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Tuesday, March 27, 2012


** this is a repeat of a post from nearly a year ago... but, I think it needs to be seen again**
I keep reading horror stories on Facebook about fosters gone wrong. I have read about people wanting to help who are quickly overwhelmed with cats or dogs and some with no financial backing from the rescue groups for medical care. Also dogs and cats left with fosters for much longer times than they were told- a 2 week commitment becomes 2 years. People pulling dogs and cats from shelters to only drop them into boarding facilities and leaving them. It really is upsetting to know about these situations when the vast majority of experiences are good and help save the lives of shelter pets. I thought I would make a list of what a person should ask of a rescue and expect from a rescue prior to getting involved.

I have come up with a top ten for people wanting to get into fostering.. if there is something I have missed- please let me know!

1. Are they even a rescue group? Before ever getting involved with a rescue group- make sure they are an actual rescue. Strangely this can be harder than it sounds. It will definitely pay to do your research on this one. You can start by first checking with local shelters directly. Some actually have fosters built right into their programs so you would work with the shelter. You can ask shelters who they work with and get recommendations for rescues that they feel are doing a good job placing their animals and supporting their fosters.

Other resources that you can look into would be checking with local vets, training groups, as well as using the internet. is a good way to find rescue groups and you can always do an internet search to find local rescue groups as well as using social networking sites.

2. Check references. A good rescue group should be particular with checking the references of a foster- and doing home checks. I would highly suggest a foster check those of the rescue group as well. They should easily be able to provide you with contact information of a vet or vets that they routinely use as well as those who have had experience working with their group. If a rescue group is not asking questions of you such as do you own your own home or your own vet reference then that is a red flag- expect from them what they should expect from you.

3. Are they a 501c3? Basically this is a tax issue and the reason that it is important is that a 5013c status group allows donators to write off donations on their taxes. This is important since as a foster - you may be donating money to them and if they are not a 5013c then your cash donations will not mean a tax write off for you. Another reason that this is important is that by having this status means that others will be more apt to donate. Many people will not donate to those groups without it. More financial backing for the rescue means a more solid backing for the foster when it comes to being reimbursed for medical issues etc. You may also be able to donate mileage on your taxes - this becomes important with fosters who do driving for the rescues and most importantly those who become involved in transports.

4. Who is the rescue? It is important to know who you are dealing with. Is the rescue a single person making decisions- or is this a group of people? Personally, I believe that it is better to work with a group rather than a single individual. The reason is that a group will better hold the decisions made accountable.. with a single person there is no questioning of their actions. Just ask who is in charge - who are the contact people- is there a person in charge of communications with fosters? New and smaller rescue groups obviously have smaller groups and sometimes just a single person running the program. But if it is a single person and you have fosters through them and something happens to that person - then what? So like I said before my belief is that you are better protected if working through a program with more than one person running the show.

5. Does the rescue have a facility? If they do - you MUST visit it. Make sure that the place is clean and orderly. If you come across a place that is dirty and smells then run the other way. If you see animals in their care in poor condition do not work with them and instead call the authorities. All rescues with facilities should have proper food, water, vet care, and shelter for each animal in their care- if not then they are not a rescue- but a hoarder or something worse.

6. What are the rescue's goals and what is important to them? When doing foster care it is important to know what is the goal of the group. Do they want to adopt to only local people? Are they involved in transporting dogs/cats to other states? Are the fosters expected to provide long term or short term care? You need to know what you are getting in to. Rescues should be very particular in who they adopt to and the more particular - that may mean it will take longer to find the perfect home for your foster. Also be leery of rescue groups who just adopt out to anyone with no input from the foster in regards to temperament and personality of the foster they have in their care. If a rescue is not particular of who takes in their pets - then how can you be sure that the animal that you have cared for and invested time and money into is going to be properly cared for?

7. Are the fosters involved in the adoption process? Some groups have the fosters very much involved and others not at all. I have seen people at the local dog park who have fostered who meet up with the owners of fosters that they helped- it is a very nice thing to see. As a foster, you will get attached. Do you want a say in who adopts the animal or do you want to be hands off? Do you want to be updated on how they are doing in the future? It is important that a rescue group listen the foster about who the foster feels should adopt... the foster will know the dog/cat/ horse/ etc. temperament and needs more than anyone. Be wary of a rescue who does not want foster's opinion. As a foster you would not want a dog who you discovered hated children to be placed in a home with children. It is important to have input- but how much depends on the rescue that you choose.

