Monday, November 9, 2015

Volunteer Appreciation: Foster Phoebe

No foster, no rescue. That's it, really. Well, maybe not quite, but the work foster families do for Berkeley Humane is amazingly important on many levels. First off: they open their homes to animals in need and do what they can to give the animal the environment it needs. They do so knowing that they'll have to say goodbye to that animal again, even when they get attached. But foster families do so much more. By taking animals into their homes, they give very valuable insight into how animals behave in a home situation. This helps us with optimizing the personality evaluation of every animal. Sometimes it also allows us to see if an animal works well with children, dogs or cats, which is valuable information for any prospective adopters. 

For young animals living with a foster family has an extra benefit: it helps socialize them and exposes them to situations that they will also encounter once they find their new homes. For the very young ones, their foster family also plays an important role in providing necessary care. It is the foster family that gets up in the middle of the night to let a whining puppy out to pee. It is the foster family that carefully monitors how much each newborn kitten eats. They make a great difference to each animal that passes through their home.

With that in mind, we want to introduce you to one of our amazing foster people: Phoebe B. 

How long have you been fostering and who was your first foster?

My husband and I began fostering about three months ago. An email was sent out over the 4th of July weekend about fostering some puppies, but unfortunately my response was too slow. Kylie Reed, the foster care coordinator, told us that we could foster an adult dog that week if we liked, and as we were preparing to go to Berkeley Humane, Kylie contacted us and let us know that she unexpectedly had another group of puppies that needed a foster home for a week. I was over the moon, and that is how we got our first fosters, the Frozen Puppies. We started with four the first week, three the next, and only sensitive Sven was left by the third week. Sven was actually so much bigger than his littermates that upon first sight Berkeley Humane staff wondered if he was the mother! By the third week he could easily jump the puppy gates we used to enclose our foster area, but fortunately my husband was home from work that week. He and Sven spent every waking moment together, and Sven was even here for my family-only birthday celebration. Sven was adopted the following weekend, so all that intensive snuggling and socializing appeared to have helped Sven come out of his shell and charm his forever family.

The Frozen Litter

How did you learn to say goodbye to each foster animal?

I feel the puppies are comparatively easier to send off to adoption since they have each other. They may be a little unsettled by all the change, but ultimately puppy psychology is wired towards finding ways to make things fun. Puppies are also in a carrier, so I can't see their little faces when I leave. The older puppy I fostered--Sam Brock--was very hard to give back because it was clear that he was confused as to why he wasn't leaving with his foster family when we dropped him off for adoption. This could have been particularly hard for me since I was especially attached to Sam, and I am hopeful that future partings will be less emotional. We are relatively new fosters, so we'll have to see if we get better at letting go, but it is a personal goal of mine to maintain more equipoise when facing impermanence, so this is a prime opportunity.

Who was your favorite foster animal?

Sam Brock charmed everyone in my family, including my prickly chug-huahua Gilly. We brought Sam home a week or so after the Frozen Pups, and we learned that the only dog who could be contained by our gates was apparently Gilly. Like Sven, Sam too could go where he liked in the house, so he was never far from us since we had to keep an eye on him at all times. Gilly is such a tough old bird that she would cringe away from Sam whenever he touched her, but finally one day they both snuggled up in my lap, and that was a really touching moment. He and Gilly made a handsome pair, and we got a lot of compliments when we took them out for their walks. I will admit that one of the reasons I began fostering is that I feel I have a little more love to give than Gilly wants to absorb, and Sam was so thrilled with me, loving my songs and dances and clearly wanting to be close to me whenever possible. He came so far during his short week with us, getting house trained and learning to walk on leash. Giving Sam up to go to his forever home was one of the hardest things I've had to do in recent memory: he is a treasure, and I'm sure his new owners adore him.

Who was your most challenging foster animal?

