Back row left to right: Caydon, Jarid, Lyndon and Claudelle
Middle row left to right: Bones, Kiewe, Caylee and Gracie
Front row: Lunar and Alvin
The joys and trials of a foster Family
Written by Monique Viljoen-Platts – Sighthound Rescue SA Treasurer
“I could NEVER foster a dog; I get too attached and wouldn’t be able to give them up!”
This is the response I hear time and time again when someone comments on a dog I’m walking or socialising or taking to the vet when I point out: “S/he’s not mine, I’m just fostering her. She’s available for adoption if you know of anyone who would be interested!”
This standard reply of people meeting my foster babies always makes me take a deep sigh of sadness and I think: if only people knew how desperate the need is and how rewarding it is to give hope and a future to a deserving dog that otherwise would have been destined for a shelter, or worse…
My heart sinks, but…
But I get it – really, I do. Every time I get that phone call asking if I can take in a dog, my heart sinks and my mind instantly fills with worries and excuses. Thoughts of how it will complicate my life, the stress it will put on my canine and human family, and all the things that could go wrong.
And then the dog comes through my gate and, within seconds, those bonding hormones start coursing through my veins; I’m hopelessly in love, and the head games begin as to why this dog really should just stay forever and how one more wouldn’t really hurt. But the inevitable day arrives when the perfect home is found and I have to say good-bye.
Those are the suckiest, happiest days in the life of any foster mom or dad.
Why fosters are important
Fostering is one of the toughest, most heart-wrenching, joyous, rewarding things you can ever do in your life. Knowing exactly how hard it is, you can imagine my delight to have found a family who is willing to walk this difficult road time and time again for dogs in need.
For every dog that comes into our rescue organisation, Sighthound Rescue SA must find the appropriate foster home because we depend entirely on a foster network to do our work.
Our foster homes are rigorously screened and we go to bed each night with complete peace of mind knowing that each and every one of our rescues is safe, warm, well-fed, loved, cared for and free from loneliness and needless stress while they wait for their forever homes.
We believe strongly in fostering
There are many advantages too numerous to mention, but these are some of the major ones.
1. It’s cost-effective and sustainable. We take responsibility for all vet bills and supply food if needed, but we don’t have to pay the astronomical costs incurred by shelters in terms of upkeep and staff salaries. Because we’re run entirely by volunteers, every cent we raise is put to maximum use in rescuing as many dogs as possible.
2. We provide ongoing support and guidance and find that our foster families become increasingly able to partner with us in the rehabilitation of our dogs as they grow in experience.
3. Dogs in a good foster home do not endure boredom and kennel stress – a frequent problem for shelter dogs. As a result, we’re not under pressure to home dogs quickly to get them out of the shelter environment and have the luxury of making sure we find the right home for each precious dog. A dog’s life is short and every day should be as happy and care-free as possible. Even the days spent in rescue.
4. Dogs receive invaluable socialisation in their foster home; they learn to live as part of the family, understand the routine and rules of living in a house, and get used to all the sights, sounds and smells that go along with family living.
5. By the time our dogs go home, we know them extremely well and have a very good idea of how they will behave in a home environment. As a result, we can make good decisions about appropriate placement and provide excellent pre-adoption preparation for the adoptive family as well as post-adoption follow-up support. As a result, our adoption and retention rate is better than 99%.
6. Sighthound Rescue SA makes a lifetime commitment to each of our dogs. If the adoption doesn’t work out for any reason, or if the adopter needs to surrender the dog due to unforeseen circumstances at any time in the future, they come back to us. In many cases our foster families send dogs home with the promise that they may return for boarding or rehoming in the event that this becomes necessary, so we have the peace of mind of knowing that these dogs will never be homeless again.
Benefits of fostering – to you
We know it’s a lot to ask, but you’ll get more than you ever expected in return. If you have the space in your heart and home, please consider joining a foster programme in order to help dogs in need. Yes, it’s hard to say goodbye, but with the tears come immense rewards as well.
1. The knowledge that you are doing something to ease the suffering of dogs in need and the assurance that there are dogs out there in the world enjoying an amazing life they would never have had but for your hospitality and selflessness.
2. It’s the perfect way to have lots and lots of dogs without ever having too many dogs! For the dog-mad among us there is always the cry of regret that we can’t have more dogs. Fostering is a great way to get to love and share your life with many dogs without making a 10-15-year commitment to each one.
3. If you’re looking for a new member of the family, fostering is the perfect “try before you buy (or, rather, adopt)” solution. Fosters have first option to adopt the dog and, by fostering, you get to see if the dog is the perfect fit for your family. If yes, job done and the dog is yours. If not, you’ve still helped the dog so it can move on to their ideal home while you continue your search.