8. Who pays? Generally, a reputable rescue group will pay the medical bills of fosters. Not all do. It is important to know how this is handled before jumping in. Ask how the process works if they do pay- usually you would have to pre approve any vet visits. Make sure this is all in writing. This is actually a HUGE issue and is one that has prompted me to write this. I have unfortunately read more than one story about how a foster took in sick animals and was left with large bills causing them to be late on their own personal payments. As a foster you are - more than likely- expected to be paying for food- toys- bedding- and transportation. Do not work with a group who will not pay medical bills unless you can truly afford it- and in addition- if you are paying medical bills of a group that is a 5013c this may also help when tax time comes if you pay the vets through the group.

Make sure anything regarding medical payments is in writing- email - whatever- you need to make sure that you are protected as a foster parent. Also make sure that you know how they will reimburse you and what the time frame is. Some groups do not take in much money and you may have to wait a long time before you ever see the money- make sure that you can handle it if this is the case. An example of how much of a burden this can be - a while back I took in a poodle from a backyard breeder. I was not working with a rescue group- she was mine-- but it ended up costing over $1,000 in medical bills due to the severe neglect that the poor dog endured. It is amazing how the bills add up. Unless you are rolling in money then I would HIGHLY suggest you work only with groups who reimburse and are very clear on their process.

9. What are the limits? A good rescue (as mentioned before) has a process for evaluating foster parents.... one of those things they should be taking into account are what pets the foster already has and how many can the foster take. A rescue group should not just pull out an indefinite number of animals without having places for them to go. If they are simply pulling dogs/cats to place with a limited number of fosters then there needs to be a limit. Fosters should not be turned into hoarders. Even though a foster is a temporary situation- there needs to be a plan for the animal in their care and a limit as to how many a person can have in their care at any one time.

As a foster a person must know that they cannot save them all. A person must know their limit. When a person takes on too many there are too many problems- especially of a person has also taken on the responsibility of paying medical bills and for food. Remember- a foster is just a temporary home and the foster's home should NOT become the shelter. Just as a foster needs to know when they cannot take on more- a rescue group does as well. A good rescue group will not give a foster too many to care for.

10. Can you emotionally handle it all? This is a very important question. Make sure before you get into fostering that you can take it. You will get attached, but you need to be able to let go. A good rescue will be one that lets you know of any updates on pets that you have helped once they go to their forever homes. Some people try fostering and fail- they can't let go and be sure that when you take in a pet that there is the option for you to adopt if you find the perfect pet through the process.

Going back to number 9- some rescue groups can play with a person's emotion by telling people that if they don't do more then the animals in the shelters will die. Because of this, that is why some people take in more than they handle. Stay away from a rescue that guilts... they are doing more harm than good. It is important to know that by fostering a single dog or cat that you ARE making a difference. By having a single one or a couple then you can provide them much more care than if you had a house full. A good rescue should know this. I have multiple dogs.. I like having multiple dogs and can handle it - but I also know that I cannot take in any more without having it take something from my own dogs... no matter how emotional I get when I see the sad faces of the animals on death row- I know I am doing a better thing by giving the dogs I have the best life instead of loading my house with new dogs.


Fostering can be a fantastic experience that is so rewarding for the foster. Fostering saves lives. Most fostering is a very positive thing- but those few bad stories can put a black eye on foster programs. It is important to do your homework when opening your home to pets in need. Most rescues are very good- but we need to make sure that to get the best experience fostering and provide the best outcome for out foster pets- then we must choose the best rescue groups to work with.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Cost of Adopting

I have people ask me from time to time about adopting a pet and the fees and procedure involved. I thought I would write a few words to help people in the process and to understand the difference between a city shelter and a rescue and the costs involved. 

Matisse adopted at a small town shelter for $25. He came with his first set of shots- follow up shots and the neutering were my responsibility. He lived a long and healthy life and he recently passed away. 
When you go to adopt you have many choices. A great place to start looking is You can look at the dogs and cats from the privacy of your own home. If you are seeking a specific breed you can put in what you are looking for and you will be given a list and photos of the shelters and rescues near you that have that breed. You can narrow your choices by breed and/or age and I suggest to people to take some time and become familiar with what is available .. and to look at the information on the rescues who post them. Not all rescues list on Petfinder so you can always do a google search. One very important thing is that all rescues and shelters should be very clear on their sites about the adoption fee and what it covers. I always tell people that if they see a shelter or rescue who lists dogs/cats and is not upfront about the adoption fee.. that they should look elsewhere. 

