In recent years, pet overpopulation has reached epidemic proportions in North Carolina and across the nation. According to the Humane Society of the United States, between 6 million and 8 million cats and dogs enter shelters annually, and about half of those animals' lives end there. In 2004, Wake County alone destroyed more than 5,000 dogs and cats; statewide, more than 100,000 unwanted animals were euthanized.
One invaluable tool communities have to mitigate the ills of runaway pet populations is effective pet fostering programs. Fostering means simply serving as an interim home for animals before they find what's referred to in the pet rescue community as a "forever" home. Foster homes are a precious commodity, since the number of foster homes available limits the number of animals a rescue group can take in.
In the Triangle, more than 20 organizations rescue dogs, cats, rabbits, ferrets and other animals, including horses, pigs and, at one time, even goats. These groups are on the constant lookout for individuals and families who are willing to open their homes and hearts to foster animals of all shapes and sizes.
The Pet Foster Network helps various groups recruit foster volunteers and match them up with homeless pets.
PFN Director Kim Croom took in her first foster fur-kid, Berkeley, as a short-term foster. Two years later, however, the lovable, teddy bear-like black chow has become part of the Croom family--a pattern rescue folks affectionately call "foster failures."
Often, animals that come into foster situations are scared, ill or need behavioral training to help them better socialize with human companions and other animals, and acclimate to life as a beloved pet--which sometimes requires overcoming a difficult past.
"Fostering is more than a roof and food," Croom says. "You are helping the dog make a transition into a forever home. You have to teach the animals that they can trust again."
The Pet Foster Network put Anne Rinaldi in touch with two local rescue organizations, the Animal Protection Society of Durham and Independent Animal Rescue. She has had great success placing both dogs and cats in forever homes.
"I thought it would be hard to let them go, but it has been surprisingly easy because I have kept in touch with the owners," Rinaldi says. The adoptions have provided permanent living situations that are "a good fit all the way around," she says.
While the responsibility of being a foster family or individual is great, so, too, is the support that foster parents receive from sponsoring organizations.
Angela Giordano is a board member of Safe Haven, a Raleigh group whose focus is cats. She says one misconception about fostering is that foster parents pay all of the expenses.
"People don't realize a lot of groups provide assistance with food and shots" plus other necessary veterinary treatment, Giordano says.
Giordano's biggest challenge as a crusader for animals, one echoed by hundreds of other volunteers, is trying to come to terms with the fact that she can't save them all. But she knows she is making a difference.
For more information on becoming a foster parent, see www.petfoster.org or contact individual rescue groups and shelters throughout the Triangle. A comprehensive list of local organizations is available at www.trianglepetrescue.org.
Freelance writer Amy Loeffler and her husband live in North Raleigh with two foster failures of their own, Jake and Elvis.