The success of Greyhound Options in its mission to find good homes for retired racing greyhounds depends on the generous support of our volunteers. These kind people help bring the dogs from the track, publicize their attributes at our storefront booths, participate in our fundraising efforts, and, most importantly, foster a new grey in their homes until an adoptive family is found.
The Importance of Fostering
By Claire Sygiel
This article first appeared in Celebrating Greyhounds: The Magazine
(Spring 1998, Volume 3, Number 1)
Regular viewers of the Oprah Winfrey show are familiar with Oprah’s recent call for all of us to be thankful of our blessings every day. This is nothing new to us at G.O., every day we realize how fortunate we are to have one particular group of people working with us – our foster families.
One of the unique aspects of our group is that we do not operate a kennel. All of the dogs we take off the track go into loving, caring foster homes where families begin to help them make the often scary transition from kennel to home life. The idea that a dog will have already spent some time in a foster home prior to adoption is the one thing most prospective adopters, especially those with children, seem to appreciate the most. We are only able to offer this valuable service because of the generosity of time and support from our foster families.
What does it take to be a foster parent? A little bit of time and a whole lot of love. All of our foster families are different, some live in large country homes, some live in the middle of the city. Some have huge backyards, some must walk the dogs. Some own their own home, some rent. But what they all in common is one thing – a generous heart.
A generous heart is what allows a person to get up at 5:30 am for a walk on a cold winter morning on a foster dog’s first morning away from the kennel. It is what gives them the ability to see beyond the occasional accidents in the house, and the sleepless nights. Our dedicated group of foster families see the big picture and know that what they are doing is important – helping a deserving animal find a second chance at a happy and healthy life.
It doesn’t matter whether you live in a castle or a condo, it’s what you have inside to give that matters. The Greyhounds give what they can – their good company and their unconditional love. All they need from us is a little bit of our time and a whole lot of our love.
The Ups and Downs of Fostering
By Cliff Kerr
This article first appeared in Celebrating Greyhounds: The Magazine
(Spring 1998, Volume 3, Number 1)
Let’s face it, fostering is inconvenient. Managing the logistics of a fostering program is a bit like juggling flaming torches. You never know when a “cat-safe” dog is going to start chasing the family feline or decide that peeing and pooping are acceptable behaviors in the foster family?s living room. Before we can bring in new dogs, we have to have a foster family lined up for every one. We also need a couple of back-up families that don?t have cats just in case.
Prospective adopters can see the dogs either at a meet-and-greet or at the foster family’s home. This means that the foster family must transport their dog to a store front every weekend or have people visiting them where they live. Again, when transportation problems arise, they must be dealt with. Now lets throw another monkey wrench into the works. The foster families are not allowed to release a dog without the permission of a placement rep. So, when an adoptive family wants to take a dog on the spot, the foster family has to find a placement rep who is familiar with the dog and get a decision. This could mean a series of hasty phone calls. If the rep allows the dog to go on a visit, the foster family has to get a signed release form and sends all of the dog?s paperwork along with the adoptive family. Now the foster family is left without a dog until we find out if the visit is going to turn into a placement. Of course all the time this is going on, the placement rep is in regular communication with the adoptive family as is the foster family. Finally, if the placement is made, the foster family becomes available to take in another new greyhound. This just about covers the management end of things.
Being a foster family has an awesome responsibility. First they are responsible for the safety and well-being of the dog and must be dog-savvy enough to keep him/her from making a mistake that could lead to a bad reputation. In other words, the foster family must use a crate so that the dog won?t have the opportunity to become destructive. They must not allow the dog up on the furniture thereby creating bad habits for the adoptive family to deal with. They cannot allow the dog to become a picky eater. They may or may not need to teach the dog about stairs. They may or may not want to start some basic obedience work. They must be sure that the dog is well behaved and under control at all times. Failure to meet the above standards only results in problems. The foster family is supposed to help the dog prepare for placement, not make it impossible. During the foster period, we have the opportunity to learn about the dog?s personality and can therefore make a better match with a potential adoptive family.
Fostering, the way we do it, is a very tough chore that must be a labor of love or it just won?t work. Our foster families keep coming back for more and some will call and ask why we haven?t sent a dog if we give them a two-week break. Some families burn out after a while. Some families just can?t part with their foster and end up adopting a second, third, or forth dog. Some families just never say no. Because of attrition, we are constantly looking for new foster people. We keep an average of 6-8 dogs in foster at all times, and have had as many as 19 at one time.
My knowledge about fostering comes from firsthand experience. Everything we’ve done in our group has been on a “ready, fire, aim” basis. We got into fostering because we didn’t have a kennel and it just seemed like the logical way to go. I know that there are other ways to run a foster program. Some groups place their dogs straight off the track and then foster the fall-outs. This can result in an astronomical return rate and a lot of disgruntled adopters.
