How to Save a Life

I haven’t written in a long while.  Things have been busy to say the least.  At the forefront of my activities has been finally purchasing a home.  What an ordeal.  Struggling to get to showings before the offers pour in, competing with investors, giving up on the must haves, even giving up on the would be nices.  I was amazed, and am still amazed, at the cute little house I ended up finding.  My realtor is an amazing woman and friend who refused to give up on the things she knew I needed to be happy, and together we made this wonderful  dream a reality. My family banded together to help ensure I didn’t end up in a questionable neighborhood, or be forced to settle for less than they wanted me to have. My little cottage is just the right size for little ole’ me, and with some elbow grease and stashed away funds I can gradually make it the perfect home.  And the best part is the yard.  Oh, the yard.

While I was searching for a home, when I finally realized that renting was no longer for me, my family opened their hearts and home to me yet again.  I have stayed with others numerous times over the course of my life.  I’ve been blessed with a network of loving friends and family who are always eager to offer a safe place to land after heartbreak and during life-changing transitions. My sister, who I think believes in me more than I do, cheers me on from a distance and insists on reminding me what I’m worth and what I deserve. When I initially moved here, I stayed with my folks while I struggled to break into the animal welfare field.  And it’s not just me, mind you, but my entire menagerie.  I always come with animals.  To start, it’s always just my own.  But eventually, like a 4 year old child, I will bring something home.  My first foster was a mother cat that had stopped nursing.  She had her own tiny kitten, as well as two others that had been abandoned and put with her as a last resort.  My folks readily welcomed her into their home and lovingly doted on the kittens, who all survived and were adopted.  I soon found a place and took all my munchkins with me.

tatertotpoolside

Don’t let him fool you..he’s been quarantined at least twice…

Fast forward a few years, and I was transitioning again.  In an attempt to shorten my commute to a new job and save money for a down payment on a home, I packed my must haves and my folks welcomed me in again as if I never left, menagerie and all.  There’s not many that would readily welcome three crazy cats, a neurotic destructive terrier, and a “pee on random things” bite risk Chihuahua into their quiet home. Not to mention the wildlife. And a few extra domestics. And I’m quite a handful myself, I must say. I thank my lucky stars every day for such understanding parents, they are amazing people with hearts of gold and their support has been irreplaceable.

The pull to put extra time into the animals at the shelter that desperately need it is strong.  This is not a 9-5 job, by any means, for those who are serious about animal welfare and advocacy.  The caring and devotion doesn’t stop when the time clock is punched.  We stay late to give flea baths, run fluids, hand feed that scared cat one more time, walk that senior owner surrendered dog again so he doesn’t have to hold it all night.  And when we find something that needs that extra attention, we make arrangements to take them home, dissect what’s wrong, and start rebuilding what’s right, so they get the best possible chance at finding a new home.

missy-and-namaste

Missy helping a once feral kitten learn how to be around friendly dogs

Fostering animals is not for everyone. But I wish it was for more.  Most insist they can’t do it, because of the heartbreak that would ensue when they had to give the animal back.  But at the same time, the most common reasoning provided when an animal in need is discussed or shared on social media is already having pets and not being able to adopt another one.  Temporarily caring for something, that the facility foots most of the bill for, is the perfect alternative for those who can’t take on the long term commitment of ownership. And when it’s time for the animal to be adopted, it’s important to remind ourselves that it is only when we let go of one that we can save another.

Many of my fellow officers regularly take home little ones in need without even blinking an eye. We have some great volunteer fosters as well who step up to the plate quickly when we get special cases or find ourselves in desperate situations. Fostering animals, removing them from the shelter environment and giving them the individual attention and space to heal, grow, socialize, trust, learn, and live, is possibly the best way that animal lovers can directly involve themselves in improving the odds for unwanted dogs and cats.  When you adopt an animal, you save one life.  When you foster animals, you can save dozens, even more. When you open up your home and your yard for a few months to temporarily care for an animal, it opens up a space at the shelter for another one, improving the chances for both. When you remove a special needs animal from the shelter, it gives the staff more time to focus on the other animals and responsibilities that keep the facility running smoothly.  In my experience, successful fostering sets off a chain reaction of teamwork and accomplishment that feeds the souls of everyone involved, including the animals.

