Saturday, July 30, 2011

Top Ten Reasons to Foster an Animal: Reason # 5

Reason # 5: When you foster a dog or cat through an animal rescue organization you instantly become a part of a large network of other people who share your comittment to helping animals. Maybe this sounds like a no-brainer, but I can't descibe how good it has felt to know I am not alone. Let me put that another way: It feels a lot better to be a crazy pit bull lady rather than the crazy pit bull lady. When you're a part of this community you've got back up.

No one can do animal rescue on their own for long. It's too emotionally taxing, unpredictable, and sometimes downright hard. I have been so lucky to find myself volunteerig with two organizations made up of dynamic, devoted, hard-working people. Is there sometimes drama, crisis, and dischord? Yep. But I know that I always have a network of competent people there to help in a pinch.

Whenever I bring home a new foster dog I find myself saying to them "Don't worry. You've got people now." The same goes for me. Thank you to CBBR and Hyde Park Cats for letting me be a part of such a badass community of good people.

Pictured: CBBR volunteers Carole (with Tiwi), Bree (with Teddie, who is still adoptable), and Director Carolyn.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Top 10 Reasons to Foster an Animal: #6

 Reason #6: Fostering an animal can be a wonderful experience for your resident creature(s). Our resident canine princess, Beatrice, is an outstanding dog in many ways. But she has had struggles getting along with some other dogs. God bless her. She’s a gamey pit bull who lives to play, so she can be a bit much for dogs who, for instance, don’t love to be tackled 29 times a day and/or have their ears and feet pulled during a wrestling match. She’s not a dog park dog, and she’s an only child, so her opportunities to play with dogs could have been very limited.

But when she was a year and a half old, we began fostering dogs through CBBR.  It was the second best thing we ever did for our dog. (The first was taking her to really excellent training classes.) As we slowly introduced one new dog after the next into our home, we watched Bea’s overwhelming, spazzy joy at meeting new dogs turn into something altogether different. Our crazy dog became a mentor. We didn’t teach her. She just had it in her to slowly assess what each new foster dog needed from her and then provide it. With happy-go-lucky pups she too was happy-go-lucky and let them crawl all over her. With dominant Scarlett she was attentive, slow, and respectful. With terrified, shut down Rosemary (now Betsy Biscuit) she was a reassuring best friend.  Without fail, she has taught our foster dogs how to enjoy life again.
Because we shared our home with so many needy dogs, Beatrice has not only gotten the socialization she craved, but has become a rescuer in her own right.  I will never forget the day I first let her meet Rosemary. After we found her dumped on an 8 lane highway, she had been curled up in her crate 24 hours. She trusted me, but she was terrified of the world. She commando crawled wherever she went. After some careful planning, I allowed Beatrice to approach Rosemary’s crate. I stood back to watch their body language. Bea moved slowly into a play bow. Rosemary stretched forward to sniff her. They almost appeared to be whispering to each other. And then Rosemary stood all the way up for the first time and wagged her whole body. I started to cry like the mush ball that I am because it couldn’t have been clearer that Bea had simply told her that everything was going to be okay.
Pictured from top to bottom: Delilah and Bea, babyLinus chewing on Bea's face, and Betsy Biscuit and Bea having a post-adoption playdate.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Top 10 Reasons to Foster an Animal in Need: #7

Dear readers, today I treat you to Reason #7, brought to you by cat rescuer and mom extraordinaire, expert blogger, and Hyde Park Cats Founding member, Terren.  Enjoy.

Reason #7: I have two little girls, currently five and a half  and three and a half. We are a foster family for Hyde Park Cats.  My girls have fostered Talullah, Rainbow, Poe, Lemon, Afikomen, Honey, Apples, Oatmeal, Eemo and Gomo, and some other kittens I think I am blocking out. We’ve named those kittens too!

Fostering an animal teaches children many lessons. Some are obvious – the responsibility of feeding one’s cat – and others less so. Our current foster cat is teaching us about patience. It has taken months to get her to this stage, but now she will let my older daughter pick her up and snuggle her. The satisfaction of the long-anticipated goal! The sense of accomplishment! The pride of a job well done!

Sometimes people suggest it must be so difficult for my girls to say good-bye to their foster animals, but in truth, it is not. The key is preparation from me: the girls understand the cats are going to their “ever homes,” and they are proud of themselves for helping rescue cats. We have pictures of all our fostered cats, and we reminisce about them. We know where they went, and sometimes we even get updates. We have a funny picture of grown-up Rainbow sprawled all over a Legoland city, where once she fit into our dollhouse’s living room.