Cindy Lou Who of the Seuss pug pups was by far my most challenging foster. Her personality blends a potent mixture of smart and mischievous, so she got into plenty of high jinks. The moment requiring the most patience was when I had come home after a particularly hot and hard day to discover that the puppies had done a creative origami project with their pee pads. It took a good deal of time to clean up that adventure, especially since I had pug puppies bouncing all over the place while I was doing it. I finally got the foster area spotless and was placing their clean water dish on the floor when Cindy Lou Who leaped up and knocked it from my hand. It was an important moment because after I refilled the bowl I stood calmly, holding out my hand in the direction of the puppies while making a shushing sound. I was shocked when they all sat down and looked up curiously into my face. I realized that I could ask even these young puppies for what I needed, just like I do with my own adult dog. It was incredible. Even Cindy Lou Who, who pushed the boundaries the most because she is so smart would really communicate with me.

Cindy Lou Who
What is the hardest part of fostering? What's the most rewarding?

My husband and I don't have a car, so our first foster experience was exciting since we were carrying 15+ lbs of puppy and crate home on our 20-minute walk. We were fully committed and wouldn't dream of setting the crate down, but it was hard, especially in this summer's heat. Now my good friend generously shuttles the fosters who are too young to walk to and from our house, and that has been a huge help. For me the worst part is the third day after the puppies get adopted. They are so much work that at first you are a little grateful for a break, but when you wake up on the third day your mind and body have forgotten all the hard parts, and it is a little tough to fully embrace that they are gone. The most rewarding aspect is the knowledge that you are shaping the desirability of someone's future companion. It is a heady business knowing that you are sharing time with this animal that will someday be a beloved part of another family. It's fun to try and think of simple little skills you can impart that will make the dogs even more adoptable, and my favorite trick is teaching the puppies to sit calmly and patiently during food preparation and presentation, which is a trait that is easily cultivated through reward. Of course it is always important to utilize the positive training methods endorsed and utilized by Berkeley Humane. I will also mention that the fosters are the only creatures that appear to be enchanted by my impromptu song and dance performances. My own dog seems rather resignedly humiliated by my melodious narration of daily events, so a receptive audience is more than welcome!

The Seuss Puppies

How has fostering changed your life?

I think we often don't realize how much we are capable of until we simply have to do it. Before I started fostering I wondered where I would find the time and energy, but when you are responsible for the well being of innocents, you just find a way. I really appreciated how the fosters took up a lot of my focus and energy throughout the week, leaving little time for dwelling on less important matters. It's strangely freeing to do something so consuming, particularly when it has such a happy ending. Having the fosters made me invite more people to my home to allow for socializing the puppies, and many of my friends and family have been inspired to find their own puppies, so honestly my choice to foster through Berkeley Humane has changed several lives, and all for the better.

Is fostering time consuming?

Each situation is likely unique, but I do find that the fosters take a lot of time and commitment. I think that could be my own personal choice for the older puppies and dogs, but I spend much of my free time with the fosters. Puppies are going to be a lot of work for anyone, and it really helped me appreciate the important role of mother dogs. As cute as the puppies are, to ensure a pleasant experience for both puppies and humans, you must have plenty of time in your day to foster little ones.

The dapper Sam Brock

How does Berkeley Humane support you in your fostering?

Berkeley Humane provides wonderful support, including advice via many communication methods and supplies during the fostering period. The monthly foster availability form makes it easy to communicate, and all staff and volunteers have been enthusiastic and responsive.

What motivates you to continue fostering?

It is exciting to get a new dog, and fostering allows you to have a new animal in your home on a relatively regular basis. If you have a pet who is a little stingy with affection, caring for foster animals can inspire your own pet to invest more vigorously in the pet-owner relationship. I feel proud to be a foster parent, and it gives me lots of great stories to share with my friends and colleagues. It is hard to explain exactly why it is so wonderful, but I think it has to do with the fact that you really are helping your community, growing and learning the entire time, but in the end it just feels like you're having fun with puppies and sweet dogs!

Phoebe, thank you and your husband for what you do for the animals that enter your home. We could not do it without you!

Do you want to help and, like Phoebe, liven up your life with furry houseguests? Go here to learn what you need to do to help us help animals. 

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