I became interested in the idea of fostering a pet when my closest friend died last year. It was just one week after her 32nd birthday. She had been diagnosed with a glandular tumor a few weeks prior and before she was able to get back on her feet from the initial testing, they gave her only 48 hours to live. For my husband and me, it was devastating. We were helpless, hopeless, lonely saps trying to understand how one of our dearest and closest friends could be ripped from us so suddenly. I could not believe that she would not be around to grow old with us.
A couple weeks later, like a lamp, the idea just switched On in my head: we’ll foster a dog. We’d always waxed and waned on getting a second dog, and there wasn’t much rationale for the idea but it made our grief “click” in an inexplicable way, and we felt, well, hope again.
As it turns out, it is a pretty rational idea: While there are financial obligations with a foster, the expensive stuff is paid by the organization, and if we need to go out of town, other fosters will help us out with doggy-sitting. Purchases we make for the foster pups are tax deductible so that helps, too. And since Homeward Trails has a web-list system for available foster dogs, we can move at our own pace and we don’t worry about being made to feel guilty if we need a break.
In our fledgling work as fosters, we’ve learned that most people assume rescued or shelter dogs have been discarded because they are bad. Maybe they are sick, or maybe they are mean and aggressive. This has not been true. What we realize now is that sometimes kill-shelter staff look out for the dogs that are likely to make great pets and they sometimes go out of their way and contact rescue organizations to pick them up and get them into foster homes or boarding.
In the foster home, the dogs experience some growing pains since its disorienting for a dog to move around and learn new things, but most come around to being very sweet and fun pets in a short time with a little patience, love, and training. Dogs seemingly move on from adversity much faster than humans, for example, with the right support and exercise.
As a foster parent, I show up with our foster dog to nearby Homeward Trails adoption events a couple times per month for a couple hours. I make the foster pup available to meet potential adopters when they contact the organization. I’ve met some cool people.
I think many people out there don’t realize they could gain a lot from a relatively easy “hobby” like this. People all over the country are lonely, lacking exercise, or feeling like they don’t do enough to help others. Certainly that’s a good start for a prospective foster dog parent. It is nearly impossible to be blue when a grateful dog wags its tail and makes eyes at you, or when a new kitty purrs at you for the first time. And then you get to write their happy ending/beginning – a new family & home.
If you’re not sure you’re ready, consider volunteering a few hours per week with a local organization. The best-organized rescue groups can find a number of convenient ways for you to help out (due to the nature of their work & funding, not all rescues can be well-organized, so inquire thoroughly).
Below are some local rescue & foster organizations, or search online for ones in your area:
Washington Animal Rescue League (WARL) in Washington, DC
Lucky Dog Animal Rescue in Washington, DC
City Dogs Rescue in Washington, DC
House Rabbit Society in Baltimore, MD
Last Chance Animal Rescue (LCAR) in Waldorf, MD
Partnership for Animal Welfare (PAW) in Greenbelt, MD
Baltimore Animal Rescue & Care Shelter (BARCS) in Baltimore, MD
Animal Welfare League (AWL) of Frederick County, MD
Homeward Trails in Arlington, VA
Lost Dog & Cat Rescue Foundation in Arlington, VA
Fancy Cats Rescue in Herndon, VA
Alyssa works in multiple MOMs locations.
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