Foster Heroes: How to Save an Abandoned Animal’s Life

The adorable ball of fur pictured above is Molly, my dog niece. Molly joined our family last December at just 8 weeks old. She’s smart, loyal, and has a big personality. She has a flair for the dramatic and loves nothing more than a good belly scratch.

This beautiful girl has brought so much joy to her new family. But Molly’s story wasn’t always a happy one – and could have had a very different ending.

She was abandoned as a puppy and found in a cardboard box, along with her brothers and sisters. She was taken in by a shelter and rescued by Tails from the Heart, a local, non-profit animal rescue.

Tails from the Heart found Molly a foster home that cared for her until she was ready to be adopted. This story has a very happy ending for Molly and her adoring forever family, but it was a long journey.

To be honest, I didn’t know very much about animal fostering until Molly joined our family. I had no idea what a critical role foster families play in saving animals.

Abandoned animals are at risk.

Anyone paying attention to the news right now knows that our local animal shelters are in a crisis of overcrowding, and when I looked a little deeper, the statistics were truly heartbreaking.

rescue animalsEvery year, over 100,000 animals are euthanized in our state. According to Best Friends Animal Society, Texas leads the nation with the highest kill rates at animal shelters.

Sadly, Dallas Animal Services had to euthanize over 6,000 animals last year.

The plight of abandoned animals is a huge, heart-wrenching problem with many contributing causes. Our local shelters are currently maxed out, filled to capacity, and offering free or low-cost adoptions to prospective families.

Rescue organizations, and the foster parents supporting them play a key role in getting these pets out of shelters and into a safe place.

Local foster heroes are on a mission to save homeless animals.

I had the opportunity to speak with two local foster parents about the opportunity that animal fostering presents. Kim Crowder and Shelley Kaufhold are long-term, committed activists. Kim fostered 155 pets over the last six years and Shelley, more than 200.

They each work with rescue organizations that serve the Frisco area: Tails from the Heart, Paws of Love Animal Rescue, and Operation Kindness. In her volunteer capacity, Kim often sees the “code red” list from animals at particular shelters who are down to their last 24 hours. She shared,

The hardest part is seeing that list, but it's also what keeps me motivated. Rescue groups, even if they have funds, can’t help these dogs if they don’t have a foster to take them in. The more fosters we have, the more animals we can save. We're passionate about saving as many as we can.

animal fosteringFostering serves the crucial step of housing pets between their time in a shelter and their adoption.

In some cases, the animals have reached their maximum time in a shelter. In others, they are simply too young to be in a shelter environment. Shelley explains,

There’s a tremendous need because a lot of the shelters are full. Some of the animals, like young puppies and kittens, are very vulnerable because they haven’t had vaccinations, so they can’t stay in the shelter. They need to be in a place where they're going to be safe until they're ready for adoption.

In addition to simply providing a safe place to live, foster-based rescues also introduce the animal to a loving an environment. Kim says,

By the time these pets are ready for adoption, they’ve already had the experience of being in a family. You take an animal that looks completely defeated and give him a chance. You take him into your house, show him love, and get him ready for his forever home.

The involvement with their foster families and the socialization that the home environment provides can make a huge difference in the success of an adoption. My sister, Stephanie Blackburn, believes that Molly benefitted from her stay in a foster home. She says,

Molly came to us having been so loved—her foster mom and sister both cried when she left them. It was obvious that she had learned to be part of a family. I think it gave us the best possible start together!

animal fostering 3Kim agrees, saying that when you foster, you're making a difference with the dog and making a difference in the family that gets them.

Interestingly, once a dog is fostered, it's usually fairly easy to find an adoptive family. Adoption is a growing trend and demand is thankfully high. Kim explains,

In the last five to ten years, adoption and rescue have become huge and people are starting to understand how important it is. We almost never having a problem finding adopters – it's fosters that we lack.

Here's how you can help.

To become a pet foster, you really only need two things: an open heart and an open door. Our outstanding local rescue organizations provide the rest – including training, support, supplies, food, and medical expenses.

The rescue groups and shelter programs pay the medical bills, food, and expenses. You really just have to provide the energy and love for the dog. There's no financial commitment. All you have to do is provide a space in your home and as much love and affection as you can.

Think you're too busy to foster? Think again! Kim and Shelley are both working moms with full schedules (and pets of their own). Kim says that working full-time, having dogs, and having kids shouldn't discourage people.

And if you're just a little nervous about taking on a new challenge, Kim assures us you won’t be doing it alone. Fosters have strong support systems, with plenty of help and advice.

Considering becoming an animal foster?

Tails from the Heart and Paws of Love Animal Rescue are two of the incredible non-profits working hard to save animals in North Texas. Kim has worked with both groups for years. She highly recommends them for new fosters, because the directors are committed to helping new fosters be the best fosters they can be.

animal fostering 2The rescue groups are always looking for help and have applications on their website. On average, fostering is two-week commitment. Some animals are adopted within a few days, while others take a couple of weeks (or longer in rare instances).

The rescue organizations themselves can’t say enough about the importance of foster parents:

Fostering is the foundation of our program. We’ve found that fostering in the home has set our adoptions up for success and has lowered our return rate to next to none. The key to successful adoption is letting the dog know they're safe and loved. This is what our fosters have gifted our rescues. Fostering saves lives.

– Kellye Sullivan-Roberts, Director of Paws of Love

The backbone of our organization is our foster families. We can’t save dogs without fosters opening their hearts and homes to these dogs. Our foster base is the bridge to their happy forever. Some of these dogs come from abusive homes, some are dumped and no longer wanted. Our fosters help to make dogs whole again so that we can find them the right family.

– Debbie Daniels, Director of Tails From the Heart

Foster parents also find that their own families benefit greatly from sharing their homes with pets in need. Shelley originally became involved with fostering because she wanted to find something meaningful that her family could do together. She feels that it's a great opportunity for children to learn how to volunteer and be compassionate.

Kim agrees. Fostering has been a blessing to her own family — and to the hundreds of pets they've saved. She says her husband is just as involved as she is, and her son helps with feeding and caring for the pets they foster. It's a family effort.

When it's time to say goodbye…

For fosters, saying goodbye is bittersweet. Shelley says that people always wonder how she could ever give them back. Her response?

My heart breaks a little every time so theirs doesn’t have to. It isn’t easy – I cry every time. But what people don’t realize is that you do it because you're saving lives.

Kim and Shelley hope animal lovers won't be discouraged from becoming fosters because they fear it will be too hard to say goodbye. Despite the tears, adoption day is hopeful because it means another dog can be pulled from the shelters and saved. Kim says,

I can’t imagine not doing it after all these years. I have a few tears over almost every dog, but I’m happy that they are going to a forever family. I give a little piece of my heart to every dog that leaves. It's hard to say goodbye, but you know they're going to a great life and so many more dogs are waiting for you.

Every foster stay makes a difference.

Shelley and Kim urge people to realize that every foster stay makes a difference. Even if you can make room in your home just occasionally, you can save lives. Shelley emphasizes,

If you can contribute a few times a year, you can be part of the solution. It's such a huge problem – and you can be part of the solution even if you can’t be the solution.

You don’t have to foster hundreds of dogs to make a difference, you just have to start with one. Right now, fosters are desperately needed in North Texas. Shelters are full and so many animals have nowhere else to turn.

animal welfareAnd while many families are eager to adopt, rescue organizations must have more foster homes. Please consider making room in your home (and your heart) for Texas animals in need.

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