Story by Bella Wexler Photos by Candice Eaton
It’s not easy to open your home to a stranger, especially during a global pandemic. But these days, many are finding it harder to resist—at least when those strangers walk in on four legs with wagging tails and soulful, “puppy-dog” eyes. In a time when receding into our houses for months is not only socially acceptable, but conditionally mandated, people across the country are rising to the occasion by taking homeless pets with them. Animal rescues are seeing unprecedented waves of foster applications, teenagers are trying their hands at temporary pet parenting, and once overflowing shelter kennels are bare for the very first time.
But why flock to take on the responsibility of a foster pet during such a stressful time? For one thing, animals can provide some much needed comfort in the face of uncertainty. There has undoubtedly been significant societal upheaval as a result of COVID-19, landing much distress on the shoulders of Arizonans these past few months. Teenagers confined to their homes by school closures have found fostering to be an excellent means of combatting boredom and isolation.
This is the case for Shira Dubin, a University High School student who recently took in a foster dog named Luna for three weeks. Shira chose to see her time at home as an opportunity to “be able to take care of a dog’s every want and need”. Having fostered three puppies with her family a few years ago, she was thrilled to spend her extra free time at home caring for Luna. “By fostering and adopting out a dog, you are able to help someone who is maybe going through a hard time or someone who just wants a friend,” Shira notes. It is sad for Shira to watch her foster pets leave once they have been adopted, “but the happiness shines so brightly that it makes you want to do it over and over again,” she says. It is an incredibly rewarding experience on both ends.
Shira Dubin isn’t the only teen with her hands full of Summer foster pets. Lily Wexler is a 19-year-old University of Arizona student who has been fostering pets since she was very young. When the COVID-19 pandemic made it too dangerous for her to return to her Summer job as an advocate for campers with special needs at the Jewish Community Center, Lily chose to take on a new job from her bedroom. Lily welcomed a pregnant foster dog named Olive through the local In the Arms of Angels pet rescue. Within a few weeks, Olive had given birth to six puppies that Lily had been caring for until they were eight weeks old and ready to find a forever home. “It’s a lot of work and it’s stressful,” Lily admits, “but having this responsibility definitely helps me learn and grow as a person”. Lily also struggles with anxiety and finds that devoting herself to foster care during this pandemic has really lightened her mood.
Many others have applied to foster at this time to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on shelter and rescue systems. Animals in foster care through The Animal League of Green Valley used to make up a very small portion of the shelter’s pets. Only a handful of dogs and very few cats (excluding the occasional young litter) were ever fostered before being adopted according to organization president, Kim Eisele.
Once the pandemic hit, however, the shelter was swarmed with two to three times the number of foster applications that they normally saw. These offers from concerned members of the community came in addition to those of regular shelter volunteers. In fact, the attention was so overwhelming that TALGV found themselves turning people away. “Unfortunately, we did not have enough dogs to fit all of their desires,” says Eisele, “but the outpouring of love to help our animals was very exciting”.
As an avid foster parent herself, Kim Eisele knows firsthand how significant the benefits of lending one’s home to an animal in need can be. On the one hand, “it is extremely gratifying”. She and her husband fostered a litter of kittens for eight weeks once, finding the experience to be a true highlight of their marriage. “Watching them grow and learn and play was so much fun!” she recalls. Her tendency to fall in love with her foster pets and ultimately adopt them has made her somewhat of a “foster failure”, though. To date, she has adopted five of her prior fosters: two dogs and three kittens.
Besides the irresistible affection that fostering brings to the human caregivers, there are also many benefits for the pets, too. Kim Eisele mentions that fostering has been known to have “a very positive impact on the pet’s adoptability”. Spending time in someone’s home provides excellent insight into the animal’s personality, behavioral qualities, and compatibility with different environments, pets, and people.
Take Bo, for example. Bo is a six-year-old, brown spotted pit bull terrier who loves nothing more than a good run, trip to the mall, and eager belly rub. After being returned to the Humane Society of Southern Arizona by his first adopters for not getting along with their other pets, it became clear that Bo would need to find a home wherein he could be the only dog.