4. If you’re interested in a dog-related career (dog training, animal behaviour, doggy day care, grooming, etc.), fostering is a fantastic way to gain practical experience.
5. Fostering is a wonderful learning and growing experience for the whole family with daily lessons in love, caring and empathy.
6. Fostering is an opportunity to keep your own dogs socialised as they become accustomed to new dogs coming and going. Even if you take your dog through puppy school, they can quickly become unsocialised if they stop meeting new dogs on a regular basis. Fostering is one way to take care of your own dog’s social development as an unexpected side benefit.
Is it unfair to the dog?
One of the criticisms of fostering is that it is unfair on the dog to bond with a foster family only to be moved on again when they are finally adopted – an understandable concern. However, it fails to take into account a dog’s resilience and ability to quickly bond with any loving and committed human.
In fact, much to the chagrin of many a foster parent, their baby has bonded with a new mom or dad before our car has even pulled out of their driveway and they soon settle into a new and happy life. It is our hearts that are left in tatters and take longer to heal.
We need to remember that, as soon as a dog ends up in rescue, its circumstances are less than ideal. In view of this sad fact, a good foster home while waiting to be adopted is one of the best possible alternatives available.
Striking foster gold
When we find the perfect family, we are overjoyed. A family where the answer is almost always “yes” when we place the “please can you foster” call. A family that provides detailed and ongoing feedback about the dog’s progress on a daily basis. A family that treats the foster dog like one of their own. And then, when the day comes to make the call to tell them that you have found the perfect home, the answer is always the same: “Aww, we’re going to miss him; he’s such a sweet dog; they are going to love him!”
The Bender family are one such family, with just the right mix of willing and capable parents, involved and loving children, and well-socialised dogs and a cat that, together, create magic for so many scared and broken souls, we knew we had struck gold.
A family commitment
The Bender family adopted a rescue dog from Helderberg Animal Welfare in February 2017. They were struck by how many others there were needing help and made the decision to offer their services as a foster family. Since then, they’ve successfully fostered eight dogs for Sighthound Rescue SA. There have also been three “foster fails”, which is the term rescuers use for fosters that turn into adoptions.
Sometimes, the heart wants what the heart wants and what started out as a temporary arrangement becomes permanent. It’s an occupational hazard we are well prepared for.
Fostering is a family commitment and each member plays their part...
Lyndon is the long-suffering Dad who never complains that his front gate has turned into a revolving door for dogs coming into foster and going out to forever homes. Although a tall, imposing figure of a man, the most timid ones are instantly drawn to him, quickly finding their way onto his lap and into his heart. Even dogs who’ve been abused instinctively feel safe with him and learn to trust again. We’re grateful that our fosters can learn that not all men shout and hit and we could do with a few more like him!
Claudelle is the Mom and home CEO who makes it all happen! She provides round-the-clock care to our fosters, including feeding, training, socialising, first aid, photographs for prospective adopters and lots and lots of cuddles. She’s also constantly teaching and guiding her three lovely children as they partner with her in caring for the dogs. We know Claudelle would love to have a farm or smallholding that is as big as her heart so that she could help even more dogs, but we are so grateful that she has opened her home to so many already.
Caylee is an old soul in a four-year old body and she definitely has a long and productive future as a rescuer ahead of her. She is also the official “namer of dogs” and is never short on ideas for the perfect name. Whenever I come to their house she rushes out to meet me with her standard greeting of: “You got dog?” If the answer is yes, her follow-up question is “What name?” She then inspects the dog’s rear end and if the newcomer happens to be a boy, the third question is: “Where my girl dog?” Of course, Caylee loves the boy dogs as well, but she is not shy about expressing her preference for girls.
Her latest contribution is to dictate “Rules for Looking After My Dog” to adoptive parents, which her mom dutifully types up. An owner’s manual of sorts explaining the likes and dislikes of the dog and how best to care for them. Very useful for any adoptive parent.
Caydon, aged 11, has always had a special bond with dogs and this was deepened a few years ago when Sakura, his Labrador, protected him from an intruder during a traumatic break-in. Sadly, she recently passed away as a result of a congenital heart condition. His new dog, Bones, was adopted from Helderberg Animal Welfare and the two of them are inseparable. Caydon is showing a great aptitude for clicker training. He and Bones practise daily and they are regularly at the top of the class for the rapid progress they make together. Caydon is very involved in the care and training of all the foster dogs. If left to himself, he would certainly keep them all, but reluctantly lets them go to their new homes on condition we bring him new dogs to take care of!
