By Cecilia Chan
Lisa Futo opens her home to injured strays, nurturing them until they are well enough to be adopted.
For the last 10 years, the Valley resident has fostered 52 dogs through the Arizona Humane Society.
“It’s really rewarding,” Ms. Futo said. “The shelter is full and when I take an animal out who just needs two months to rest, who block up space, maybe five dogs at that time passed through the kennel. You are really giving the Humane Society an extra kennel here at the house.”
Fostering a cat or dog temporarily not only free up needed space at overcrowded shelters for another animal to be saved, it also helps pets that are injured, sick, too young for immediate adoption or who need a break from confinement and a little extra socialization.
“While the Humane Society is a wonderful place there are always people walking around and the lights are on,” Ms. Futo said. “It’s like being in a hospital. They recover much quicker when they are at a home in a normal family life. And many were strays or lived outside. This prepares them to be good family members. It makes them better pets.”
Currently, Arizona Humane Society has 479 felines in foster care, 112 canines in foster care and four critters for a total of 596 animals in foster care, according to spokeswoman Bretta Nelson.
“Since our current Volunteer Engagement manager came on board 11 years ago, approximately 40,000 pets have been fostered,” she said. “But the program had been going for years prior to that so I wouldn’t be surprised if it was close to tens of thousands.”
She added Arizona Humane Society could absolutely not do the work it does without the support of its volunteers and foster parents. The nonprofit has 700 foster volunteers and officials hope to have 800 by the fall.
“Fostering a pet is truly lifesaving and expands the walls of our nonprofit organization,” Ms. Nelson said.
While the private, nonprofit organization does not euthanize a pet based on space or length of time, it is a different story for the Maricopa County Animal Care and Control, which must accept all animals.
The government agency, however, is reporting fewer dogs and cats euthanized for fiscal year 2016 compared with the prior year.
For fiscal year 2016, the number of animals euthanized was 3,212 — 2,811 dogs and 411 cats, according to department spokeswoman Melissa Gable. The shelter took in about 35,000 animals.
In comparison, fiscal year 2015 recorded 8,324 animals — 7,417 dogs and 907 cats — were put down of the 36,047 it took in, according to an annual report. These animals may have been euthanized due to overcrowding, but may also have been sick, aggressive, injured or suffering from something else.
Ms. Gable attributed the drop in euthanization largely to spay and neuter programs that are finally taking root and fewer animals coming into the shelter.
The county’s foster program, in place for at least a decade, plays a role in fewer deaths, said Ms. Gable, who has been fostering dogs and cats for 20 years. She has adopted eight of the cats she has fostered and three former foster dogs while Ms. Futo has adopted two of her foster dogs, Dobermans she named Obie and Bishop.
“It’s very fulfilling to know you are saving a life,” said Ms. Gable, who has been caring since March for a dog with a broken femur, which was due to be officially adopted last Friday.
Although the hardest part of the program is getting attached to an animal, the saving grace is she has a hand in picking who would adopt the dog, which the program allows for. Many of the volunteer foster parents have their own network in which to adopt out their charges.
“He is going to a great home,” she said. “I’m not crying over this one and certainly I’ve cried over some.”
The county agency is in need of foster volunteers year-round, especially in the spring, which is kitten season, and now with overcrowding.
The shelter currently has more than 1,000 dogs and cats at its two shelter locations, a combination of adoptable strays and some on bite quarantine, Ms. Gable said ideally the shelter should be in the 500 to 600 range. She did not have readily available the number of foster pets adopted out or the number of foster volunteers.
The county offers a monthly information session for those interested in becoming a foster volunteer.
Those accepted into the county program would only need to provide shelter, but food and toys for the pet. The agency will take care of medical costs.
At the Arizona Humane Society, medical care and supplies, such as dog bed and food, are provided for the volunteer.
Rebecca Mackerman and husband, Dustin, have fostered seven dogs in the last 18 months or so with Arizona Golden Rescue in Glendale.
The couple, who already owned two dogs, an 8-year-old Golden Retriever and a 5-yar-old Golden-Samoyed mix, were looking for a way to give back to the community when they joined the rescue group.
“We decided to join and initially just help with smaller meet and greets and to attend events,” Ms. Mackerman said. “However, after awhile we saw that sometimes senior dogs and dogs that have medical conditions don’t get adopted right away and if there aren’t enough fosters then the dogs are boarded at a vet or facility that Arizona Golden Rescue works with. These are great facilities and the dogs receive wonderful care, however, we decided that we had a home and we could provide those dogs a soft place to stay until their forever home is found and at the same time support AGR by not using the boarding facility.”
She said she and her husband help assess the dog, its behavior and temperament and play a key role in finding a permanent home for the animal based on their knowledge of the pet.
“Sometimes dogs come in abused, some come in with medical conditions that could have been treated and were neglected, sometimes their owners pass away, and sometimes they come in as strays with not much history at all,” she said. “It is our job to feel them out and to help build trust, help take them to their vet visits to clear up any medical issues, give love again and get them ready for their forever family. In doing this, we have found a fuller meaning of what unconditional love is and sometimes the dogs help us more than we help them. It is an honor to see a once shy, sad, uncertain dog come out of their shell and become a happy well of joy right before your eyes.”
Fostering also provides other benefits, including the socialization their two dogs have experienced has helped them interact with other dogs, she added.
“It is hard to say goodbye sometimes,” she said, noting letting a dog go is made easy knowing the rescue group has a thorough vetting process and that she has a part in the decision of where the animal goes.
“We have not helped place a foster that we’ve had to any family that we didn’t absolutely love,” she said.
To participate in fostering a pet:
What: Free Animal Care & Control Foster Orientation
When: noon to 2 p.m., Saturday, Aug 12
Where: West Valley Animal Care Center, 2500 S. 27th Ave., Phoenix
For questions about becoming a foster parent, call the West Shelter Foster coordinator at 602-372-1158 or the East Shelter Foster Coordinator at 602-506-6279.
Arizona Humane Society recently implemented an online foster training in which people can spend their Saturday morning on the couch with their coffee taking the training and could then come in 48 hours later to pick up a foster pet.
There also is a foster portal that people can peruse to see which pet they would like to foster. People can start with shorter, more straight-forward cases and then to move to longer cases over time, if wanted.
For more about the foster orientation, go to www.azhumane.org/foster.