While I don’t foster dogs regularly, because my husband lives here, and sadly, gets a vote, it seems like fall is my season to pick up strays off the side of the road. Last year, it was Daisy, an emaciated, sick mom with 8 very healthy puppies. This year, it’s Asher. The vet suspects that he developed mange in his original home and was turned out for it. Before I saw him and picked him up, neighbors say he’d been wandering around for at least 2 weeks, clearly in need of help. The fear of getting involved is why he went so long without it.
I’m going to need to start by admitting some privilege. I’m a home owner with a fenced yard, and enough extra income to pick up a stray dog and take him directly to the vet without worrying too much about the bills. My bosses and husband are animal lovers, so any inconvenience I cause is quickly forgiven. I do have the resources to help, but so did many of the people who had reported seeing him. Bigger than the problem of a lack of resources is the fear of getting involved. People fear that calling Animal Services will get a stray killed, so they don’t do that, but, often, they don’t intervene in any other way. Is the animal dangerous? He looks like he could be a pit bull, will he hurt my dogs? Will he be expensive? Is he house trained? Is he contagious? Will I have to keep him? It’s scary to help a stray.
For the specifics in this case, Asher is not contagious, except for some intestinal worms that are killed by my brand of heartworm preventative. He has demodex mange, which is an overgrowth of a mite that naturally lives on the skin of all dogs. It’s common in some breeds before their immune system is fully developed or in very old age. We think he’s a Shar-Pei/Pit mix, and those are both on the list. Treatment isn’t expensive or difficult, and once he’s about 18 months old, he probably won’t have it again. Because his was untreated, and he was living without food and in a damp, dirty environment, he’s developed bacterial and fungal secondary infections. He also had hookworms, which can severely deplete a healthy dog, but are very dangerous to an undernourished and immunosuppressed dog. He’s on medication for the secondary infections, and has recently recovered enough to start mange treatment. It will take about 6-8 weeks for his hair to grow back, but just regular meals have already made some improvements.
Looking at his overly long nails, it was clear that he was used to living inside, but he has had a few accidents in the house. The combination of recovery from starvation, antibiotics, and wormer aren’t kind to the stomach, so that was expected. It was on the linoleum, and easily cleaned up. He’s very friendly to people, and he likes my dogs, but mostly he sleeps and heals right now. I’ve got him in his own little area with a bed and food and water, and he’s as content as he could be. Dogs recovering from extended starvation are a little spacy, so it’s best if they have a nice, quiet space to recover and let their brains and bodies turn back on.
His vet bill was less than many people pay for their cable/internet package. The vet gave me a discount without my asking, because most of them want to help animals in Asher’s condition, and I already knew the vet that the rescues use for the best prices. Even though I can afford it, I’ve been given money towards his expenses and offered more. I’ve already had a couple of people interested in adopting him, and an offer to foster him if we aren’t able to anymore. I got all of this just from update posts on Facebook. I’m not at all worried about placing him when he’s well, and I didn’t have any trouble placing Daisy and her puppies last year, though two of them did get placed at my house. Once someone takes the first step, most people want to help. I haven’t even had to ask for it.
Let’s say that you don’t have my resources, but you still want to help. Getting an animal adoption organization to notice your animal when they’re flooded with calls for help can be a challenge. After years of volunteering, these are my tips to get your animal on the VIP list. You don’t have to take the first “No” for an answer, if you’re able and willing to offer a little extra.
The key is to remember that while these people want to help animals in need, they are people. Most of them will be unpaid volunteers with families, jobs, their own pets, current fosters, and all the other things that keep people busy. People who want to be helpful are most likely to be helped in turn.
If you can foster, but you don’t have the money for expenses, you’ll likely be able to find an organization to fund you. Be honest about how long you’re going to be able to foster, and then stick to it. Foster homes are hard to find, and if you call and demand that they take the animal last minute, it has to go to someone’s house. They can’t afford to inconvenience regular volunteers for a one-time foster. The constant drag of last-minute calls to go get an animal burns many fosters out, and the organizations know it.
If you can’t foster, remember that most/all of these organizations are in debt to the vet’s office. Often, they owe the vet thousands of dollars. If you offer a big donation with your animal, someone will move him to the top of the intake list. If you can’t afford it, try setting up a little collection. This works especially well with healthy and vetted animals. In my experience, the adoption fee covers basic medical care and maybe $10 more. That’s shots, altering, and parasite control. The rescue “makes money” on a few animals that have already had these things, but they get a lot more that need surgery for untreated infections or injuries, heartworm treatment, and other issues. That doesn’t include food, litter, toys, beds, crates, and the millions of other things abandoned pets need. Money talks when you’re looking at those expenses.
If you absolutely can’t get your animal into an organization, they’ll still often be able to share some of their resources with you. They may be able to share their vet discount, or let you use their adoption services. Sometimes, they’ll be able to offer donated items, such as food or toys. This can be a life saver in the case of formula for infant animals without a mom. When I bottle fed a litter of 6 lab-mix puppies, they drank hundreds of dollars of formula over 6 weeks. I couldn’t have done it without the rescue providing formula, and they were able to get the donations by advertising the need during their regular adoption events.
Remember that the phones and e-mails are staffed by volunteers who probably have full time jobs. It may take some time to return your call, but be persistent. If you’re using e-mail, have pictures at the top, right away, so there is no way to avoid them. When you’re flooded with requests for help, a picture to tug the heartstrings doesn’t hurt. If they have an in-person event, it might be worth it to talk to someone directly. Even if they can’t help, they may be able to call someone higher in the organization for you. Be polite buy persistent, and someone will help you.
Once Asher is ready for adoption, I’ll be posting about him again. I hope I’ve taken some of the mystery away for people who have never fostered or who have always been afraid to take the first step. Now that I’ve got him, there are so many people who admit that they wanted to help him. If everyone who can does a tiny bit when they see a pet suffering, it doesn’t have to continue. Don’t be afraid to help.