Giving the Gift of Life: A Foster’s Perspective

By Larissa Barnes >>>

As a shelter volunteer, I tend to gravitate toward the sick, the injured, the old and those that are just a little bit more needy. These are the animals that, for one reason or another, are not suitable for immediate adoption. They tend to be overlooked in the shelter and people who have the potential to provide homes for them don’t realize they exist. Over the years I have heard a thousand people say they “couldn’t do it, it would be too hard and too sad,” and yet every time I hear it, I can’t help thinking, “How could you not?”

The stark reality of shelter life is that animals come in with injuries, they are found hit by cars or attacked by another dog or coyote, neglected or pregnant. And those are just the strays. Every day animals are surrendered because their pet has become senior, maybe has a medical condition that they cannot or do not want to treat, has been injured, gotten pregnant or needs some kind of help. It is easy to get angry at someone who brings in his dog of 15 years because her hind legs are no longer supporting her weight. It is easy to shake your head at the family who surrenders their kitty of nine years because she peed outside the litter tray suddenly, but they never took her to the vet. But it is also easy to feel heartbroken when an older man brings his dog into the shelter for euthanasia because he can’t afford the vet bills to remove his best friend’s cancer and he doesn’t know what else to do. At the end of the day, irrespective of how or why these precious souls end up at the shelter, they need someone to help them.

More and more shelters are going above and beyond to give injured and animals with medical needs a chance. Blood panels, surgeries, dentals – they are all possible, but only if they have a place to go for recovery. A little senior doggy needs a warm, cozy home to live in after having a tumor removed. The kitten who was hit by a car and needed her leg amputated really should recover in a home where someone can teach her how to walk again. That’s where fosters come in. A foster’s job is to bring the animal into his/her home and love them, to treat their wounds and spirits until they are ready to be adopted. The process could take a week or a few months, depending on the circumstances.

Sometimes the length of fostering is a lot longer. Sadly, many animals that come to the shelter are senior and no amount of love or medicine will make them better. What they need more than anything is a place to live and be loved for their remaining days, weeks or months – often years. Hospice fosters are always in short supply. Shelters are full of cats and dogs that are in their golden years and adopters ignore because they cant commit to the idea of having a senior pet. Everyone agrees the 10 year old golden lab who needs pain relief for his arthritic knee deserves a loving home – yet without an adopter or foster, a shelter has no choice but to euthanize. It is sad and it is unfair, yet is a reality.

Rescue organizations do their best to take animals out of shelters, especially those that are not able to be adopted. In fact, rescue facilities are inundated with requests for help and most rescue organizations are desperate to do more. Without fosters they have nowhere for them to go. They cannot commit to taking a senior cat or a pregnant dog without knowing they have a loving home for them to stay in.

So, “How can I foster, it would be so hard to say goodbye” – how can I not? I assure you it is harder to look into the eyes of a mother cat with her six kittens that she adores and nurtures and tell her that no one can help. It is harder to look at a senior dog and explain that she will die at the shelter alone rather than in a home. Once again, this is the terrible truth.

But, you can help. You can be a foster. You don’t have to do it all the time, you don’t have to take the hospice case, and you don’t have to commit to months. You can care for the kitten that needs a few weeks of love. You can love the injured dog that needs 10 days for his stitches to heal. Of course, if you can take mommy cat and her babies for six weeks, then wonderful!

Next time you are at the shelter, ask to see the animals that are in the medical area. Maybe you can be their hero. Contact local rescues to see if you can help. Become a volunteer at your local shelter, even if it is to just provide foster care. Ask yourself, “How can I not?”