“It’s awesome when you see that dog meet that family. I’m not kidding, it’s like magic and you get goose bumps. You just know when that’s the home for that dog or that cat. If anyone is thinking about volunteering, the facility allows all these programs to happen here and I can’t imagine being anywhere else,” says volunteer Nicole Smith. “If I could quit my job and do this full time, I would.”
One of the ways to get involved at the Fox Cities Humane Association is to become a foster parent. Smith has been fostering animals since 2011. Since then, she has temporarily welcomed about 20 dogs and a few kittens into her home to help them on their journey to find a permanent family.
“While living at home and allowing them to interact with other animals, we can see them from other angles and see if they’re good with dogs or cats. Seeing them thrive, we can make sure we find that right home for them and truly get to know their personality because you don’t always get that at the shelter,” says Smith.
Many times, animals leave the shelter and find foster homes for a medical reason or anxiety, but sometimes they just need a little extra care.
“Even the ones who would do fine with cats or dogs, sometimes need that extra training or that pack leader to make sure that we can send them to their new home. It’s like extra training for them and it’s going to benefit the dog or cat in the long run,” says volunteer coordinator Amy Prahl.
For the most part, Smith has had one foster pet in her home at a time for as long as 4 months or as short as a weekend, but also has had instances where she has accepted more than one puppy or kitten. “We’ve had mom and her two pups who were our first fosters, and we’ve had four pups on their own and then two black lap pups before. Otherwise, it has always been a single foster,” says Smith.
Even if you have pets of your own, it is possible to become a foster parent. Smith’s family owns four dogs and two cats. “I don’t know how many, but I know there are some volunteers who do not have pets of their own, but the majority of us probably have pets,” says Smith.
While many volunteers and foster families have animals of their own, it’s really beneficial to the shelter when an animal lover without any pets takes in a foster.
“We always need some pet-free homes because with the heart worm dogs, they need to be on quiet rest for months and we need a home that doesn’t have animals so that’s sometimes hard to come by. We’re also always looking for breed-specific foster parents for the pitbull breeds,” says Prahl. “Not everyone is comfortable with them and they may not know everything that they need to know about them so we’re always looking for someone that’s open to many options.”
The shelter also runs an in-house foster program called, “Rover Done Over.” More than 500 dogs have successfully gone through the program.
“Rover Done Over is a big program here. It’s an in-shelter foster program where they meet weekly as a team and work with the dogs, but then those individuals also come in by themselves anytime during the week or the weekends and help to train these dogs or rehabilitate them,” says Prahl.
The volunteers work through a ladder system that allows them to move up to participate in more hand-on activities with the pets and different programs. Currently, there are 500 volunteers actively involved in their volunteer system.
“The start of the ladder would basically be dishes and laundry. We have a critter room, which has rabbits and guinea pigs and such and volunteers clean that. Generally, cleaning up at the shelter, working at the pet stop in the Fox River Mall is a good way to start to work your way up to being dog handlers, greeters and deck hands,” says Prahl.
Volunteer Dawn Rank started volunteering in September and helped put together the Cat Tales program. Now, she runs the program every first and third Tuesday of each month.
“Cat Tales is a program that is reading with kids while there are cats in the room. It’s very rewarding, those cats love being with the kids,” says Rank. “It’s a 15-minute reading per child. And then after that, a new child and pet are brought into the room. They love to wait in the lobby for the next cat!”
The program helps the first- through fourth-graders and special needs children to gain a positive association to reading and animals while also socializing the shelter’s cats.
“It’s great because there are some kids who are a little afraid of dogs because they’re bigger or they’re just unsure and this is a great way to open them up to the Fox Valley Humane Association. When they’re here, they do see other dogs and it’s a good way to get rid of that fear,” says Prahl. “It’s like two volunteer programs working together.”
Even if you have a busy lifestyle, it is possible to make visits to the Fox Cities Humane Association if it’s an experience you want to try.
“I get asked this all the time about volunteering here, about the commitment and what you have to do. Volunteering is so worth it because you get to pick and choose your time,” says Smith.
The hardest and most rewarding part of the experience for volunteers is seeing foster pets return to the shelter, and watching animals find their new forever home.
“Once they’ve been in your home, you can’t help it. It’s full-out bawling,” says Smith.
However, sometimes the volunteers receive visits and updates from the animals that they have taken in. A few weeks ago, Smith received a visit from Gemini, a foster dog she cared for at the beginning of the year for about 3 months.
“There is probably a low percentage, but it is great when they do keep in touch and give picture updates and visits,” says Smith. “Seeing them and hearing how great they’re doing is the best. Just that whole, ‘do I know you,’ and then the full in your lap having your face licked.”
Whether you have animals of your own or not, volunteering at the Fox Valley Humane Association is a great way to give back to the community and help better the life of a dog or cat. If you would like to volunteer, apply at foxvalley.pets.org and come to the volunteer orientation on Jan. 10 at 10 a.m.