Sunday, January 17, 2010

Fostering in The Big Apple

Sarah Oren is a foster parent in NYC who has a blog encouraging others to foster. She posts photos and descriptions of NYC shelter dogs in need, so if you're in that area, check it out. You might just feel compelled to take a dog or two into your home.

From personal experience I can tell you that fostering is one of the most rewarding things I've done in my life. Here's what Sarah has to say about her experiences:

HTB: How did you first find out about fostering and dog rescue? For how long have you been involved?

SO: After I moved to New York City a couple years ago, I felt a need to do something fulfilling with my days outside of my paid job. I had been a shelter volunteer and zoo employee during college, and have always felt a special bond with animals- especially dogs. I searched online for animal-related volunteer opportunities in Manhattan and came across Animal Care & Control’s “Safety Net” program, now called “Pets for Life NYC.” Their goal is to help prevent owners from surrendering their pets by providing temporary foster care for the animal in peril. Immediately, I was hooked.

HTB:Many people say, "I couldn't foster; I would keep them. It would be just too hard to give them up." What is your reply?

SO: So many people may see an adoptable dog and say, “I just don’t have the time or money right now,” to which I say “Do you have a few dollars, a bit of free time during the days/weekend, and a desire to make a difference in someone’s life?”

My foster doggie, Mocha, did not come with any personal items; I had to buy her food, collar, and leash. As a recent college grad in Manhattan, I had little extra money to burn, but all I needed for Mocha was a few dollars, some old towels to make a bed, and lastly, patience with house-training. Mocha was not always a piece of cake to care for, but my job was to help prepare her for a permanent home with some potty training and adjustment to living outside of a shelter cage. She soon adjusted, and became better every day.

As for those who worry about becoming attached to their foster dog, I feel your sentiments. I cried the entire journey home after dropping off my Mocha with her new owner. It’s tough not to be able to explain to the dog that they are going to a good home, and that it is all for the best. But the pain wore off for me once I began to receive photo emails of my foster girl in her new home. Since Mocha’s formal adoption in August 2009, she and I have had numerous reunions. That story is what I’d like potential foster parents to keep in mind; it might sting at first to give up your shelter dog to another owner, but it gives you an opportunity to see the dog thrive while you have the chance to save another dog’s life who may have died if not for your foster efforts.

HTB: Tell us about your blog. What inspired you to start it? How long ago? What do you hope to accomplish with it?

SO: After joining the Safety Net program at Animal Care & Control, I got an email from a volunteer asking if someone could foster a mini pittie who was to be euthanized the following morning. I jumped at the opportunity to foster, knowing full well that if I didn’t step forward, this dog might not make it through another day. I called the shelter volunteer, and we set up a meeting the following day. I took my new foster dog out of the shelter and into my home. She had been a “throwaway mom,” used as a breeding machine and had just recently given birth to a litter after arriving at the shelter. “Mocha” came to me completely malnourished and in need of some serious TLC. She turned out to be the sweetest, most loving mini pitti I could have asked for.

I learned so much about the need for increased promotion of shelter dogs, especially those at kill-shelters like AC&C, where the euthanasia rates are simply too high. So many dogs are put to sleep for various reasons, including bad behavior, illness, and lack of adopter interest; the sad part is, those three factors can be completely changed depending on the care that dog receives inside or outside of the shelter. THAT is where a foster owner comes into play!

Mocha had gotten lucky by having a pro-active volunteer on her side, but some dogs don’t get that same opportunity. I wanted to find a way to help other volunteers and fosters publicize their dog without having to walk around their entire city, hoping for a match! I spent weeks trying to get Mocha adopted, with plenty of people showing interest, but no one was coming forward to take her home. I knew I needed to create more widespread awareness of the amazing dogs currently in shelters in the NYC-area.

I started my blog, Foster Dogs in NYC, several months ago, updating it almost every day since its creation. Mocha was adopted almost immediately after my blog was created, thanks to some cross-posting around Facebook and Petfinder! She now lives with a fantastic owner on Brooklyn, who has since been inspired to create her own chocolate brand called “Rescue Chocolate” that donates proceeds to dog rescue groups. In a way, each of us is paying it forward. And that’s the overall goal!

HTB: NYC seems like a hard place to have a dog because most people live in apartments. If someone lives in an apartment and wants to get a dog, what are some things you would suggest they be aware of?

SO: I had a tiny studio apartment when I fostered my two dogs (each at separate times). Yes, it gets tight, but I’d recommend fostering dogs that are appropriately sized for one’s living space. I always made it a point to walk my foster do as many times as possible, not only to house-train her, but also to get her energy out. We took weekend runs and jogged around the neighborhood. Now I hear from her owner that she has tons of friends at her dog park and plays like there’s no tomorrow! Dog parks are a fantastic opportunity to get your dog’s energy out – and to get them properly socialized (as long as they are friendly!).

Small-spaced apartment living should not deter someone from fostering a dog, but be aware of certain lease agreements that restrict pet ownership.

HTB: To wrap this all up, please tell us your three favorite things about fostering.

SO: My favorite thing about fostering is feeling like I’ve made an enormous difference in a dog’s life-and possibly in some human beings’ lives as well!

Fostering also connects you with others who care about animals as much as you do! You become part of a wonderful community of animal activists.

Another wonderful thing about fostering is the awareness one creates for shelter dogs! By fostering one dog, you may have influenced dozens of others to consider adopting or fostering instead of heading to a pet store!

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