There is a middle ground for those who want a furry companion but are intimidated by the commitment: fostering.
Sometimes animals need a little couch surfing time before they are ready to be adopted, according to Deann Shepherd, director of marketing and communications for the Humane Society of Utah.
“It is better for pets to go into a foster home if they are injured, ill or too young for adoption,” Shepherd said. “Think of a shelter like a child’s day care. If one kid is sick, the other kids can be exposed.”
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 6.5 million companion animals enter shelters every year. Of those, 1.5 million will be euthanized, 3.2 million will be adopted and 710,000 are strays that will be returned to their owners.
Fostering also helps animals who struggle with behavior issues, which can be complicated by shelter life. A temporary foster home is a better, less stressful environment than the clinic for the animal before adoption.
The Humane Society located in Murray, Utah gets litters of young animals in need of extra care. The organization recently received three litters of kittens that were placed in foster care.
One litter was found hungrily mewing after their mom had been hit by a car. They were only a couple days old and needed to be bottle-fed.
Stephanie “Swiss” Beller works in the foster department at the Humane Society and has experience in handling many of these cases.
“For me, fostering is valuable in the sense that I . . . help animals in need who may not survive without the care we give them,” Beller said.
Kittens like these need to be carefully fed every two hours or so. Before realizing it’s time to eat, the kittens mew and claw as ferociously as a few ounces of fur can.
The kittens are successfully getting stronger, but the mortality rate for kittens is still about 50 percent, according to Shepherd. Their chances go down without their mother because her milk is difficult to replicate. However, their chances rise if they’re able to get into a safe foster home for their first couple of weeks.
Not all fostering cases require waking up every three hours to bottle feed — a foster volunteer can decide what level they’d like to handle.
Jennie Oxpsring has a daughter who graduated in early childhood education from BYU. Oxspring has been fostering for AZ Paws and Claws for over a year.
“When I applied to be a foster, I specified on my application that I prefer smaller dogs and need dogs that get along with children, as my grandchildren are over at my home at least once a week,” Oxspring said.
Humane Society foster volunteers can choose to adopt the pets they’re fostering. If they don’t choose to adopt their foster pets, the animals are put up for adoption in the clinic.
Shepherd fostered four kittens found in a McDonald’s parking lot along with their mother and a fifth sibling who had died, probably from birthing complications. She nursed the four for about a month before two got sick and died.
“The mother’s colostrum (in the mothers milk) provides antibodies to help the young kitten that they just can’t get alone,” Shepherd said. “Any kitten is much better off with their mother.”
Shepherd ended up adopting the two survivors.
BYU alumna Alyssa Dalton and her family met a mother cat and her five 4-day-old kittens that were scheduled to be euthanized. The Daltons were looking for a cat at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in California.
Dalton said her family fostered the cats to help them find homes and ended up adopting the mother and one of her kittens. “It was such a cool experience,” Dalton said.
Erin McMullin, the fostering coordinator at Best Friends Animal Society—Utah, said their facility takes in about 1,500 kittens per year, most of which will need to be fostered.
“Best Friends needs foster families to care for animals while they prepare to find their forever homes,” McMullin said.
Oxspring fostered eight dogs in less than 2 years. One was a chihuahua pup she named Mia who had been kept in a box by her previous owners.
“I had to work a bit at house-training her, but she was a sweet little dog with a lot of energy and a lot of love to give,” Oxspring said. “It didn’t take her long to get used to her freedom.”
She said she has seen the value of pets getting healthy in a secure home environment.
“I love dogs, and so I feel like this is a small way I can help them as they wait and get prepared to be adopted,” Oxspring said. “There are too many homeless pets that just need a chance to be loved and give love.”