portrait of Colleen Dougherty animal welfare guest columnist

Colleen Dougherty

When I was growing up, my parents fostered several children, including two babies, a brother and sister, a young, ill boy, and a troubled adolescent.

I’ve fostered a few times too, but all of my fosters have been four legged … and of the eight or so I’ve fostered, five have stayed with me.

I jokingly call them “foster failures,” but my friends call them “foster fantastics” because, in the end, they’ve all gotten a home!

The word “foster” means “to bring up; rear; help to develop; promote.” It comes from the old English “fostrian,” meaning, “nourish,” which, in turn, means “to provide with substances necessary for life and growth.” The word “promote” means “to move forward.”

In the work that foster moms, dads and families do, all of these meanings apply. Fosters help transform neonates into healthy kittens and puppies, bring sick and injured animals back to health, help scared and traumatized animals to heal and to trust, and comfort and bear witness to elder animals as they move forward from this life.

I asked two of my closest animal welfare friends what they love about fostering, and what their greatest challenges are.

TJ’s biggest challenge is making time to do things like run shelter animals to and from the vet, assist in off-site adoptions, contact rescue groups and schedule transports — all while caring for sick kittens in her bathroom, scared cats in her bedroom and mommas with babies in the guest room.

She loves knowing that for every animal she fosters, she’s saving two lives — that one, and the one waiting for a space in the shelter — because when shelters run out of spaces, animals die.

Fostering buys time — time to find a home, contact a rescue group, allow the shelter to clear out through adoptions or transfers to other states — and time to grow. Recently, TJ drove to Grants to pick up a momma cat with 12 nursing babies — six of her own and six little orphans! (Now there’s a mom who deserved breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day!)

“If you love puppies and kittens,” she quips, “fostering them until their old enough to get adopted is a great way to have a steady supply!”

My friend, Carrie, specializes in neonates, which is time consuming, especially if they’ve come in without their moms. Not everyone has the time to bottle feed every three or four hours.

And when they’re orphans with no mom, they sometimes don’t make it. When people say to her “Oh, I could never foster — I couldn’t give them up!” or “It would break my heart!” Carrie tells them, “It’s my job — they didn’t ask to be in this situation. I’m here to give them hope.”

She keeps their names, and has photos of many. When they leave her, she says she feels good knowing “they are somewhere being loved.” And for some of Carrie’s fosters, including an elder cat and a dog with heartworm, that “somewhere” did become her home.

At a recent presentation at Kindred Spirits Animal Sanctuary in Santa Fe, founder and director Ulla Pedersen, called it “heart-work.” “When we engage in service to animals, or others in need,” Ulla said, “we become expansive — our hearts grow, and we become better people.”

See you next month. Be well.

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portrait of Colleen Dougherty animal welfare guest columnist
Colleen Dougherty, guest columnist