Bo was originally brought to the Humane Society of Southern Arizona towards the end of 2019. After receiving some medical care to remedy his injuries from past abuse, Bo met Frank Ribeiro, a volunteer who would become one of his most loyal devotees. Frank immediately fell in love with Bo’s affectionate, energetic demeanor.
Bo faced significant trauma in his life before being rescued, triggering his fear-driven apprehension towards other dogs.
However, compassionate humans in his life have never been the targets of these reactions. Bo was even brought to Ruff House Training and Behavioral Modification to assess his ability to be a thriving and safe household pet. He quickly won over the business owners, Crystal and Michael Blaker. Without other dogs around, Bo was known for happily flopping over at the sight of the Blakers’ six-year-old daughter, Lauren, to allow her to smother him with cuddles and pets on his freckled belly. Needless to say, Bo passed the Ruff House Training exams with flying colors.
It was while he was training in this facility that Bo stole the heart of Linda Grissom, his next guardian angel. “I was amazed,” Linda said of her first meeting with Bo; “he warmed up to me right away”. Linda and her husband Tom are Humane Society donors and all-around animal lovers. She and Frank connected over their shared love of Bo and have since joined forces to advocate on his behalf.
In the absence of any forthcoming foster families who don’t already have other dogs at home, Linda and Frank have been working tirelessly to sustain Bo’s boarding at Sol Dog Lodge and Training Center. “He actually has a fan club,” Linda says in reference to the many Humane Society of Southern Arizona volunteers who pay Bo frequent visits. At Sol Dog, Bo’s visitors treat him to some well-needed socialization, long walks, and windowshopping!
Every week, Linda brings him along for a walk at the Tucson Mall to gain more public exposure. Aptly named “Bo’s shopping day”, Tuesdays are a great time for Bo’s curiosity and approachability to shine through. The added exercise has also proven to be a good way to make up for his strong appetite. When Frank brought a steak as a special treat for him, Bo gobbled it up in fifteen seconds flat! Bo is now at a healthy weight, though, thanks to his long walks, playful running, and an occasional visit to the Humane Society of Southern Arizona New Beginnings agility yard!
Bo is an affectionate, energetic dog in need of a full-time foster family or adopter in a one dog household. As shelters and rescues are flooded with eager fosters with specific requests, we must remember the animals in our community who are most desperate, just as Linda and Frank have been doing to provide for Bo this year. Bo is still waiting to be someone’s perfect dog and qualifying fosters/adopters should not be deterred by his past trauma and resulting intolerance for other dogs. At the end of the day, Bo has proven to be very loving and deserving of a forever home; it’s up to our community to find one for him.
Over the past few months, we have been forced to find unity six feet apart and emotional connectivity through surgical masks. Rather than use social distancing as an excuse to dissociate from others in need, Arizonan animal lovers have used it as an opportunity to connect. We have offered sanctuary to homeless pets at record high rates despite the uncertainties of our own futures; teens like Shira and Lily have remedied anxiety and boredom with volunteer care for animals in need; shelter volunteers such as those at The Animal League of Green Valley have worked tirelessly to continue adoptions and pair foster families with ideal foster pets; and community members like Frank and Linda have refused to allow vulnerable dogs like Bo to be left behind over time.
Social distancing has drawn community values into focus for Arizonans, and at the forefront of these are empathy and patience. We’ve come a long way to support homeless animals during this time of unprecedented need. But there’s still a long way to go. Loving pets like Bo are still waiting for an ideal foster family and forever home. If you haven’t already, please open your home to a stranger on four legs. You may be surprised by the life altering connections you can build even while social distancing.
For more information about applying to foster or adopt Bo, please text Frank Ribeiro at 520-309-1634
For information about volunteering, fostering, and/or adopting pets through The Animal League of Green Valley, please visit http://www.talgv.org