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The Dog Days of 2020: A fostering frenzy takes over Seattle

While humans have struggled these past weeks, our furry friends seem to be living their best lives. There's cheerful news surrounding one thriving community: Foster dogs.

SEATTLE HUMANE

Bellevue-based nonprofit Seattle Humane, self-described as "Puget Sound's leader in animal adoption, education, and welfare," has witnessed a significant surge in interest. They've fielded about 1,100 inquiries; pre-pandemic, their foster network already consisted of about 900 people.

"We certainly were not the only animal shelter hearing from folks wanting to use their time WFH to help with fostering in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic," said Social Media Coordinator Brandon Macz.

At this point, Seattle Humane's 200 or so animals have been matched with foster families, where they'll stay until finding permanent homes via a new adoption-by-appointment system.

"We moved our animals out of the shelter to limit the staff needed on campus at any one time," explained Macz. "And also to be ready in case we were ordered by the state to close. But we've been fortunate so far that we are considered an essential business/organization due to our lifesaving work."

Many families have been involved for years; in fact, one dedicated returnee told Macz she was on her ninetieth (!) animal.

"They are currently sending us amazing information about their shelter pets that we are using to punch up their pet profiles, to give prospective adopters as much information possible to find their perfect match!"

Although they've expanded their network, Macz said they're currently focused on on-boarding applicants without children and other animals, since that leads to the ideal setting for some larger dogs who weren't properly socialized early on.

DOG GONE SEATTLE

Dog Gone Seattle, a local nonprofit dedicated to saving homeless dogs in high kill shelters in Washington and beyond, has also experienced spiked interest. Founder and Director Jenny Nordin explained they might typically receive one to two applications a day, with around 20 percent actually following through.

Currently, they're receiving about 10 to 20 applications daily. Although they're also taking in as many dogs as they can (things have not slowed down at shelters they work with in other states), she said they're about 10 to 14 days behind from when they first receive a foster application. Also, since they can't rely on flights right now, they must wait on ground transportation to get the dogs here.

Dog Gone Seattle has had to change many processes to limit human interaction; signs now hang in windshields to match dogs to new foster parents upon pick-up. Nordin talked about how even vets have adapted with curbside service.

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"We're learning as we go," she said. Typically first-time dog owners would be considered, yet there's too much else going on to help with training. She suggested those candidates check back in a couple of weeks when things have hopefully calmed down.

And even though the organization might be inundated with applications, Nordin said, "It's good to have the conversation anyway." She fears many people think that in order to foster, you must be home all the time and able to dedicate 100% of your energy; in reality, dogs need some time to chill when they first come out of shelters.

"Fostering isn't something that should feel so inaccessible," she said. Nordin remains hopeful folks will consider getting involved later, too.

FOSTER FEEDBACK

Jennie Grus's initial instinct when the pandemic struck was, "How can we help?"

Since she's already a Seattle Humane volunteer, she said it was a no-brainer to take in Buddy (a two-year-old Shepherd mix). When the shelter was forced to adapt to "flattening the curve" measures, she wanted to lessen the staff's load.

"I adapted as well," Grus said, "and instead of going in for my weekly shift to walk and socialize dogs, I chose to volunteer safely from my home and give a dog a chance to have time outside of the shelter environment before adoption."

Grus knows animals have the power to heal—and adding another one to her household felt "mutually beneficial." She's loved watching Buddy come out of his shell and give so much love in return. Would Grus recommend that others foster?

"Absolutely," she replied. "While it does require work (all dogs do), the payoff is huge, for both human and dog."

Kelly Campbell recently fostered Pippa, a 1-year-old pitbull mix.

"You're helping to share your love with another dog that may have had less fortunate experiences in life," she said.

Campbell went through the Seattle Humane's online foster application in early March and called the process very seamless. Since all the training modules are online, once she completed the training, she was ready to foster. Yet, she said, "Because the Seattle Humane did such an incredible job moving pets out to foster homes due to COVID-19, there actually weren't any dogs waiting to be fostered."

Thankfully, she connected with Pippa's other foster family through a Facebook group, since they needed help for a few days. Campbell has been pleased by the access to dog supplies, if needed, the commitment of the foster community to their pets' health, wellness, and happiness and the responsiveness of Seattle Humane Society in the midst of such high traffic.

"I was also impressed with how much the SHS vetted Pippa with our family prior to letting us take her home. They are committed to supporting a positive foster experience for both the pet and foster parent," she said.

Campbell has found such joy in having a dog in the house again. During this time of serious stress and uncertainty," she said, "there is something very calming about having a pet in your house. Plus, it forces you to be active and go on walks. It's a win-win for everyone."

"I definitely recommend," Campbell commented, "but be warned that you might become a #fosterfail." This means you may fall so deeply in love with your temporary dog, that you choose to give it a forever home.

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