Serving Animals: Changing the Face of Foster Care

Foster care programs place special-needs animals in temporary homes to receive hands-on care until they become healthy and adoptable.

By Susan Easterly | Posted: Fri May 18 00:00:00 PDT 2001

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By late afternoon on the day he was found, Jasper had a belly full of kitten milk-replacement formula and was resting comfortably. Four other filled bellies piled around him like a round, furry jigsaw puzzle. Jasper wasn't crying now. He slept in a warm nest, safe in the home of a foster family trained to care for needy kittens.

Fostering is not an easy job and not everyone can do it, Villalon said.

"In our foster program we look for people who want to take their compassion and put it to work. We call it 'active compassion,' people who are willing to get their hearts broken when a kitten they foster doesn't make it or maybe because it does make it, because then you have to let go and say goodbye," she said.

Foster parent volunteers are also provided with some attention as well. The Boulder shelter recently conducted an information-sharing foster care survey of 18 animal shelters across the country. Although no national standard for foster care exists, many of the groups the shelter surveyed have developed comprehensive levels of support and training that challenge volunteers "to raise the bar" and learn new animal care skills. One organization even provides volunteers with the opportunity to be part of a fostered cat's life after it is adopted; other groups offer regular grief counseling sessions or support groups.

In addition, many foster parents discover they are the best adoption counselors for their fostered cats, Villalon said. They know the ir kittens' personalities and habits and often accompany them back to the shelter to help adopt them out during busy adoption days. Many cats in Boulder are placed by their foster families and never return to the shelter, she said.

In its leadership role, the Boulder shelter recently began a mentor program by providing a resource list of shelter experts for volunteers who need help or answers to questions and held a workshop to teach shelter staffs how to set up effective foster care programs during the American Humane Association's conference in Minneapolis last October.

Cut to seven weeks later: Jasper, mischievous, healthy and neutered, graduates from foster care into the humane society's adoption program. In seemingly record time, he catches the attention of a loving family. Jasper is adopted and goes to his new home.

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