Story by Rebecca West, Photos Courtesy of Julia Ewer, Oana Stratman and Alex Byler
“Saving an animal’s life or making a difference for them is an amazing feeling and such a fulfilling experience!”
Each year thousands of pets are surrendered or picked up as strays in Pima County. While they’re cared for by the many animal rescues and shelters in the area, long-term stays in these facilities are not conducive to optimal mental health. Recognizing this, Maddie’s Fund began conducting a stress study in 2021 to examine the correlation between stress levels of animals in shelters versus those in foster care. So far, the study confirms that animals fare better in private homes.
We asked Tucson fosterers about their experiences and queried the facilities they assist with an eye toward providing readers with a thumbnail sketch of the kinds of people who foster while highlighting the impact these behind-the-scenes heroes have on the community. Here’s what we learned.
Originally from Romania, Oana works as a registered nurse and lives with her family, four “perfect dogs” (three resident, one foster), and a senior cat. Fostering for two years, she frequently works with PACC, where she’s fostered five dogs. When asked how she got her start and what the best part was, she shared this:
“I changed to a non-bedside/non-hospital job just as the pandemic was ramping up. I felt extremely guilty about not being able to contribute to the community by taking care of patients, so I wanted to find a different way of giving back. The way these pups help me be a better human (dog mom, wife, daughter) — they impact my overall conscience in such a deep way. I learn a great deal from my foster dogs. They teach me patience, grit, resilience, resourcefulness, and they fuel my creativity in ways that no human can.”
Regarding her favorite memory, it’s her first foster pup Anna walking again for the first time. She wants potential fosters to know that fostering is a selfless and very important commitment. Most foster dogs require a lot of time and patience initially, and the first few days are always a bit challenging. Also, choose your foster animal very carefully and ensure that slow, careful introductions are done with other animals in the home. Don’t rush the process.
“For PACC, fosters and volunteers are the reason we’re able to save as many animals as we do. The shelter has a 92% Live Release Rate because people in Pima County always step up to help.
Currently, we have about 600 pets in the shelter with around 1,200 pets in foster care. That’s 1,200 animals who aren’t housed at the shelter because people were willing to take them in. This allows us to focus on the pets that really need our help. There is always a need for all kinds of fosters. We need medical fosters, large dog fosters, ringworm fosters, neonatal fosters… the list goes on.
Pets in foster care tend to be more relaxed, and in turn they heal faster if they were sick or injured. While we have an amazing state-of-the-art facility, we understand that it’s still a stressful environment for them. We do our best, but the best place for a pet is with a loving human. That’s why we are so grateful for the people who foster PACC Pets.” Nikki Reck, Public Information Officer at PACC
“I’ve always wanted to help out with rescue work, and fostering was a great way for me to do that, especially when I was younger. It’s still one of the easiest ways for me to help. I couldn’t do what I do without my parents’ support. They’re always helping, whether it be picking up a new foster, driving us to appointments, or just helping me care for them.”
After fostering on and off for years, Julia has consistently fostered dogs since 2019. To date, she and her family have welcomed 14 dogs into their home for PACC, Cherished Tails, Lucy’s Hope, and a few others. Looking after one to four dogs at a time, her favorite part is seeing the animals blossom, but she acknowledged that fostering can be a lot of work, especially at first. You’re welcoming a dog into your home who has no idea what’s happening. When asked about her fondest foster memories, many of them included milestones for the dogs coming out of their shells, trusting, and playing without fear.
We wondered what she’d like people who are considering fostering to know, and she told us:
“Fostering can be so rewarding, but it’s not a walk in the park. Start slow and never be afraid to ask for help. You’re constantly learning and adapting, and it’s okay to admit that a certain foster pet may be too much to handle. Plus, new dogs don’t always know you’re trying to help and may try to run.”
Lucy’s Hope Sanctuary & Rescue
“Lucy’s Hope Sanctuary & Rescue is dedicated to the mission of giving second chances to the most vulnerable dogs in communities and county shelters. Our ability to deliver on this mission hinges on the availability of safe and loving homes for these dogs to decompress and flourish. Our dedicated and caring fosters are the cornerstones of the work that we set out to do every day, and without them, many dogs would never get that second chance.” Ben Garagozloo,
“I’ve always helped animals in need since I was little, but after college with my first job at a no-kill shelter, I realized it’s the rescue and rehab aspect that is my true passion. In Tucson, a random plea on Facebook for bottle-baby fosters got my attention, and it felt right to apply. From there, it’s only opened many amazing doors.”
Alex has been fostering for seven years while balancing her work life with her passion for animal rescue. Nearly four of those years have been spent in Tucson, where she’s the co-founder, board member, social media coordinator, and a foster mom for Southern Arizona Cat Rescue. It’s a 501c3 nonprofit, 100% volunteer and foster-home-based feline rescue that takes in “all types of kitties!” Since starting in Tucson, she’s fostered 120 animals, and before that, 50 or so through her old shelter job. On average, she fosters six cats at a time, sometimes more.
Like Julia, her favorite part is the transformations. Receiving a tiny, sick kitten near death’s door and helping to provide the best TLC possible all the way to the end of their foster journey and on to their forever home is the greatest. Regarding fostering, she wants people to just “Do it!” and pointed out many rescues have different options to work with your lifestyle and provide resources at no cost. It’s bittersweet, but saving an animal and having them find a forever home makes everything worthwhile.
“Personally, fostering helps my mental health. There’s nothing like being down or feeling stressed and a kitten coming over to your lap for love and just taking a few minutes to breathe while snuggling and petting them. They can bring laughs and love to your life every day. On the flip side, becoming overwhelmed from wanting to save them all and burnout is real.”
“As far as our rescue, the Southern Arizona Cat Rescue, we wouldn’t survive and save as many lives as we do without fosters, as we’re completely foster-home based. We believe this sets us apart from other rescues. And our volunteers love that they can be a big part of the adoption process by choosing the potential adopters themselves and see their babies off.”
One thing that everyone we spoke with agreed upon is that it’s very important to listen to and follow all instructions when fostering to keep the animals safe/healthy while under your care. They also admitted that the animals can occasionally cause minor damage, but for anyone with pets, this should come as no surprise. The other unanimous response was that resources are abundant, with a village of support from other fosterers who are really good at supporting each other, and that there’s a pool of information with people always willing to help. That includes the shelters/rescues. Lastly, it’s totally worth it.
So, what do you say? Could fostering be in your future?