By Elizabeth Marie Himchak
Escondido Humane Society is looking for locals to serve as foster families for dogs, cats and rabbits during the holidays.
“The holidays are a time for togetherness and family ... we want to share that holiday spirit with our animals so they can get a break from the shelter,” said Katie Woolsey, EHS spokeswoman.
While the commitment is only through the new year, Woolsey said staff hope families will “fall in love” with the animals and adopt them or continue in the foster program until the animal finds its forever home.
She said the humane society at 3450 E. Valley Parkway in Escondido is “extremely full,” with more than 500 animals in its care at the shelter or in foster homes. Staff are hoping to adopt out many before kitten and puppy season spikes in March.
Though it could be emotionally hard for an animal to leave a shelter for the comfy life in a home, only to be returned a week or so later, Woolsey said the short time away helps animals who have lived at the shelter a year or longer. “When they come back, they adjust well,” she said.
Fostering over the holidays is also a way to let locals “dip their toe in the water” without making a long-term commitment to the foster program, Woolsey said. “They can understand what foster care is about ... and if they want to continue to do it.”
Poway resident Joan Lovejoy said she began fostering more than four years ago after she “fell in love” with a dog she met while volunteering at the humane society as a dog walker.
“I wanted to get it out of the shelter and into the peace and quiet of a backyard where it could play until it found a good home,” she said.
Because she worked long hours and was single, Lovejoy said she did not want to make the commitment of pet adoption, but reap the benefits of having a dog in her home for a few days to several months. “I call my home a stepping stone, which is better until the dog finds its forever home, which is best,” she said.
Since becoming a foster parent, Lovejoy has taken in 10 dogs — all pit bulls who needed to be socialized or receive extra care while recuperating from a medical procedure.
One of the heart-wrenching was Bella, who Lovejoy received right before Christmas. The 1-year-old pit bull was extremely malnourished, weighing 15 pounds when she should have been twice that. Humane society staff asked her to take Bella home “so she could die in someone’s arms,” she said. Bella was not expected to survive the night.
“When I picked her up, she was just a bag of bones,” Lovejoy said.
But Bella lived through the night and with Lovejoy’s care started to put on weight. She had to be taught to drink water from a bowl since she would lick the dew from grass, the only way she knew to quench her thirst.
“She did not know how to play or what a toy was,” Lovejoy said. “The day that it clicked that a toy was to be played with, she frolicked like a lamb. That’s a happy Christmas story.”
After four weeks in Lovejoy’s care Bella was healthy enough for adoption and joined a family with a big black Lab. “Now she’s about 40 pounds. A good size, even a little roly-poly,” Lovejoy said.
“Bella was so appreciative of everything I gave her,” Lovejoy said. “She just wanted food and love to flourish.”
Lovejoy said fostering is good for retirees who want the companionship of an animal, but freedom to vacation when they wish. It also teaches children about responsibility and can serve as a “trial run” until they are ready to care for an animal throughout the remainder of its life.
As a foster parent, Lovejoy interviews prospective adopters, making sure it is a good fit. When a match is made she said, “It is a bittersweet day. I kiss and hug (the dog) and know in my heart it is going to the best family. ... I am the stepping stone to the best chapter of their life.”
Families often send her photos or emails with updates, but Lovejoy said she “does not want to be intrusive. I see a couple at the park and most of the dogs remember me.”
Foster parents are provided with all supplies and vet care, so there is no financial burden for them. They must complete an application and pass a home visit. Woolsey said multiple rabbits can be in a foster home, as can cats, but typically dogs are placed individually. Foster parents say if they want a large or small dog. Homes can have existing pets.
To apply, contact Julie Herman at 760-594-7605 or firstname.lastname@example.org.