In fact, my girls know they’re part of a community effort. Mama rescues cats. Mama has cat-rescue friends. And we rescue cats!  We marched in the Fourth of the July parade with our friends and the Hyde Park Cats banner, and we felt pride.

Once I took my girls to the Animal Welfare League’s intake facility. When we came to the front door, a metal grate through which one must be buzzed, my little one asked, “Is this jail?”

Children are perceptive. They can see a building with no windows and with bars is jail, even if it’s for animals. They see the desperation, fury, and despair of an animal in a cage. They see the fear and the desire in a stray dog’s eyes. They see it and they want desperately to help. So I let my children help.

On that same trip my older one found one little kitten by itself in a cage, quiet and depressed. She insisted we take it home. At 5:30 pm that kitten was in a corner of a cage in a back room of a kill facility. At 8:30 pm that kitten was asleep in my daughter’s arms. And my daughter was asleep too, clutching the life she had saved. She went to bed that night after she had helped bathe and feed that kitten, and towel it dry, and set up its food and water and litterbox. She felt proud of herself for doing something to right the world, for performing a small act of tikkun olam (“repairing the world”).

And that’s the 7th reason to foster: to give your children the opportunity to do something real to make the world a better place. My girls make me proud every day with their efforts. It’s the world they will live in, and they’re shaping it for the better of all of us animals.

Pictured Above: Devoted and adorable young cat rescuers Lilah and Solja with some very lucky and well-loved kitties. If you can handle the cuteness, click here.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Top 10 Reasons to Foster an Animal: Reason #8

Reason #8: When you foster one animal in need you are really saving two. Sort of. Let me explain. Animal shelters and local pounds are always filled to capacity. This overpopulation of abused, neglected, and unwanted pets means that shelters have only two options: Find new homes for these pets or kill them. (I say “kill” here and not “euthanize” because I do not agree that the killing of an animal who is not acutely suffering is—as the etymology of the word euthanasia suggests—a “good” death.) The majority of pounds and shelters are underfunded, understaffed, and doing the best they can to be kind under often horrific circumstances. Chicago Animal Care and Control, for example, killed 12,544 of the 36,777 animals arriving there in 2008. (See Companion Animals and Chicago Communities: A Strategic Assessment for the City of Chicago, 2010 for a very detailed and sobering report on the problem. ).  Of the lucky dogs and cats who make it out alive, the majority are “pulled” by a private rescue group or another shelter, many of whom rely primarily on foster homes. 

So, why does fostering one animal save two? Well, when you volunteer to foster a dog or cat through an animal rescue organization you obviously save the life of the critter who will be staying with your family.  But you also open up a precious cage or kennel space at the pound where another unwanted animal can stay alive a little bit longer. Though my experiences with various front-line urban shelters have been mixed, I have never met an animal control officer who wanted to have to kill a dog or cat. It has to be among the hardest jobs in the world, and most ACOs are thrilled when a rescue contacts them—sometimes at the very last moment—to say they have found a foster home for a “death row” dog or cat. I have seen shelter workers cry tears of joy and relief when I arrived to pick up a favorite death row dog. I can only imagine the joy and relief the animals must feel. 

Pictured here: Before and after pics of Scarlett, a "death row" pit bull from Gary, Indiana who lived with us for four happy months before succumbing to immune mediated hemolytic anemia. Thanks to CBBR, she left this world having known love, care, and comfort. Indeed, Miss Scarlett never went hungry again.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Top Ten Reasons to Foster an Animal in Need: #9

 Reason #9: Fostering is an excellent way to learn more about dogs and cats.  Most people who have a cat or dog know something about the species and how to care for them.  For example, after a year of raising Beatrice, our spectacularly attentive, sensitive, and hyperactive pit bull, we knew a good bit about training and caring for a dog. Sort of. We sought out help from a fantastic professional trainer, and did a lot of reading. But we mostly just knew a lot about our dog. 

As we began to foster other dogs we realized just how much we didn’t know. Every animal we have cared for has taught us something new. Fostering pups taught us a lot about assessing temperament. Scarlett the pit bull taught us about dog hierarchy and how packs work. Fostering Kitty Feathers taught us about kitty midwifery—and that the emergency vet is really expensive. They have all taught us patience. If you are willing to learn from the critters who come into your life, fostering dogs and cats can help you build expertise as an animal caretaker.  

