The Amazing Dog Foster Program!

by austinpetsalive • Posted in: Foster

In June of 2008 when APA revitalized efforts to make Austin a no-kill city, the dog foster program was the foundation of the rescue program. Since we had no facility, all of the dogs had to be pulled in to foster homes. Despite that limitation, APA saved 77 dogs that month and the Dog Foster program hasn’t stopped since. Instead the program has continued to grow. This fiscal year we have had an average of 136 foster parents actively fostering, and an average of 219 dogs in foster, each month! We are now fortunate to have a wonderful shelter for the dogs that can go directly into our adoption program, but our foster parents are still vital to save the puppies, the sick and injured dogs, the frightened and feral and the dogs that have been with us long enough to need a break from the shelter. Our foster parents are amazing and behind them is an equally amazing dog foster team.

Any one of the fabulous volunteers on the team could qualify to be volunteer of the month, but as a team they add up to one super volunteer. It is simply impossible to choose just one of these outstanding people to recognize. A great many people have helped the dog foster program over the years but a few must highlighted.

When I received Becca Mitschke’s application to foster in February of ’09 I was concerned that she lived over an hour away, in Giddings. However, in discussing it with Palmer Neuhaus I said, “I think she sounds like she would be a really good foster”. What an understatement! Not only did Becca go on to be a fabulous foster of bottle baby kittens, puppies and other needy dogs, she also joined my team as the Adoption Lead in May of that year. Since then she has worked tirelessly to help foster parents get their dogs to site, and more importantly, to get their dogs adopted directly out of foster homes without ever having to go to an adoption site. Last month a record 80 dogs went directly from their foster to their forever home! The Adopt Line jokes that Becca is really triplets because they don’t know how she raises a family, works full time and volunteers 50-60 hours week for APA! Becca is ably assisted in this effort by Angela Lozano who also volunteers her exceptional photography skills to APA!

Merlinda Leu started fostering about the same time as Becca, and several months later started assisting the foster team in a variety of positions. However, she had a true “trial by fire” when she had to take on leadership of the team when I took a two week vacation in late July. The person who was going to cover for me was unable to continue and Merlinda not only did not hesitate to take this on, she did a magnificent job. All without any preparation on what the position entailed or the opportunity to prepare and ask questions ahead of time. I was able to enjoy my vacation as Palmer kept assuring me, “don’t worry, Merlinda’s got it covered”. Merlinda has continued to be a stabilizing force on the foster team, continuing as a mentor even after returning to full time work. Recently she stepped in again to take on medical coordination while Mary Anne Hoskins takes a break. Mary Harris joined the Mentor team in April of 2010. When Merlinda returned to work Mary provided the critical Mon-Fri coverage of the Dog Foster Coordinator e-mail. Essentially the trio of Merlinda, Mary Anne and Mary, with assistance from Faith Wright (more about her later!) have worked tirelessly to make sure that foster parents and their dogs get the help they need and questions answered.

In May of ’09, one of our great puppy fosters, Jen Germann, agreed to take on the role of Behavior Lead – assisting fosters with behavior and training issues. As APA has become more successful in helping Austin achieve no-kill status we have seen an increase in the number of dogs that need a little more behavior help. Jen has been invaluable in this as well as providing critical consultation for the foster team. During the recent APA reorganization the foster team officially “lost” Jen to the Behavior team. Fortunately, Jen is a foster parent at heart and she continues to devote her considerable talents to helping foster parents help foster dogs. Jen will always be an “honorary” member of the dog foster team!

In June of ’09 Amy Meyer and Jackie Prewitt attended an all APA volunteer fair and started helping me screen new foster applicants. Jackie quickly took on the lead position and Amy has continued to devote many hours a week helping bring on new fosters – often contacting the placement team when she has signed up someone who might meet an immediate need. In August of 2010 Jere Hammel took on leadership of the team until January of this year when our current lead, Rachael Moore took on this role. Many wonderful volunteers have screened applications over the years but besides Amy, Rachael is currently helped by Dan Yudin, Kim Russell, Laura Correa, Laura Jones, Lisa Stolf, Jackie Prewitt, and our latest volunteer to join the team, Susan Hartmaier! Rachael is working closely with our foster recruiter, Mindy Briggs, Renee Hawkins and others to find more foster parents to meet the ever increasing need. Recently this team was joined by Jessica Sinn, Margarita Oviedo, and Pam Martin, who will be helping us show our foster parents how much we appreciate them!

The foster placement team is the group that interfaces with the Rescue team and posts our pleas for foster to the group and then works to make sure the placement is a good fit for dog and foster. This is a difficult position as we are not always able to find fosters for every dog in need. It’s emotionally exhausting to work so hard and yet sometimes have to say that no foster could be found. Fortunately this team, with the help of our amazing foster parents, doesn’t let that happen too often. In September of ’09 Faith Wright jumped in to fostering bottle babies and by the end of the year she was leading the Placement team. Faith is our “energizer bunny” and if she’s not a twin, then she must never sleep. Faith can place half a dozen dogs while driving her daughter to a cheer competition, come home and pick up bottle babies to feed while responding to e-mails until midnight! The Placement team has had many wonderful volunteers over the years but for over a year Faith has had a solid core of incredible volunteers including Carrie Winsett, Gabrielle James, Gina Goerdel and Rachael Moore. Last Fourth of July the Rescue team marveled that, while TLAC was closed, the Placement team managed to find fosters for all the dogs needing placement, including lots of puppies and a number of bottle babies. Faith also leads the special event team and is assisted by Rachel Stanley and Susan Hartmeier.

The foster team has been very fortunate to have had many amazing volunteers over the years and two others continue to help the team. Miki Tesh has helped with a variety of positions over the past couple of years and even though she has moved on to other teams we just won’t let her go. She continues to help us with technical spreadsheet and Petpoint issues and is always looking for ways to help us do more with less. Chris Morris is not only another of our “go to” fosters for our special dogs, he also helps by getting donated dog food out to our foster parents.

This doesn’t begin to cover how amazing each and every one of these volunteers is, and it leaves out so many that have helped the Dog Foster team over the years. It would take a book to do justice to everyone. But what has been consistent with all of the volunteers on this team over the years has been their unwavering commitment to APA, to the Dog Foster team and to the Dog Foster parents. Each and everyone of them works innumerable hours and gives up time with their own families and pets to make sure that the foster dogs of APA are well taken care of. And their work goes beyond the team. After obtaining our new shelter I was struck by how many of the DF team were on site, scraping cabinets, painting walls and purchasing materials with their own money to make our new shelter a reality. They are among the first to sign up and show up at special events and assist in any other way that they can help APA. It is an honor and a privilege to work with these inspiring heroes. They, along with our amazing foster parents, will not stop until no more animals are needlessly killed. Several thousand foster dogs owe their lives to them, and many have said as much with a thousand wet kisses!

– Ann L., Dog Foster Program Manager

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