Animal fostering is a term that many have never heard of, or have disregarded. But in reality, it could mean saving the lives of thousands of unwanted, stray or abandoned animals every day.
Heather Herrera is both animal foster parent and coordinator of adoption events for the Central Oklahoma Humane Society. Animals, she says, have always held a special place in her heart.
As an animal foster parent, Herrera works with her organization to take animals subject to euthanasia and bring them into her home to rehabilitate them and find them a permanent residence. Though fosters are not paid, their organization will give them the majority of supplies they require, including food, medications and even crates.
While the term “fostering,” brings up notions of child fostering, there is one major difference between the two. Because of limited space, the animals face the possibility of death, a threat that does not apply to children. According to Herrera, shelters are being forced to euthanize 50 percent of their intake. With approximately 30,000 animals being brought in each year, it can equal to thousands being needlessly put down. Foster homes have become a ‘middle man’ to give that animal a second chance at life.
But, the negative side effects of overpopulation tend to bring a bad name to animal shelters, Herrera says. “[They] have these reputations that nobody cares. That’s absolutely not true. They are working their hardest to make a difference and save as many lives as they can,” she explains.
When shelters are forced to make room for more, they reach out to animal rescues who then contact foster parents. Rather than simply adopt one or two dogs, fosters offer a temporary residence and train them until they are more likely to be adopted. Herrera says she has seen well over 100 animals pass through her door.
“I generally foster small, adult dogs. Puppies require a lot more attention,” she says. Puppies also are more likely to get adopted directly from a shelter. Adult dogs, particularly solid-colored, dark-haired ones are least adopted, Herrera explains.
Most rescues require foster parents to undergo a brief screening and interview process to ensure they are prepared for the responsibility, she says. One of her previous foster pets, a rat terrier named Gogo, proved that fostering can prove to be a challenging, yet rewarding experience.
Gogo was living underneath a house with her puppies when she was rescued. Having lived her entire life outdoors, she was scared of humans and couldn’t socialize with other animals. As a result, she growled and nipped at those who tried to interact with her. She spent her days inside her crate, facing the wall. However, the time spent in her foster home allowed her the chance to acclimate and she found a new family.
Out of the 100-plus animals Herrera has brought into her home, there are two that never did make it out. “Two of my foster cats have turned into my personal cats,” Herrera laughs. She notes, however, the general time frame for fostering is about two weeks.
Of course, some dogs may prove to be more difficult to adopt, depending on their look, personality, or any medical conditions. Recently, Herrera spotted one of her previous foster dogs at the park. She remembers the dachshund as a particular challenge to adopt, though she never understood why. She had named him Shaun White, for his red hair.
“He was the sweetest, greatest dog,” she recalls. Like all foster pets, Shaun White spent his days at adoption centers and his weekends at dog shows to be viewed by potential owners. After two months, he finally found a home.
Herrera says running into him was “bittersweet.” While most people fear getting too attached to their foster pets, she says the experience is well worth it. “Without [the foster parent], the animal probably would’ve been dead,” she said.
Joining Herrera in the fight toward a no-kill status for the greater Oklahoma City area is Edmond resident Shannon Hinton. She is a part-time foster parent and volunteer. She works two jobs and attends school full-time, yet she still helps animal rescues across the city, taking dogs to adoption events throughout the state.
Currently, Hinton’s living conditions do not permit her to foster, a situation that many can relate to. She suggests that those wishing to help in other ways can volunteer at their local shelter either walking the dogs or feeding them. The less time the staff has to spend attending to the animals, the more time they have to find them a permanent home.
These small tasks greatly increase the living conditions of the animals. Hinton points out that while most grown dogs have been taught not to relieve themselves indoors, they are given little to no time outside. As a result, they get stressed and often become sick. A condition known as “kennel cough” is also common with animals left in shelters for an extended period of time.
Hinton says one of the chief problems addressing overpopulation is owners not spaying or neutering their pets. They want to have one or two puppies running around and aren’t prepared for a dozen. Often, these families don’t realize that half of that litter will wind up on the streets.
This is why Hinton urges everyone to help. Even if only for one or two weeks, she points out that the small amount of time you take them into your home could be all they need for a second chance.
Donating is always an option for those less active, or who suffer from pet allergies. “If you can’t adopt, foster. If you can’t foster, volunteer. If you can’t volunteer, advocate,” said Herrera. “Everything goes hand-in-hand.”
Those wishing to foster, volunteer or donate can contact the Central Oklahoma Humane Society or their nearest pet rescue or animal shelter. Go to www.okhumane.org for more information.