Foster Families Helping to Take Burden Off Animal Shelters
"The need has tripled, especially this year," says Jean Ausenbaugh, the director of Angels with Paws in Lakewood, Colo. "But it's a hard time right now, and we really could use some more foster families." The need is particularly high for cats and, says Ausenbaugh, "fostering gives cats a better chance of being adopted." The organization takes the volunteer role seriously: It uses its suburban facility only for pre-adoption meetings; rescued cats live in temporary homes until just days before they are permanently placed with families.
The idea of helping animals in transition has caught on around the country. New York City's Mayor's Alliance for Animals recently started a campaign geared at finding foster families who can house pets throughout the Big Apple. It's a cause that's been a way of life for many shelters for years. "Most rescue groups start out as foster organizations," says Ben Lehrer, president of Kitten Rescue in Los Angeles. "Fostering is much more hands-on than having animals in a physical shelter." When Kitten Rescue was founded in 1997, it existed solely as a foster-based organization, allowing the animals "to be in a home environment, and [letting] the organization run without having to own property," says Lehrer. It wasn't until four years ago that Kitten Rescue acquired a shelter.
Families who foster animals help raise them from the time they're rescued until they've found a suitable home. "We screen every animal and every family pretty intensely," says Jennifer Coffey of the Mayor's Alliance for Animals in New York. "We want to make sure it's the right match and that people are able to handle the circumstance the animal is coming from." Often, rescue groups cover medical expenses such as vet visits, surgeries and medicines and, in some cases, they even help with food.
Foster families working through Kitten Rescue help in the adoption process, too, facilitating meetings with potential families and bringing the animals to their new homes once the paperwork has gone through. "Once you've raised them in your own home, you don't just want to hand them off," says Lehrer.
Sometimes, things may not go as planned. "There are people who foster for the first time, and end up adopting one or two of the animals," says Angels with Paws' Ausenbaugh. "At that point, they may stop fostering. But at least then, those animals have found a good home."
So as the need for fostering increases, is the popularity of the practice growing, too? Yes, say rescue workers. "I think the main reason is because the Internet makes it a lot easier for people to learn about fostering and get involved with it," explains Lehrer. "For many families, it's a revelation." Coffey agrees. "Once people are turned on to it, they realize it's a win-win situation. It gives the pets the one-on-one attention they crave, and gives people that amazing animal interaction," she says. "It truly benefits everyone!"
To find local opportunities for fostering, check out sites such as Petfinder.com and Pets911.com.
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