Foster program helps prepare dogs and cats for ’forever homes’
Max wasn’t expected to live this long. When the 4-year-old Lab mix was placed in the care of Christina White, one of Butte Humane Society’s foster volunteers, he had a life-threatening heart condition that prevented him from being made available for adoption.
“They told me when I got him … that it could be days, weeks or months,” said White. “And he’s been here a year.”
Watching Max on a recent Friday morning as he playfully wrestled with a pack of five dogs barking and frolicking around the front yard of White and her husband’s ranch property in Corning, he showed no outward signs of ill health. In fact, given that his bad heart makes him ineligible for neutering, he’s actually become the leader of his cohorts.
“Before, he would sit there and he would lie down and you could see the way his heart was beating. It was horrible. But now, if he lies down and relaxes, he looks just like everybody else,” White explained. “When I first got him he looked really old, like he was done. Since he’s been here he’s actually looked a lot younger. He acts younger.”
Max’s is just one of many happy stories to come out the Butte Humane Society’s fostering program, which places animals that are not ready to be adopted into the homes of volunteers.
“It saves lives,” said Kathy Fowler, coordinator for the foster program. “It could be an animal that is sick or underage. You’re getting them well enough or old enough to be adopted.”
On the BHS website, there’s a list of animals that are typically candidates for fostering, including a mother and her nursing puppies or kittens; motherless puppies or kittens that are under 8 weeks old, some in need of bottle feeding; animals recovering from surgery or illness; or animals that are simply stressed or depressed and need to be outside of the kennel environment.
“[We have] a group of volunteers who take the animals into their homes and care for them as if they are their own,” said Fowler. “In June, I had 103 unique animals out in foster.”
BHS also does hospice fostering—or “fospice”—a subprogram set up for those animals that are too old or, like Max, have life-threatening conditions that preclude them from adoption. “It’s the best thing for the animal, letting them have a home during the last days of their life,” Fowler said. “My fospice people are very selfless.”
Max is White’s first fospice pet, but he’s far from her first foster. Ever since she and her husband moved to their 17 acre ranch three years ago, White’s regularly brought sick dogs and litters of puppies from BHS to her animal compound—which is also home to cats, cows, goats, chickens, a flock of ducks, a miniature horse, pot-bellied pigs, fire-bellied toads, a bearded dragon and some goldfish.
“I went from my dinky little house to this place, and I’ve got more property here. … Our dream was to get a place where we can do the animal thing,” she said.
One of the greatest benefits of a pet being fostered is the presocialization that it provides, getting animals used to the routine of being part of a regular household before going to its “forever home.” And at White’s busy house—which also includes her two young children—fosters get a lot of experience.
“These guys get socialized to a lot of different scenarios: older kids, younger kids, men, women, people going in and out of the house, a number of dogs and a number of cats,” White said, adding that potential adopters can have “the security that their animal is well-rounded.”
In addition to Max, White is currently fostering Sarah, a sweet, year-and-a-half-old black-haired Chihuahua mix with ulcers in each eye that require twice-daily applications of steroid paste. “It’s to the point now where she can see, where before she used to have a big black spot,” White said.
While sitting on the lawn talking, Sarah snuggled in the arms of young Jordan Moore, a family friend who helps White take care of the animals, and watched with alert ears as the pack bounced around them.
“I’m hoping somebody older would find her a good home,” White said, “Somebody who could just give her one-on-one. She’d be good with one other animal.”
Sarah’s almost ready. And with her sweet face, demeanor and eagerness to cuddle, there’s a good chance she’s on her way to being the foster program’s newest happy story.