Whitney was also anxious and would shake and vomit at adoption events, although she did well “one on one.” Whitney found the perfect home when a retired couple adopted her.

“If you have ever thought of fostering,” Thompson said, “give it a try. Yes, they become part of your life. But there is something wonderful, too, about seeing a family find their special dog and that dog find their family.”



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