The most common reasons for animals to be euthanized in shelters are illness, behavior that deems them unadoptable, and space.  In a high intake facility, space is a commodity.  When animals come in with communicable diseases, fear stricken to the point of complete shut down or aggression, or in need of extensive vet care, serious consideration must be taken when determining the resources needed to devote the individualized attention they will need to be moved to the adoption floor.  Resources like time, money, space, and manpower are quickly drained in large facilities, and the layman wouldn’t wish on their worst enemy the task of deciding which animals can be on the receiving end and which ones cannot be helped.  In many cases, the welfare of the individual animal can be evaluated and prioritized.  But to be successful with limited resources, you have to invest them wisely, and you must above all be realistic.  In some instances, the risks presented by the animal’s mere presence in the facility is too great and the chance simply cannot be taken.  These are generally cases of severe aggression and illness. For these animals, who are usually suffering physically or psychologically, the success rate with rehabilitation or treatment is low; euthanasia is a humane and appropriate decision.  (Success in these scenarios is defined as quality of life for the animal during medical treatment and adoptability after recovery, as well as pursuing behavior modification without jeopardizing public safety by ensuring appropriate placement of rehabilitated animals in experienced and responsible homes, which is risky at best and not reliable in most cases).  And no matter how much the outside world argues and second guesses it, those decisions are the right decisions.  There will never be enough resources to save each and every animal that passes through our doors. Period.

americaneskimo

American Eskimo in foster while awaiting transport to a rescue. My dad fell in love instantly. He does that 🙂

But many of the animals that come in just need the extra boost.  They need a little more time to adjust. They need help with medications, skin care, or weight gain.  They’ve never been socialized, walked on a leash, held in someone’s arms.  A shelter is a stressful environment, no matter how nice the staff is, how clean the kennels are, how big the yards are.  And when animals are stressed, they become vulnerable.  They become more susceptible to illness, weight loss, anxiety, and depression. This is where fosters step in.

Many a life has been saved through fostering.  Kittens that come in dehydrated, starving, flea-ridden and feral go to foster and come back playful, purring, chunky furballs ready to steal the hearts of anyone who glances their way.  Stray dogs brought in from the streets scared and filthy come back with a wagging tail and a new outlook on life.  Without a vacation from the shelter, without extra attention and individualized care, many animals that come through our doors wouldn’t make it out alive.   There are facilities that refuse to engage in foster programs. Won’t even let employees take home animals to bottle feed. I’ve seen the result, animals being euthanized for ridiculous reasons like hissing too much or treatable skin conditions like mange or ringworm, employees frustrated to the point of tears because their hands are tied. But there is a better way, and many agencies rightfully embrace it. If your local agency doesn’t, please ask them why they won’t and work with them until they will.

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Sometimes a dog needs to be reminded how to be a dog. Surrounding them with kind companions helps them relax and learn to trust again.

So now I’ve got this cute little house with this big yard.  Within a few weeks of moving in, I brought home my first foster, a scared pup over a year old whose eyes hadn’t stopped bulging since he was brought in to the shelter as a stray over a week prior.  And a week later, I jumped at the chance to bring home a new mother and her 6 puppies, and even fenced off a part of the backyard for her potty breaks to keep her secluded and healthy while she nurses.  And when they move on, I’m sure I’ll bring home more. One by one, each gets what it needs and what I can afford to give, in the hopes that it is enough to get them to where they need to be so the right family can find them. Move ‘em in, make ’em right, move ‘em out…because there will never be a shortage of incoming animals, so the more we foster, the more we save.

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