Call a nearby shelter or rescue group or contact one of the
rescues in this article:
Alive Rescue: aliverescue.org
Great Lakes Lab Rescue: greatlakeslabrescue.org
New Leash on Life: nlol.org/chicago
Chicago Pet Rescue: chicagopetrescue.web.officelive.com
Nine-year-old Avie Magner watches out her front door, waiting
expectantly. It's been two weeks since her latest foster dog,
Shadow, was adopted by the Schroeder family: Jim, Shannon and their
children, Maggie, Jack and Tommy. Today they are coming for a
It's a coming home of sorts for Shadow, a happy-go-lucky black
lab, who spent eight weeks as a foster dog at the Magner home with
parents Allison and Reid, and their children, Avie and Kaden, 6.
Over the past year, the Magners have fostered three dogs from Great
Lakes Lab Rescue, headquartered in Elmhurst: two floppy-eared
puppies, Austin and Abby, and then Shadow, a 1-year-old female who
had been surrendered by her owner and was facing euthanasia because
of overcrowded shelters.
"I love getting to know the dog each time and getting to know
their personality," says the fourth-grader.
Avie remembers the day the family said goodbye to Shadow when
she was adopted by the Schroeders.
"All of us really cried and cried," she says. "I made Shadow a
dog toy with my new sewing machine."
But today, there are squeals of delight as Shadow greets Avie
and the rest of her foster family again, this time just for a
visit; Shadow has found her forever home.
Helping with the transition
Although animal fostering isn't for everybody, many families are
finding that taking in a pet for a short-term commitment until a
permanent home can be found is rewarding.
By all accounts, animal foster homes help alleviate overcrowded
shelters and lessen the instances of animal euthanasia-the American
Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates that
between 3 and 4 million animals are euthanized each year. Some
animal rescue groups rely almost completely on foster homes to keep
animals out of kill shelters.
Patty Ilg, founder of Great Lakes Lab Rescue, emphasizes that
living in a home helps bring out a dog's true personality.
"If you go to a shelter, there are really not enough volunteers
to get to know every dog in the shelter. ...(The foster families)
get to know the quirks; the good the bad and the ugly. It helps the
Fostering as a win-win
Michele Gil and her husband started fostering pets in their home
in Edison Park five years ago, once their two sons were both in
"Every rescue group, for the most part, will give you what best
fits your needs," says Gil, who is an approved pet foster for three
rescue groups. "If you know you can only handle a 10-pound dog,
they're not going to give you something the family isn't equipped
for. You can decide the best fit for your family. I think that's
what a lot of people are scared of-that they're going to get some
enormous dog and they live in a condo. You can choose what you
For Gil, fostering is a way to save the lives of pets that
otherwise might be euthanized, but she says there are definite
teaching moments for her kids, as well.
"My kids have learned so much about spaying and neutering, how
that's important," she says. "We've had dogs that have come in that
have been abused, and they've helped me rehabilitate these
Fostering animals is a great way to do a "trial run" to see if
your family is ready to adopt a pet. "Foster failures," families
who end up adopting the animal they're fostering, are common.
"Of course, we would prefer they stay foster parents," says
Stephanie Dejan, animal program director at Chicago Pet Rescue,
adding there is always a shortage of foster homes, but never a
shortage of foster pets.
For some, the long-term commitment of adopting a pet may be too
much, but fostering is a good alternative for children begging for
a Scruffy or Fido.
"To be honest, I don't think I'll ever have a dog of my own,"
says Sarah Makinney of Elmhurst, who fosters for two local rescue
groups. Her three daughters, ranging from preschool to fifth grade,
look forward to meeting each new foster dog.
Makinney says fostering has been a perfect fit for their
While the arrival of a foster dog or cat can be exciting, saying
goodbye can be difficult.
Amber Nesbitt Wood, one of the directors at New Leash on Life in
Chicago, says parents need to talk to their kids about why the
animal is there.
"Some approach it like, 'We're babysitting the dog,' or 'the
animal doesn't have any parents and we're holding on to it until he
can find them.' It makes the children feel good about having them
there, but also happy when they're gone, because it means they've
found their family."
Kristen Gerali, founder of Alive Rescue in Chicago, agrees,
saying parents she's worked with have done a great job of
explaining to the kids why fostering is important.
"While it's a little bit stressful for the kids, they do learn
compassion," she says. "They learn about what's going on with the
homeless pet overpopulation."
Michelle Fruge, mom of Mia, 6, and Eden, 4, says saying goodbye
is often harder on her than the kids.
"I cry my eyes out," she says. She is already preparing herself
for saying goodbye to her current foster, Mick, a puppy
recuperating from surgery. Fruge has a soft spot for senior dogs,
but took in Mick because of his special medical needs.
To become a foster home for animals, most shelters and rescues
supply an online application. Before fostering, a home visit will
be conducted to determine if the home is safe and suitable for
Dogs and cats are routinely checked over by a veterinarian and
brought up to date on vaccinations before entering a foster
For Allison Magner, dog fostering helps her teach her kids about
participating in something that matters.
"It's a good thing to show the kids, how they can give to their
community and be part of something," she says. "More at a
grassroots level, more than just giving funds."
Carol Pavlik is a freelance writer from Elmhurst.
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