Friends of Southern Ocean County Animal Shelter Launch New Dog Fostering, In-Home Training Programs
Stitch, a 12-year-old Italian greyhound mix, nuzzles against Phyllis Ungvarsky on the couch at her Surf City home and turns onto his back for belly rubs. Though the pair has been cohabiting for just three weeks, it’s apparent they have comfortably bonded.
“If you want love and a great companion, adopt Stitch,” said Ungvarsky, reaching out to pet her new furry friend, which she describes as sweet and affectionate. “Every night when I’m doing my puzzle, he’s sitting next to me.”
Stitch is the first canine being fostered through the Friends of the Southern Ocean County Animal Shelter’s new dog fostering program. While the local animal welfare group has secured foster homes for dogs in the past, the organization is launching a renewed effort to recruit a group of “foster families” interested in opening their homes to shelter dogs in need. The group is actively seeking fosters for dogs that, for a variety of reasons, are not doing well in the shelter and require short-term home placement while the Friends seek permanent adoption.
“Often, these are the older, smaller, shy or fearful dogs who become stressed by the shelter environment and have difficulty adjusting,” said Kathy Ruskin, who leads the Friends’ volunteer dog-walking services at the Manahawkin shelter. “A dog recovering from a medical condition or procedure may recuperate better in the quiet of a home.”
Placing a dog in a foster home while waiting for a furever home may also prevent it from being sent to a rescue, which can be costly. Although rescues are a favorable option in certain circumstances, the Friends typically don’t know where the dogs that they send there ultimately end up, said Kathy Gross, Friends vice president.
The group’s fostering program could be a great opportunity for families or individuals who cannot commit to having a forever dog but would love to have a part-time, short-term pet.
Ungvarsky has had dogs throughout her married life, all of which were adopted as rescues except one. But the last pup she and her husband owned passed away two years ago due to illness. Fostering seemed like a great way for her to do something good to help a homeless animal find a loving home.
“I really, really missed having a dog,” said Ungvarsky, who recently became a member of the Friends after attending many of the group’s fundraiser dinners. “Everybody misses their dog when they have to put them down. I’m no different from anybody else.”
Since fostering Stitch, Ungvarsky said he has relaxed a lot and his fur has begun growing in after suffering from a skin condition Though he was very nervous around Ungvarsky when he first arrived at her home, he was curled up in her lap by the end of their first evening together. And while he may be a bit of a couch potato, he’s a very young 12-year-old that enjoys long walks as well as riding in the car.
In fact, that’s how Stitch was found – by jumping into a woman’s car when she saw him wandering on Lacey Road in Forked River. Though Stitch had a microchip identification, the individuals associated with his registration denied knowing anything about him.
Stitch’s other great attributes include his ability to understand certain commands such as sit and stay. He also gets along with other dogs, and is house-broken, neutered and up to date on all of his shots. He’s also not a licker or “kisser,” a behavior that some people dislike.
“He’s very devoted; that’s how I taught him to sit,” said Ungvarsky, noting Stitch is very food-oriented. “They give you just as much as you give them or they give you more. I think he’s so happy to be in a home rather than at the shelter.”
Pleased with the situation, Ungvarsky said she would be happy to foster other dogs in the future. Anyone interested in fostering must be at least 21 years old and show proof of home ownership or a statement from a landlord that a dog is permitted. Fosters are also required to be a member of the Friends as well as agree to a home visit.
For dogs with behavioral issues that are being fostered or adopted through the Manahawkin shelter, the Friends also now offers in-home training services. The complementary training, available for up to four hours, increases the chances of the dog remaining in the home and not being sent back to the shelter.
“The primary purpose of the ‘In-Home Training Program’ is to minimize the number of dogs returned to the shelter for behavior problems,” said Ruskin. “Some dogs settle easily into home life after shelter life while others take more time and patience to adjust. Some present behaviors that can be problematic but may be resolved with proper training. The Friends believe that investing time and money to help a shelter dog adjust to home life is time and money well spent.”
At this time, the Friends are working with six trainers, all of whom have appropriate experience and certifications and have been interviewed and approved by the organization. Training is held in or around the home or at an area agreed on by the trainer and the adopter, such as a local park. The trainer will assess the situation and, with the adopter, agree on the number of hours required to resolve the problem. More-difficult situations will be addressed by the Friends in consultation with the trainer and adopter on a case-by-case basis.
These two programs are keeping with the Friends’ mission to serve the homeless dogs and cats of Ocean County.
“Shelter dogs are great dogs,” said Ruskin. “The only thing wrong with shelter dogs is that they are in a shelter and not in a home. In a perfect world, every dog would have a home and every home would have a dog. With these two programs, the Friends hope to make that saying a reality.”
Anyone interested in becoming a foster family should complete the volunteer application available on the Friends’ website, fosocas.org, or pick one up at the shelter. Interested individuals may also contact Ruskin at email@example.com or call/text 973-886-1916.
— Kelley Anne Essinger