FIRST PERSON STORIES: We have a wonderful guest post today from Elisa, a volunteer at St. Louis Senior Dog Project in Missouri. In her own words, she describes how her love of animals motivated her to begin fostering, even in the midst of graduate school and writing her thesis in a second language.
In the last six years I have moved around quite a bit. I moved to the US from my hometown of San Luis Potosi in Mexico to study at a university in Ohio. I lived in Ohio for almost four years before I moved to Missouri where I have lived for two years. I left my family and friends behind when I left Mexico, but I also left behind my cats Pikachu and Milka and my dog Peque.
At first I had Pikachu with me. I just couldn’t bear the thought of not having her with me, she is after all my first pet and the most wonderful (and yet so evil) cat. But I soon realized that she was not happy. At home she had her furry siblings, my parents and sister to hang out with, and with me going to grad school she spent most of her time in my apartment alone. She sadly developed behavior issues and allergies and I had to let her go back to Mexico with my parents. I was sad and although I had friends in my new town I somehow felt alone without her; without my family and without my pets everything seemed a lot harder to go through.
After giving it much thought I decided I was not ready to have another permanent pet and so I decided to get back into fostering. While I was an undergrad in Mexico I had volunteered for APDA (Associacion Potosina por la Dignidad Animal), the only rescue in my hometown. I became really involved with the rescue little by little and soon ended up as the adoptions coordinator and a foster parent. While in Ohio I knew I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to for volunteering for a rescue, but I always remembered fondly those animals that I had helped place and the feeling of having helped a dog or cat find a better life. So I knew it was a right decision to become a foster pet parent once more and I joined the ranks of foster cat parents at Capital Area Humane Society. Through fostering I was able to enjoy once more the companionship (or the occasional hissing!) from a cat. It was a wonderful feeling each time one of my foster cats was adopted.
When I moved to Missouri I took some time off fostering to try to get the hang of the new city, then I met my now fiancé Andy and his dog Norah. After six months in my new city in Missouri I started looking for volunteer opportunities but my timing for the training sessions did not work out, so in the meantime while I waited for the next round of volunteer trainings I started taking Norah to obedience classes. Soon I was dreaming about going to agility courses and winning awards! And then suddenly… Norah passed away. She was 4 years old and had no prior health issues but one day she collapsed in our front yard, and in less than 10 minutes she was gone. I can’t describe the devastation my fiancé experienced. I loved Norah too but she was his dog, she had been with him since she was a puppy. He felt alone, just as I had felt in Ohio, only this was worse. He wanted a dog so bad, but I didn’t feel that for him the best thing would be to adopt another pet so soon. He still needed to grieve Norah’s sudden passing.
I suggested fostering and we found out about the St. Louis Senior Dog Project and their great mission to help out older dogs in need of a second chance. My fiancé was a bit reluctant at first, he had never done rescue or fostering before, and so he didn’t know how he would feel about sharing his home with a dog in transition, a dog looking for another home. However he has mentioned to me so many times after we started fostering that it helped him heal. Fostering helped him feel useful towards animals and that he was doing something to honor Norah. Several months have passed and we now have two dogs of our own, Moxie and Liam. However we have kept that little bit of extra space in our house reserved for a foster dog and we continue to foster for St. Louis Senior Dog Project. Because in truth fostering gives you more than what you realize, it’s not only for the foster pet it’s for you too. Each and every foster cat and dog I have had has made me understand one more thing I didn’t know before about dogs or cats, and helped me appreciate more the important role animals have in our lives.
Interested in fostering? Are you already a foster parent? Here is some of what Elisa has learned since she began fostering:
- Do your research. If you are considering fostering for the first time or are new to an area, start out by researching a variety of groups. You want to make sure that the type of dog/cat/bunny etc. you will be fostering is something you are comfortable with. If you are not comfortable with big dogs then perhaps fostering for the Rottweiler Rescue group is not your best bet! There are many many rescues out there, each one in need of foster parents. I leaned a lot towards St. Louis Senior Dog Project because I didn’t feel comfortable with puppies, and while there are puppies with St. Louis Senior Dog Project there are also many adult and older dogs that I felt I could handle. So I did my research about them, and then...
- Ask questions. Believe me you are not being rude if you ask questions! It’s about finding a good fit between you and the rescue you want to foster for. So you can always feel free to ask questions about who takes care of vet care, attendance to adoption events and what is expected from a foster parent in their organization.
- Have a support system. For example in the case of Capital Area Humane Society there was a foster coordinator that was available at almost any time to answer questions. In our current group we have a yahoo group where the foster parents and volunteers talk about their experiences, their current fosters and also answer questions or offer advice. A support system is needed not because fostering is this extenuating experience (well okay, sometimes it can be!) but because there are always unexpected issues in life. If your new foster dog is feeling uneasy at your house what can you do to help him gain your trust? Who can you call? Who can you email?
- Don’t take more than you can handle. This ties in with #1 a bit, in that hopefully you did your research and are not undertaking something you are not comfortable with. You may be comfortable with a big dog but can you have 4 big dogs in your house? Can you take a lactating cat mom with 5 kittens if you live in a small carpeted apartment? This last one is what happened to me, and while I survived after many washings of the carpet and loved those kittens to death I have to admit to myself that for a grad student it was not the best call to have to take care of so many kittens at once, it was hard work! I stuck to one adult cat at a time after that!
- There will be hard days. If you have fostered or have worked in rescue you probably know what I am talking about. If you work with senior animals you definitely know what I am talking about. I admire the ladies fronting St. Louis Senior Dog Project, especially Ellen whom we call our fearless leader. But I think even fosters like me have hard days too. Our foster pets come to us sometimes with difficult pasts and with a variety of issues. One of our previous foster dogs, Max, came ill with heartworm and extremely underweight, and while it was hard at first we eventually got to see him blossom into this magnificent chocolate lab. Our current foster Rosie had never had a rawhide stick, I cried the day she finally picked up one and started chewing it. That was one small step in her road to finally becoming a pet and not a chained dog. For every hard day there are plenty of good ones.
- Letting go can be hard. Each time a foster leaves I get a little bit sad. Then I receive news from their new family letting me know how they are doing and I realize they are in good hands and in a place they can call home. Plus each time a foster gets adopted means I have space for a new dog or cat!
- Some will stay! And that is I think an added bonus of fostering. Sometimes you just find that special new family member you where looking for right in front of you!
- BECOME A FOSTER PET PARENT! I think it is one of the greatest things you can do for an animal in need AND not only for them but for the individuals behind small rescues. Foster parents are what keep organizations like St. Louis Senior Dog Project going and I am pretty proud to be a foster parent for them and have been a foster parent before for APDA and Capital Area Humane Society.
About the author: Elisa is currently a graduate student in plant biology. She hopes to graduate in December. She fosters for the non-profit St. Louis Senior Dog Project and is the official twitterer for the group @STLSeniorDog She hosts a Dog of the Week blog at www.dogsoftheweek.blogspot.com featuring each week a special dog from their group. You can also find her helping with the St Louis Senior Dog Project Facebook page.