Animal fostering benefits people and furry friends


Kat Martin, Assistant News Editor

One of the main goals of animal shelters and organizations is to adopt animals into “forever homes,” but this process is easier said than done. Many animals come into shelters too young or antisocial to be adopted out immediately, so volunteers welcome the animals into their homes. Oftentimes this temporary stay is the first safe break from the animal’s previously chaotic life, and the volunteers are there to provide shelter, food and companionship to the displaced animals.

Even though no-kill shelters are becoming more popular, many shelter animals are still euthanized because of limited space and resources. While shelters are undeniably beneficial, it can be mentally and behaviorally damaging to live in one for any extended amount of time. People who foster animals lessen this problem by offering a temporary home for these animals. Animal fosterers help animals that might not be readily adopted, including those who are shy, untrained or don’t fare well in a shelter, adjust to living in a home environment.

When four kittens were found by the Humane Society of Fairfax County with their mother last summer, the organization deemed them too young and dependant to live in the shelter. That was when junior Alex McNamara and freshman Sarah McNamara came in. Their family decided to take in the kittens- newly named Clive, Cahill, Calliope and Calderon- until they were old enough to be rehomed.

“They hid from us a lot at first because they were feral. But by the end of the two weeks, they were sleeping on our laundry and willingly coming up to us to be pet,” Alex McNamara said. “The best part was seeing them warm up to us because they didn’t like us at first and were afraid of us.”

After two weeks with the family, the kittens were sent back to the Humane Society and adopted shortly after.

Baby animals tend to be adopted sooner than fully grown ones, but adult animals are still in need of fostering. Freshman Zoe Varacalli has fostered about 30 dogs and puppies through Save the Tails and PetConnect Rescue.

“We did it because we absolutely fell in love when we got our dog,” Varacalli said. “[My mom] thought fostering would be a good idea to bring our family a little closer together.”

One thing that can be agreed on is the massive amount of time and effort required to foster animals.

“It was a huge time commitment, but I would absolutely [do it again],” Varacalli said.

Senior Chiara Ballam has also fostered puppies. Despite the demanding work required to take care of animals around the clock, she concurs that volunteering to help animals in need is a rewarding activity.

“The best part was seeing [the puppies] go off to good families,” Ballam said.

English teacher Deborah Wydra participates in another worthy animal-related cause: raising guide dogs for the blind. She has been doing this since she was in high school, and now she continues the tradition with her teenage children.

Raising guide dogs is significantly different than the typical fostering experience; while both activities require hard work, training guide dogs has stricter requirements because the stakes are higher. There are many more people in need of a seeing eye dog than there are trained dogs available, and according to Wydra, only 50 percent of the animals raised to become seeing eye dogs pass the required test. Wydra added that the Northern Virginia area has a much higher pass rate, approximately 80 percent, due to the diverse geography of the area that includes nearby cities, suburbs and rural land.

“[Raising seeing eye dogs] is intense; it’s a way of life,” Wydra said. “There are a lot of rules about what the dog can and can’t do because they’re so precious. These dogs are worth $20,000 from the second they’re born.”

Nonetheless, the considerable amount of responsibility needed to raise dogs for the task is worthwhile, as the end result is for a necessary cause.  

“My favorite part about it is the graduation where you go and present your dog to its new partner,” Wydra said. “It’s a non-profit, so they want to get as many dogs through as possible and be successful because they have a lot of visually impaired people who need these dogs.”

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, approximately 6.5 million companion animals enter shelters every year. Whether it be fostering animals through local organizations or training dogs to help the blind, there are plenty of opportunities for community members to get involved in helping animals in need.