Bella Bear Shoe Eating Poodle of the Everglades - she was a "free" dog - she came from a backyard breeder and was the most expensive dog I have ever taken in. It cost over 1k in vet care and grooming to get her out of the horrible state she was in. Please keep in mind that rescues may charge more- but they also, often times, put in large amounts of money to help injured and abused animals... and most rescues rely on donations and do not receive financial help from the city or state... and keep in mind that free pets can be very very expensive. 

You will notice a big difference in the adoption fees of a city shelter versus a rescue group. At Miami Dade Animal Services (where I have been going to take many pictures for my work) the adoption fee is $65 for an adult dog - $75 for a puppy and $35 for a cat or kitten with 2 for one on the cats. Their fee covers age appropriate shots, heartworm or FIV test, spay or neuter (if age appropriate) and a microchip. If you are familiar with the cost of those services, you will see that the adoption fee is a very good bargain. Rescues will vary greatly in adoption fees. Some places may be very low in their fee and some may be several hundred dollars. Many rescues take in dogs/cats that require medical care and some of the higher fees help offset the costs incurred. If you spend more with a rescue you should expect to be adopting a dog or cat that has had all needed medical care given and one that has been highly evaluated in regards to compatibility with the potential adopter. You may find that some rescues charge larger amounts for pure bred animals because they are in higher demand. 

Sylvia Miami Tiger Dog of the Atlantic and Beula Jenkins Opossum Giving Dog were both adopted from MDAS - Sylvia as a puppy for $75 and Beula as an adult at $65. They both were adopted spayed and had shots. Sylvia did have a URI and I was able to have her treated with antibiotics - her treatment was less than $100. Beula was perfectly healthy when I adopted her. Always take your adopted dog for a check up after you get them home- vets often times give a discounted first visit or even free visit for newly adopted pets. 

One rescue that I worked with in the past had an adoption fee of just over $100 per animal. They specialize in injured and abused animals and considering the money put into the animals the fee was an amazing deal. Rescues should not be skimping on care- often times they take animals from busy city shelters and many times take in animals with health issues. A rescue should never adopt out sick or injured animals. Unfortunately, there are some unscrupulous people who use rescue as a way to make money. If anyone ever tries to adopt out an unaltered animal do not work with them- if they try to adopt out one that has no medical record do not work with them- if they are more interested in the money than the animal do not work with them. 
Sir Nigel Longbottom Ferocious Chihuahua of the East was  adopted from a rural shelter for less than $100. He was fixed and had all shots. He does have problems with his knees and he is kind of weird. He was about 8 years old when I adopted him- do not overlook the older ones! He is at least 14 years old now and I have the feeling he might live forever. Some rescues and shelters have special programs for senior pets who are adopted by seniors. If you are a senior - please look into senior specials- too many times people dump off elderly pets and they are rarely adopted. 

City shelters are easier to adopt from. I have never been to one where there is much checking into the adopter at all. I have adopted from 3 shelters and, in each, I have always just shown my license and filled out a form. It was a quick and easy process. At a city shelter there are so many animals that the adopter is often not given much information on the dog or cat. Some workers or volunteers may have spent time with the animal and may write on their cage card if they have some insight as to their behavior- but, for the most part, you are on your own. With a rescue they should have a much better idea of the animal's behavior- especially one where they use fosters and the animals are kept in a home. For some people the higher price that some rescues charge is worth it because it is easier to get an idea of how the animal reacts to other animals, children, cats, etc. However, rescues may be harder to adopt through. Some require references and home checks- any good rescue who has invested time and money into a dog or cat and is charging higher fees should be particular about who they are adopting to. As I mentioned before, if the rescue is more concerned about the money and less about the welfare of the animal do not work with them. 

Basically if you adopt from a city shelter you may spend less, but have less guidance. If you adopt from a rescue you may spend more, but have more guidance. When you adopt in a shelter you should be able to walk through the shelter- any good rescue will allow you to walk through their facility if they have one. Please be wary of any that will not. In the end make sure that when you adopt - wether it be at a large shelter or a rescue group- that you can afford a pet. Make sure that you are adopting one that suits you and not just getting one that "looks" cool or is the popular breed at the moment. Look for a dog or cat that is healthy and likes you as much as you like them. No matter what you pay- you want to find the best pet for you and that is more important than anything.. and remember do not adopt from any group who is not fixing their animals and/or giving health records! 