Jarid, aged 13, has always been more of a cat person and is fiercely devoted to his cat, Cola. He keeps a watchful eye over any newcomers to ensure they mean Cola no harm. Many of our adopters already have cats; not knowing how a dog responds to cats really narrows the pool of adopters. Fortunately, by the time a dog has come through the Bender family’s foster care, they’ve been socialised with cats – a great boon to all concerned!
Jarid recently fell in love with one of the timid little fosters, whom he named Kiewe (pronounced “Cuey”). She has really grown in confidence under his care and the family has made a decision to become her forever home. Jarid took her through puppy school and has promised to continue with her clicker training and socialisation. It’s a match made in heaven!
Fosters for the win
The Bender family acknowledges that it is very hard to give up a dog that you come to love so intensely. It’s particularly hard on the children. With this in mind, their parents prepare them from the moment the dogs arrive for the day that they will go to their forever homes.
They feel it is more than worth it because of what fostering teaches their children about empathy, responsibility, commitment and caring for animals. The children tell us that they know Sighthound Rescue will make sure all the dogs go to good homes and it really helps with the healing process when they receive photos from the adoptive family and can see that the dogs are happy, healthy and loved.
And we are eternally grateful to them.
How you can help
Sighthound Rescue is forever grateful to all our wonderful foster homes. Without you our work simply would not be possible as we are entirely dependent on a foster care system for all our rescues.
Contact Cheryl Campbell of Sighthound Rescue SA on 083 277 3920 – or any of the other great rescue organisations who run foster programmes – to see how you can help.
These are just three of the lucky dogs to be fostered by the Bender family and which went on to be adopted to wonderful homes.
Chase is a whippet who was found thin, chained up and with old injuries and horrendous sunburn on his light-coloured ears and nose. He was rescued and rehabilitated by the Animal Care Team in Oudtshoorn and then transferred to Sighthound Rescue SA for rehoming, during which time the Bender family provided outstanding foster care. Chase is now living with a wonderful family who have just adopted their second whippet through SRSA.
They write: “Chase has settled in nicely with us; he owns the couches and chairs, and takes over the beds at night where he sleeps half the night with my son and then wonders into my room and sleeps the other half with us. He likes to share the love.
“He has a lovely nature and the kids in the street all know him. Although he still gets nervous when we go somewhere new, he now recognises that his lead means he’s going for a walk and he is actually starting to show some excitement. Walking in the trails he now stops to sniff and mark his spot, which he didn’t do before. He even travels nicely in the car with us to walk at the beach. My son calls him his fur brother and it really is like having another child in the house.
“We can’t believe we have only had him for a few months now, it feels like he has been part of the family forever. Adopting him was a great decision made and we haven’t regretted it for a moment.”
Levi is a lovely Whippet boy who came from a good home. However, as sometimes happens, sadly the family’s life circumstances changed and they were suddenly forced to move where dogs were not allowed. They wanted to ensure that their beloved dog would go to a home where he would be loved and cared for and asked Sighthound Rescue to assist. Off to the Bender family home he went – but his stay was very brief as he was soon adopted by a wonderful new family!
New mom Natasha writes: “Talking about this amazing dog brings tears to my eyes. Where do I start? We desperately wanted a friend for our three-year-old Whippet, Bella. We wanted to adopt, to give a loving home to a dog in need.
“I will never forget the day Monique brought him over for a visit. We fell in love with him straight away – and his name. We found out that the name Levi means ‘attached, joined’ in Hebrew. And that is exactly what he is; he never leaves my side, is always on my lap, sleeps with us in our bed (his happy place) and adores our 13- and 16-year-old boys.
“If we go out shopping or picking up the boys from school, he patiently waits for us at the gate every time. He is the most well-behaved, loveable, soft-natured, gorgeous animal in the world, and we are so blessed to have him with us as part of our family.
“We go for long walks on the beach, where Levi loves to climb rocks and investigate for something interesting to chase or run after. He also loves snoozing in front of the fireplace on cold winter evenings.
“Thank you all who played a part in making this adoption possible and bringing this amazing dog across our paths. He’s got so much love to give – and he gives it unconditionally, with his whole heart. We love our Levi so much.
“Once again, thank you. Life is a better place with him in our lives and hearts!”
Gracie is a ten-week-old Greyhound puppy. Deborah, her new mom, is still waiting in eager anticipation for her arrival; she has everything prepared for the great day in the near future when Gracie arrives home.
Deborah says, “The moment I decided to adopt Gracie, she became my dog….
“I’ve grown to love and know this little pup through all the candid pictures sent by her foster family. With each picture, I see her grow more confident and happy. It comforts me to know that she’s in a good place while I await her arrival. Thank you to the people who foster these future beloved pets.”