Fostering pets can be the gateway for owners to keep tiny paws pattering around their home for as long as they can stand it, but foster parents also play an important role for animal shelters.
"We refer to them as foster heroes because that's what they are," said Dorchester Paws foster coordinator Mollie Crabtree. "They're actively participating in saving lives on a daily basis. We really couldn't do what we do without them continually opening up their hearts and homes to the dogs and cats that are residents of Dorchester Paws."
Right now, there are more than 300 animals in foster care through Dorchester Paws, far more than their shelter capacity of 80 cat cubbies and 80 dog kennels. Charleston Animal Society has similar numbers, with 231 animals in foster care and another 150 in the shelter.
"Foster care is like a second shelter," explained Kay Hyman, the Animal Society's director of community engagement. "At any given time, we can have as many animals in foster care or more as we have in the shelter system, so it's critical in our mission to save lives."
- Geoff Richardson and his family have been fostering kittens for nine months
With the pandemic changing our day-to-day lives, more people have been able to help out.
"We are seeing college students and single people who don't necessarily have the time to have a full-time pet, but because of COVID-19, they are working from home," Hyman said. "Professionals that during normal times, don't feel like they can commit to an animal. But now we are seeing adoptions as well as fosters."
Those in the shelters understand firsthand how important it is for these animals to have a place to live and be cared for when the shelter is near capacity, but fostering provides other insights as well.
"Fosters allow for us to see the personality and needs of the animal," said Pet Helpers executive director Melissa Susko. "If they're housebroken, if they do well with other animals, out in public."
- Tamara Hart
- Tamara Hart's family works together to feed, cuddle and clean up after kittens
What helps the foster system work so well is how simple and flexible the process is for foster parents.
"We have different time commitments and different levels of fostering," Susko said. "If you're interested in fostering a dog, you can either foster a puppy for a couple weeks, or it can go all the way to a special needs medical case where they may be recovering from surgery and need six to eight weeks."
Tamara Hart has been fostering kittens with her children for years, and her medical background has allowed her to take on some of those special cases that others may not be ready to handle.
"The kids do a lot of the work too," she said. "They help with bathtimes, they help feed, they do the cuddling and the cleaning. It's a burden for someone to feed a kitten every two hours, but they take turns to give me a break. It's become a family affair."
Her family isn't the only one who has been using fostering as an opportunity to bring the family together. Geoff Richardson and his wife Noel are on kittens number 17 and 18 now, with just about nine months under their belt.
"We all feel like life has been turned upside down," Geoff said. "The one thing that can bring you back to the present moment is a kitten, or a puppy, a small animal in need of your help. It brings gratitude back into your life when you're feeling pretty sorry for yourself and others' circumstances."