But what about using a kennel? Since we don’t have one, I can only speculate from what I have seen and heard secondhand. I do know that the track prefers to send their dogs into foster homes because the process puts them on the adoptive track faster than going into another kennel situation. While a kennel is much more convenient from an operational standpoint, the resident dogs are constantly being compared. Offering an adoptive family a selection to choose from never allows any single dog to stand out on his/her own merits. “Well this one’s too big, and I don’t exactly like the color of that one, or this one doesn’t seam as friendly as the others.” In a foster home, each dog is viewed one at a time in a family setting. Each dog is allowed to stand on his/her own merits without being compared to 10 or 20 others. When people are able to pick from a large selection of dogs, there will always be 1 or 2 that just get left behind.
I don’t necessarily believe that we should be making things more convenient for our group or for adoptive families. I do believe that what we are doing is trying to find homes for dogs and not trying to find dogs for homes. Therefore if we can make more quality placements by fostering, then I think we are on the right track. Our system is far from perfect. When you factor in the personalities and opinions of our foster families, dealing with our program becomes a never ending series of phone conversations. Constant communication becomes an exhausting necessity.
Is there any such thing as a perfect set up? I think there is, and I have harbored a vision of a two-sided program that could utilize the convenience of a kennel and the effectiveness of fostering. If I had a kennel, it would be a plush vacation place for dogs whose parents are off traveling. It would be used to receive dogs from the track and could hold them until they went into foster families. It would be a fall out shelter for dogs that are being returned and need a spot right now. It would not replace our foster program but would serve to support it. Of course, operating a kennel would bring its own set of logistical nightmares. So I guess it will just have to remain a vision for now.
Please consider joining the ranks of our volunteers and foster homes. You can contact us for more information.
Please contact us with any questions you may have about adoption of or care for retired racing Greyhounds.
Cliff Kerr (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Claire Sygiel (email@example.com)
43 Sczygiel Road
Ware, MA 01082
Land-line 413-967-9088 Mobile 413-348-6178
FOSTER RESPONSIBILITIES, DOS AND DON’TS
The following guidelines for foster families are intended to help each placement be as successful as possible. We understand that all families, households and situations are unique, but these have served us well over the years.
1. Provide a safe and loving environment to a Greyhound who will likely be frightened by all of the changes he/she is experiencing. Provide food, water and comfortable bedding. Food expenses will be reimbursed upon request.
2. Make the foster dog available for visits with potential adopters.
3. To the best of your abilities, teach your foster dog proper house manners.
4. If possible, teach the foster how to walk up and down stairs.
5. Deliver your foster to one of our partnering veterinarians for any appointments that have been set up. Should you be unable to provide such transportation, let us know so we can make alternate arrangements.
6. Complete the “Foster Dog Assessment” form located in the dog’s folder.
* Crate your foster dog when you are not at home, to prevent him/her from soiling in the house or engaging in destructive behavior. This can be difficult to correct once established, and makes the dog harder to place. Even when you are home for the first few days, keep a close eye on your foster so that he/she does not have the opportunity to soil, chew or get into trouble. Be careful never to use the crate as punishment, but rather keep it a pleasant, comfortable place for your foster by providing special treats, safe toys or meals in the crate.
* Walk your foster on a leash frequently, even if you have a fenced yard. This will help us learn whether he/she is a good walker and will eliminate while on a leash.
* Introduce you foster dog(s) to as many new situations as possible, keeping in mind that he/she is in uncharted territory. Do your best to ensure that the situations are pleasant and not traumatic to the dog. Always use extreme caution and good sense when introducing your foster to young children and small animals.
* Have your foster wear his/her muzzle when first introduced to your cats or small animals, until you are
comfortable with the dog’s level of interest. Do not hesitate to use the muzzle if play outdoors with your own dog(s) becomes too high?energy or competitive. Injuries can occur in the blink of an eye.
* Ask for help ASAP if problems arise. It is always easier to fix a situation sooner rather than later.
* Let your foster dog on your furniture or bed. This is a very hard habit for the adoptive family to break and it can lead to space aggression.
* Feed table scraps. This is another bad habit that the adoptive family may not wish to continue. It can also lead to obesity, digestive problems and even severe medical problems should you inadvertently feed him/her onions or the many other human foods that are toxic to dogs.
* Free feed. This can make it difficult to know how much he/she is eating, and can also lead to housebreaking difficulties.
* Leave your foster dog alone with young children. While the greyhound is not an aggressive breed, children have a tendency to poke, grab, pinch or snuggle just a bit too hard. Any dog will bite when provoked and greyhounds are not likely to have been socialized to children.
Please let us know if you have any questions regarding these guidelines or anything else that may come up during your fostering experience. We want it to be a positive one for both you and your foster dog(s)!