Pictured: Frances (mewing), Pirate (aka Pascal), and beloved alley-mom Kitty Feathers.

Monday, July 25, 2011

10 Reasons to Foster an Animal in Need--Part 1

My partner Matt and I have finally lost count of the number of dogs and cats who have temporarily called our house home in the last five years. If you know us you probably know it started with the alley cats who kept turning up on our back porch hungry and ready to trade their freewheelin' ways for the safety of a real home. Cats were our gateway drug. After adopting our beloved Beatrice from Chicagoland Bully Breed Rescue in 2008, we quickly added dogs to our rotating cast of characters, too.

In celebration of five years of sharing our house with creatures who needed us, I have compiled a list of the top 10 reasons to foster a dog or cat. You get one every day, complete with a photo of one of our foster kids. Ready?

Reason Number 10: Having stained carpet makes you a better person. Seriously. When we first bought our pristine new condo I would have shuddered to think of all the pee I'd be cleaning up. And I did shudder the first couple of times someone made a mess in the guest room. And then I just cleaned it up. The truth is that when I think back on all of our animal guests, there's not one of them whose life was not worth a little mess. As we get ready to replace the carpet in our bedrooms, I keep thinking what a small price to pay for the memories of our animal friends who are loved and cared for today because I trusted that creatures are more valuable than things.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Rotterrier needs our help!

A lot of really wonderful dogs have gotten a new start at life after being dumped in Washington Park. (Remember Red and Rainey the "island dogs," Lil' Brother the pit bull, Tish the Boston, and of course Answer the supermutt?) This fellow appears to have been dumped, too. Matt and I encountered him on Wednesday as we walked Bea and Irene near the lagoon. He was resting in the tall grass, and all you could see was his head. When I sat down near him he walked right over. We couldn't bring him in, so we brought him dinner and started making calls to find him a placement. The next morning Matt thought he saw him reunited with his owner, but alas, this must have been some other dog. Yesterday he was found in the park by Laura, who contacted friends with Hyde Park Cats who contacte me. After keeping him safe last night, Laura had to relinquish him to Animal Welfare League this afternoon where he will at least be safe from cars and mean people.

This is a truly unique looking dog. He is shaped just like a Rottie, but he has adorable wire hair on his face and back like an Irish terrier or airedale. He's darling. He is understandably timid, but has a calm energy. He did not seem to care about my dogs when we passed him in the park.

While this dog is very temporarily safe at AWL, his prospects are not good unless someone steps up to foster him. CBBR would be happy to pull him if we have a firm commitment from a responsible, experienced dog person who is willing to provide Rottie Man with a loving home until he is adopted. If you think you're up to the task, please fill out an application to foster at  If you are with another rescue, please know that Hyde Park Cats has offered to contribute toward this fellow's vet care/neuter. This dog can be visited at AWL's intake facility, but--as is their policy with all dogs--can only be pulled by a rescue group.

Please share this post with others who might be able to help.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Humans, humanity, humaneness.

Human(e). This has to be the most ironic and Sapiens-centric word in the English language. To be kind, compassionate, or merciful is certainly neither specific to nor generally characteristic of us bipeds. In fact, it seems we have the most well developed taste for cruelty on the planet. We love to talk about our acts of humaneness in relation to animals--perhaps because it's easier to be merciful to a beast than to one another. Or is it? Check out the attached article on a group of US soldiers and their families who raised money to transport their adopted Afghan camp dogs back to the US. We are supposed to marvel at the cruelty of the Afghan person who cut off this dog's ears and then marvel at the kindness of the soldiers who have come to love this dog. But quick reminder: the soldiers are there to kill other humans and anything else that gets in the way. Americans back home still routinely chop off their dogs' ears because some people think it looks tough. Why do we need tortured animals to tell ourselves these stories about our own human(e)ness? To be human is only sometimes to be humane. To forgive, to serve, to protect--that may be most purely canine.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Hello, blogosphere!

What do you say when no one is listening? Anything you want. How about a poem:

Pit Bulls in Bed
                --for Scarlett and Bea

always moving--glowing souls in rippling muscle
when I stir they stir. heating the mattress pressing their ribs against mine
sticky mouths chewing in sleep
as cows do as babies suckle
gargoyles friends
the warm condensation of cruel myth
one ear fixed toward the door
no evil has ever crossed this threshold
nor will it.