Cherry flattened herself like a pancake and stayed motionless as I came toward her. She is as shy as they come, but I liked her right away; her brown eyes revealed a soulful center. Cherry is cautious, but who could blame her. She came to Santa Barbara County Animal Services (SBCAS) by way of the Costco parking lot, where she was found in a box. At the shelter since December 2012, the dachshund mix has been waiting for someone to adopt her. Though gentle, her timidity keeps her from being noticed by folks looking to add a critter to their family.
For dogs like Cherry, foster homes are a lifesaver. “Shy dogs are big on our behavioral rehabilitation list,” said Kim Lowell, placement coordinator for the SBCAS foster program called Love at Home. “In a foster atmosphere, they get out of the chaos of the shelter, get socialized, learn to explore, and get used to people at their own rate, all of which gives them a much better chance of being adopted.”
Another group in need of support is puppies. The little ones often come to the shelter from desperate beginnings, according to Lowell, having been found in places like “Oak Creek in the river” or the aforementioned parking lot. Sometimes they are born at the shelter because their pregnant mom was abandoned. Cute as they are, whelps can be a handful. “Fostering young puppies takes a special skill because not only are they messy,” said Stacy Silva, SBCAS community outreach coordinator, “they require a lot of attention and proper socialization … so there is a lot more involved.”
Still, the benefits foster families provide for shelter dogs are tremendous, not only for the care they give, but also for what they discover about their charge. “Foster families can gather reams of information on the dog that we didn’t have before,” Lowell said. “For example, it’s difficult to figure out here if a dog has separation anxiety. With foster dogs, we know. We had one case where the dog had separation anxiety, and the foster care cured the dog of it.”
Dogs in shelters are generally there because humans have failed them. Programs such as Love at Home — which covers all food and medical costs — offer people the opportunity to help rectify this by caring for the hardest cases and giving them a fighting chance at a happy life. “It’s hard work and it’s emotionally challenging because ultimately you are getting attached to an animal that’s going to be adopted. But it’s also rewarding and you are filling a need in the community that not everyone can fill,” Silva said.
SBCAS is always in need of foster families. For those interested, call (805) 681-4397 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.