Fostering animals is an adventure -- as anyone who has ever fostered will tell you! Once I realized that every foster animal would lead me toward having more human friends, I was able to let the animals go. Whenever someone says, "Oh, I could never foster!" I reply, "Yes, you could" -- because every time your precious foster animal gets adopted you have the chance to get to know a new person, or better yet, a whole family.
If you are really lucky (and really persistent) those families will stay in touch with you and will continue to send you updates, pictures and happy stories for the rest of that animal's life. Over the years I've collected some great images -- a couple of my favorites show a former foster dog in her mom's wedding; one of my kittens welcoming a new baby home as a grown up cat; and a dog who went home with his 6-year-old little girl at her graduation ceremony, sporting a grey muzzle.
All of my foster animals are special. Over the past winter, we cared for a beautiful puppy named Lucy (her nickname was "Sugar Foot"). Lucy came in with a variety of injuries and wounds, and had to have a leg amputated. My family, friends and colleagues helped to wrap her wounds in bandages for several weeks and once she had recovered she began to live life with abandon -- hiding squeaky balls around the house, running up the hill with the big dogs at the dog park and chasing our cats up and down the stairs.
Lucy was adopted by a wonderful family who learned about her (ironically, given her nickname!) at our Sugar & Champagne Affair. So although our house is now a bit quieter, we are thrilled to know that she is happy and loved by her new humans and by her new brother, Rocket.
As the cycle of fostering goes, with Lucy's departure we had room for another animal in need. WHS Vet Tech Rachel Horne made a persuasive case that I should bring home a sweet little cat who had been found covered in cooking grease at a D.C. fish fry restaurant. Many dish detergent baths later he was missing clumps of hair -- but he smelled great, and his spirit was intact. That night the cat who is now Brewster made the ride home from work with me.
After a few weeks in our house, he has also come into his own. For the first three days he hid, with an amazing ability to camouflage himself. Often, he was in plain sight. Bookshelves and laundry piles became a favorite, but he also located a little pouch in one of our reclining chairs that he made his home. We put a little sticky note on the chair to remind people not to recline before checking his "spot."
Now, Brewster has started to show his true, tabby colors -- as all of the animals do when they leave the adoption center. Despite the loving care and attention of our staff, the shelters are noisy, stressful and sometimes chaotic places -- there are unusual noises and smells, and lights are often on somewhere. In my experience, each foster animal truly exhales after they leave the shelter environment, and that is when you get to see who they really are.
Brewster, who was sweet and cuddly at the shelter, is now confident and feisty; he faces down our dog, and all dogs who come to the house. He often gets the "ya yas," racing unprompted from room to room and zipping around. He even chases our very strong-willed cat Mr. Pibb out of bed at night.
Herein lies the real benefit and importance of the WHS foster program. Not only do foster families provide a much needed safe haven for animals, but they also give each dog or cat the opportunity to feel comfortable enough to reveal his or her true personality. As a result, we learn valuable information that allows us to find a better permanent match than we might otherwise have done -- and for that, we can never thank our foster families enough.
Giving of your home and love as a WHS foster family doesn't just help the cat or dog directly in your care; your generosity impacts countless animals in the District. For every one of WHS's animals with a foster family, we free up a cage somewhere -- and that helps us save exponentially more lives.
The Washington Humane Society is challenging D.C. area residents to help alleviate overcrowding in our adoption centers. As part of a month-long Foster Challenge, we will be calling on individuals, families and businesses to volunteer as temporary foster care parents for homeless animals during May, the peak of "baby animal season." We hope we can count on our caring community to join us! Visit www.washhumane.org/foster to learn more.
Follow Lisa LaFontaine on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@Wash_Humane