Adoption saves lives .. adopting is not only a very ethical thing to do- but, it can also be a very smart financial decision when it comes to spending on a new pet. I see purebred animals at the shelter on a regular basis. At MDAS I have seen many English Bulldogs- a person could buy one for over $1,000 or they could save one for $65. 

Art created from one of the many images I have taken of purebred animals at the shelter. People pay big money for some breeds- yet, I see some- like this bulldog - at the shelter all the time. Not all of them are adopted either. Purebred dogs do die in shelters all the time. Please consider saving one. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Peace and Hope

I deal with death on a regular basis. I have for a long time now. It was right before I began the shelter project that I ever saw a life end in front of me.. I was driving on a highway and saw a dog standing by its fallen friend along side the road. Of course I stopped. I walked over to the fallen dog and I put my hand on its side and I knew it was alive- but, only for a moment. I looked into its eyes- it looked back- wagged its tail and then left the world. Although it was so sad, I had a strange sense of peace in that I was able to be there for the poor little dog's last moment. Weeks later, I saw a horrific accident along the same stretch of highway. The man's car flipped and crashed into a tree right by the cabin I lived in. I saw the car fly through the air - the horrible sound.. and when I got the car I didn't know what to do- the mans car was a heap of twisted metal around a large tree and he was pinned. People stopped - we all stood along the highway calling 911 asking what to do.. what to do. A neighbor climbed into the mess and touched the young man and talked to him .. the rescue people arrived and worked to remove him from the car, I suddenly felt that same sense of peace that I had felt with the dog.. and then I looked around and saw the rescue people shaking their heads.. and I knew he was gone.

Matisse relaxing on the bed
I saw death again this last week. Matisse was my dog who had been with me for nearly half of my life. You know how once in a lifetime a dog comes along that is more than just a dog? That was Matisse. He had gotten to where he had more bad days than good... he was in pain so much.. he had recently started to forget who I was. When he forgot who I was that was the worst because he was suddenly scared of me. His whole life, he had been like a shadow to me. He was always by my side. It was when I had gone through cancer treatment that he started to go down hill.. the stronger I got- the worse he got... he had many things wrong with him .. yet nothing in particular that could be easily fixed. I feel like he gave me all of his energy so that I could get better-- and I had no way to give it back to help him get better. When the vet put the needle in his little leg I held his face and looked into his hazy eyes and told him he was a good dog- that he was loved. I brought him home and buried him under my oak tree... and once again, I felt that sense of peace when he was gone.

This is one of the hopeful ones that never made it out
When I go to the shelter, I know that most of the animals that I meet will die. I know that most of those that die will be 100% healthy when they go. There was no accident that they were a part of that takes their life.... and they die because they were discarded like garbage... they die because too many people will not step foot into a shelter and adopt- yet, those same people will shell out large sums of money to buy puppies from pet shops. When I meet the dogs that will die- I don't feel peace- I feel their pain, sadness, and fear. So many of my pictures are sad.. because that is what they tell me.. they tell me they are scared.. they tell me that they know they are in danger.. they are confused and betrayed.. and some tell me that they have given up. Some photos I capture the hope that some feel. When I follow the hopeful dogs and find out one of them has been killed- it hurts the worst. I feel like I might have been the last person that they pleaded with to help them.. and I always take it personally if they do not make it out alive.

Before Matisse died, I was invited to take photos as some dogs were brought into Ft. Myers by Pilots-N-Paws. It was great. I got to see dogs from MDAS arrive safely to go to rescue groups. I was able to take photos of dogs that were safe... I never get to do that. The faces I saw were not those of dogs who had given up and pleading for help- they were the faces of dogs who were on a journey.. they were the hopeful ones and this time I knew their hope was going to be met with a reality of a new chance on life.   It was beautiful really and it helped me remember that, although I meet so many that do not make it, I do meet many that will. I meet many dogs that due to the hard work of several people .. will survive.. they will live and they will not meet the end of a needle.. instead, they will meet a group who will take care of them.. put them safe in a foster home.. and finally a real home.

One of the many dogs going to safety with Florida Poodle Rescue- notice the large tumor on this poor girl. She is now cleaned up and getting the medical care, love, and care that she needs.

I deal with death on a regular basis, but I also deal with peace, hope, and life....I just need to remind myself of that sometimes.
Unloading the special cargo

You can learn more about the Pilots N Paws program and donate by going to their website

The Florida Poodle Rescue took most of the dogs that day and were the ones to invite me to take photos - please check out their website - they are an amazing organization!

Pilot Jeff Bennett bringing one of the passengers to the transport van