Why Foster?

By Lisa Frankland

Fostering is probably the most difficult aspect of rescue—it seems as if qualified volunteers are always in short supply! The USKBTC will normally only consider people who are members of the USKBTC or its Chapter Clubs, preferably with a considerable breed background that includes experience in recognizing and dealing with common behavior problems and health issues. These volunteers are willing to bring a strange dog, often from an unknown background, into their homes, evaluate health and temperament, groom it, and treat the dog as a member of their family for periods ranging from two weeks to a couple of months or more, and then allow the dog to be adopted by somebody else. Rarely, a dog is deemed un-adoptable for reasons of temperament or health, and the foster volunteer is then involved in a heart-wrenching decision of euthanizing a dog they only wanted to help. The experience can be draining and is not without some risks. We are always searching and begging for new foster volunteers as previous ones feel they have done their part after one or two experiences, or have a change in circumstances including sometimes adopting a dog they were fostering.

So, why do we continue to insist on fostering dogs prior to placement, especially when many other rescue groups operate on referral only or “foster to adopt”—a procedure where a dog is placed directly into the family that plans to adopt it, with little or no prior evaluation? The reason for this is that we want to make the best possible matches between dogs and their new homes, so that both the dog and its hopefully forever family are safe and happy! First, there is the matter of liability. We need to be reasonably sure the dogs we place in homes are not going to do anything that might cause the Club or any individuals involved in these placements to be sued. And as guardians of the breed, we try to not only protect the dogs by matching them up with suitable homes, but the public, and the breed’s reputation as well. We do this during the foster process by identifying dogs that are not suitable for certain situations (e.g. a home with other dogs) or too dangerous to be adoptable at all, and thus prevent some possibly tragic outcomes. We also learn about each dog’s individual personality and habits—things we can use when describing the dog to potential adopters in order to make him more appealing, as well as for finding the best fit. In short, we are filling in for breeders who are either unknown or unable/unwilling to do what any truly responsible breeder wants to do: assume lifetime responsibility for their dogs!

There are several reasons the USKBTC is opposed to foster to adopt, not the least of which is that somebody who takes a dog in with the intention of keeping it is going to have a totally different mindset than a foster home that, at least initially, considers the dog a temporary guest they are taking care of for somebody else. The latter can usually evaluate the dog much more objectively. The former, on the other hand, is more likely to overlook or excuse problems, such as fighting with other dogs in the home or aggressively charging at a young child (both of which have actually happened), that may indicate that the dog is a poor match for their family, or not a candidate for adoption at all. And what of any health problems that are discovered, or other unexpected surprises, such as a bitch the previous owner neglected to mention had mammary tumors, or the “3-5 year old neutered male” who turns out to be a geriatric, with badly infected teeth and a retained testicle!

Recently, I was contacted about an older bitch whose owner was deceased. The daughter described the dog in glowing terms, but strangely enough, nobody in the family wanted to take her mother’s “wonderful, devoted companion,” including the daughter! Further questioning revealed that the dog would attack visitors and could not be trusted around young children. The daughter did not want the dog put down but was resistant to my suggestion that a Club member first visit the dog on her home turf in order to evaluate this behavior and determine if the dog was actually adoptable before taking her. She contacted another rescue group, being careful to downplay the dangerous behaviors, and they agreed to immediately take the dog and place her in a foster to adopt home! I only hope that this behavior is manageable and that nobody gets hurt, but even if it is, would the new owners have wanted this dog had they known in advance?

People who adopt a rescue Kerry through the USKBTC or its Chapter Clubs do so with the assurance that the dog has been thoroughly evaluated by someone familiar with the breed, and that they have received a complete and accurate description of the dog, including any health or training problems, before agreeing to adopt it. The dogs are already spayed or neutered, microchipped, up-to-date on vaccinations, groomed, and any health or behavior issues have been addressed. If the family changes its mind in the first 30 days, they can return the dog and receive a full refund of their adoption donation. And they can count on continuing support and advice, including us taking the dog back at any time, for the life of the dog. For this the adoptive family pays a donation of up to $500, the exact amount depending on the age and overall adoptability of the particular dog. This amount doesn’t always cover shelter fees, vet bills, and other expenses that Rescue has to pay for, but it is a substantial amount nevertheless. People are willing to go through a rigorous screening process, sign a rather strict adoption contract, and pay this donation, not just because “it’s for the Kerries,” but because they recognize everything they are getting in the deal. The fostering process takes a lot of the uncertainty out of adopting a dog, and is certainly far less risky than bringing a dog of unknown or questionable background directly into your home!

And, yes, sometimes our foster homes do end up adopting the dogs they volunteered to evaluate for placement, but we still believe it is important to treat fostering and adoption as two separate processes, and discourage prospective adopters who wish to foster only as a way to expedite adoption.

A Few Recent Rescue Cases

Thank you to Anne Marie Flynn for handling the fostering and adoption of “Jack,” an eight year old male whose owners gave him up because they were having a baby. Jack’s story on our web site generated a huge response, and Anne Marie ultimately chose a couple who lived in her area to adopt him so she could continue to see Jack and follow up on him. Nicole Carfora of the KBTC of Chicago fostered and placed “Belle,” a 3 1/2 year old bitch whose high spirits proved to be a little too much for her previous owners to handle. A big thanks to Nicole for this, as well as to Laverne Prewitt and the Texas Club for assisting with Belle’s placement and follow up in her new home. Also many, many thanks are in order to Nicole, Judy Lamken, Reita Nicholson, and other members of the Chicago Club, along with Gigi Reiling of the KBTCSL, for their help in busting a Kerry out of a private shelter and returning him to his breeder.

I recently finished fostering a Kerry—my first in four years. “Sammy” is a six year old male whose owners first contacted the USKBTC through our web site, claiming that his severe “furonculosis” and dog aggression left them no choice but to turn him over to Rescue or have him euthanized. Their veterinarian confirmed this, and stated that in her opinion he was not adoptable. Thankfully for Sammy, Texas member Sue Gastrock and her vet, Dr. Wes Taylor, were willing to evaluate him, and came up with an entirely different diagnosis…dermal cysts! The aggression issue turned out to be more overly-excited, “in-your-face” behavior due to lack of training and socialization than actual aggression, and was easily remedied. After two months of basic training and determining how best to manage his cysts, the new and improved Sammy was adopted by a family in Oklahoma.

My favorite rescue success stories involve the dogs that never actually end up in rescue, any rescue, either because the owners get support and advice that allows them to keep their dog, or the breeders step in and personally handle the rehoming. Most of these I never hear about, but I do want to thank Monica Adair and Carol Pizzino specifically for helping an overwhelmed new Kerry owner, as well as all the USKBTC and Chapter Club rescue volunteers and other members who not only look out for their own dogs, but are more than happy to lend a hand whenever they can and welcome new Kerry owners into the fold, regardless of where those dogs actually came from. You are truly the unsung heroes of our breed!

Last Updated: 10/20/2008, 8:45 pm