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Fostering shelter animals well worth the work

By APRILL BRANDON
July 26, 2010 at 2:26 a.m.
Updated July 28, 2010 at 2:28 a.m.

Cara Bryant kisses Waldo while picking him up at the VCA Animal Hospital after he was neutered. Bryant fosters pets for the Dorothy H. O'Connor Pet Adoption Center. "Knowing you did something to save an animal," she said, was her favorite part.

HOW TO HELPIf you are interested in becoming a pet foster family, contact the Dorothy H. O'Connor Pet Adoption Center at 361-575-8573 or go online to www.docpac.net to download a foster care application.

There's never a dull moment at Michelle Bruchmiller's house. Her three dogs scamper throughout the house, ready to pounce on visitors with viscous attacks of licking and tail wagging.

Her cat tiptoes around the chaos, trying to avoid the fray.

And the two newest editions, two 6-week-old kittens named Bonnie and Clyde, who the family is temporarily taking care of, are busy playing with two of Bruchmiller's three daughters.

Yes, it's just another day in the life of a pet foster family and Bruchmiller wouldn't have it any other way.

"It's a fabulous experience. We've temporarily taken in at least 20 animals so far, and it's so much fun," she said. "It all started with the girls really wanting a dog, and so I decided to join the foster program to show them how much work it is. It was a good situation for the dogs and a good experience for the girls."

As a foster family for the Dorothy H. O'Connor Pet Adoption Center, the Bruchmiller's take in puppies and kittens that are too young to be adopted yet and help raise, socialize and train them until they reach 12 weeks of age.

From time to time, they will also take in animals that need to recover from an illness or injury or elderly dogs in need of some extra care.

The shelter provides all the food, vet fees and medication, and the family provides all the love and care, Bruchmiller said.

"Animals are very adoptable if they are fostered first," she added. "The whole point of fostering is to help secure a long-term adoption, and it helps if the puppy or kitten is already somewhat crate-and-potty-trained and has been socialized to be around people and other animals."

Of course, there is a minor hazard that comes with fostering animals from the shelter. Many times, fostering can lead to adopting, which is how the Bruchmiller's gained two of their dogs, Brooke and Darci.

"I just fell in love with them," she smiled.

Over at Cara Bryant's house, Waldo, a 9-week-old fox terrier mix, is scampering around, running back and forth between his water bowl and his squeaky toy. For the past two weeks, Bryant has been fostering Waldo with the help of her two permanent dogs, Brandi and Heidi.

"I've been doing this for about a year-and-a-half through the Dorothy H. O'Connor Center. It all started when my boss brought in this little old poodle that she found wandering the streets, and she asked me if I wanted a dog. I said no, but the dog adopted me anyway," she laughed. "After she died, I thought maybe I'd volunteer at a shelter to be around animals, and I've loved being a foster parent ever since."

Being a foster parent requires no training, just the commitment to do it and time to spend training and loving the animals, she added.

"Your job is to love a puppy, and who cannot do that?" Bryant laughed.

Of course, with that being the case, the hardest part comes when the foster families have to give the animal back to the shelter or to the awaiting adoptive family.

"It's tough, especially the first time you have to do it, but when you see how excited the families that are adopting them are, how can you not hand them over?" Bryant said. "That's the reason I do this. Waldo already has a family waiting to adopt him once he's old enough, and their 6-year-old little girl was so excited the first time she met him. She even brought toys over here for Waldo to play with. That's how you give them up. You know they are going to a good home."

The need for foster families is constant, especially during the spring and summertime when births are at their highest, Sally Kuecker, director of the Dorothy H. O'Connor Center, said.

The program has 19 foster families for canines and nine foster families for felines.

"There's a big need for more foster parents. Many animals end up in shelters because they have no social skills with people or other animals. Fostering is the first step to a successful adoption," Kuecker said. "The more people we have fostering, the more animals we can take in from the pound. It's definitely worth the reward. You'll be saving a life. Fostering an animal won't change the world, but it will change the world for that one animal."

There is a short application process involved in becoming a foster family, which includes an interview with Kuecker, but everyone is encouraged to apply, she added. Adopt-A-Pet, the other no-kill shelter in Victoria, also has a foster program but one that is mostly restricted to shelter employees and board members, director Renee Wheeler said.

"We usually do it ourselves and try not to foster out if we don't have to," she said. "Sometimes it gets hard having too many animals out at different homes."

Back at the Bruchmiller home, Kacey, the youngest daughter at age 12, is now cuddling on the couch with Brooke, the first dog in the family who went from being a foster pet to a permanent part of the family. Although she admits it can get emotional having to give yet another kitten or puppy away after helping to raise it, she sees the bigger picture even at her young age.

"I like that we take the animals in. I like how I get to see their personality as they grow up," she said. "And it's great to hear when they've been adopted and they have their own family, their own home."

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