Short-Term Dog Fosters Ease Transition From Shelter to Forever Home

Mar 07, 2018
Zion (left) and Brandee (right).

The Friends of the Southern Ocean County Animal Shelter organization runs a dog-fostering program that places shelter dogs from the Ocean County Animal Facility in Manahawkin into temporary homes, as an important transitional step before adoption into a permanent home. Fostering gives a dog a chance to attach to a person and learn what it’s like to be in a home, according to Kathy Ruskin, Friend and lead volunteer dog walker at the Manahawkin facility.

“Dogs have chapters in their lives,” she said. “Fostering is one of those chapters.”

Shelter behavior is not always a reflection of a dog’s true self, Ruskin said. Even the best shelters are noisy and stressful for homeless animals, raising their cortisol levels and causing them to act in ways they might not under normal circumstances. A home environment, by contrast, tends to be quieter and calmer, so the dog is more comfortable, trusting and better behaved. That gives advocates an opportunity to see the dog’s true colors and determine his or her best match.

A foster situation is designed to be temporary, while Friends work on finding a forever home for the dog, utilizing all available marketing tools: word-of-mouth, fliers, social media (find Friends of Southern Ocean County Animal Shelter on Facebook). The website has a wealth of information, including an “Adopt a Pet” link to dogs and cats adoptable through the Friends network, as well as a “Petfinder” link to shelter residents in need of homes.

But “failed foster” scenarios (a cheeky way of saying the foster volunteer fell in love and decided to keep the dog) do happen.

Good foster dog candidates are those that might get overlooked in a shelter, Ruskin explained. If a highly popular or desirable kind of dog, such as a Labradoodle (Labrador/poodle hybrid), comes into the shelter, that dog will be snatched up in no time at all. Small dogs, too, seem more easily adoptable. But the older dogs, bigger dogs, ones with health problems, that bark too much, appear standoffish, are the “wrong” breed or color – those are the ones that need a little extra help to get adopted.

One dog currently in foster care and in need of adoption is Brandee, a pit mix, who tested positive for heartworm, a totally treatable condition in an atmosphere of calm and consistency. Brandee currently lives with Sarah Swan in Ship Bottom and is “doing beautifully,” Ruskin said. Six months was the foster family’s commitment, in which time the heartworm issue should be under control and she’ll be perfectly healthy.

Brandee is 7 years old, housebroken, loves belly rubs and is easy to get along with but is reactive to other dogs, so she prefers to be an “only” pet. To learn more about Brandee and to arrange a meeting, call Kathy Ruskin at 973-886-1916.

Another is Zion, a boxer mix that had been adopted two years ago and was returned to the shelter for circumstantial reasons unrelated to behavior. Zion currently lives in Beach Haven with Amy Freeman, who volunteers as a dog walker at the shelter.

As former foster Maureen Flaherty said, “As we all know, life happens, and sometimes events or actions occur that we do not expect or consider: loss of a job, divorce, changes in housing, impulsive decision making and poor oversight. Many times, in these situations, a loving companion animal suffers the loss of home and is surrendered to the shelter or placed by animal control as a stray.”

Zion is 8 years old, and his favorite thing to do is lie on his bed with his favorite chew toy in front of a sunny window. He walks well on a leash, knows commands and “shakes hands” for a treat. He loves people but, like Brandee, prefers to be an “only” pet. For more info on Zion, call Freeman at 908-415-8210.

“While shelters are the public’s best method of addressing the problem of homeless companion animals, shelter life can be difficult, especially on an animal that was raised in a home,” Flaherty said. “Providing a respite for a homeless companion animal while re-homing efforts occur has proven to be a rewarding experience.”

Flaherty said it was her privilege to foster Mindy, a sweet, well-mannered, people-loving American Staffordshire that required surgery to repair her ACL. “She stayed with me for about six weeks and was adopted after her recovery. I still stay in touch with her adoptive family and enjoy knowing how she’s doing.

“Fostering is a great way to get your ‘dog fix’ if you’ve always loved animals and have determined a permanent adoption doesn’t fit your current lifestyle. Fostering is time-limited, reduces stress on the animal, permits early medical intervention and is a ‘plus’ factor in adoption. Short-term fostering is just one way we can build a better world.”

During the foster period, the host gains valuable insight into the dog’s character and can provide a detailed overview to a prospective adopter.

All dogs available for adoption are spayed/neutered, microchipped and up to date on shots. The arrangement is such that a volunteer foster bears no financial or legal responsibility for a foster dog; the Friends organization owns the dog and provides for costs associated with food, supplies and medical care, as well as moral support and guidance for the foster. Therefore, a foster parent agrees not to go to dog parks or community events where anything risky or unpredictable might happen. The foster also agrees to help market the dog where appropriate.

“We want a partnership,” Ruskin said, “a team of people looking out for the dog’s best interests.”

Prospective fosters are screened for appropriate living conditions and should expect a home visit from Friend, professional dog trainer and shelter dog walker Cindy Cubelo. To learn more about volunteering as a foster, call Ruskin at the above number or Cubelo at 908-930-2823.

— Victoria Ford


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