Foster Homes: The Future of Animal Rescue
Imagine adopting a pet and knowing exactly how they’ll act in the home environment before they even walk in the door. No more lies about the new puppy being potty trained from the owner of its mother, who just had a litter. No worries about bringing home a cat, who has never been around other animals or small children. Thanks to the work of Secondhand Hounds and their foster care approach, new owners can understand the behavior of an animal before the adoption paperwork is even filled out.
“We truly believe the only way to find amazing matches for adopters is to have a very clear idea of what an animal is like within a home environment,” says Rachel Mairose, Secondhand Hound’s Executive Director. “Then, we know exactly what that animal needs. Some dogs need to be the only dog in the home, some dogs need to have stay-at-home parents due to anxiety issues, some cats need to be with other cats; we would not have any idea of these personality traits if these animals were not in a home.”
The volunteer foster parents for Secondhand Hounds take in an animal or two and treat them like part of their own family until a “forever home” is found. They discover any of the animal’s quirks, likes and dislikes, energy level, and their ability to be housebroken and crate trained, among many other things. After the animal has spent some time in the foster home, their foster parents write biographies about them. From there, potential adopters can look through the gallery of adoptable animals on the Secondhand Hounds website (www.secondhandhounds.org) and find an animal that truly fits their needs/lifestyle. Hopeful owners have the opportunity to discuss each animal with their foster parent to make sure it is a good fit before bringing the animal home.
Of course, compatibility plays a large role in the adoption process. Mairose says, “We rely on our foster families to make the ultimate determination where their foster animal would do best.” Mentioning that she believes the future of animal rescue is in foster-based programs, Mairose adds that the number-one goal of Secondhand Hounds is to match each animal with a forever family (with heavy emphasis on “forever”): someone who will love and care for the animal until its final day.
Aside from the more than 350 foster homes within the Secondhand Hounds network, Mairose and her small staff of less than ten employees also rely on the efforts of over 1,000 volunteers. She laughs, “Volunteers and fosters ARE the fabric of Secondhand Hounds! I am just the knitter.”
Mairose’s staff makes sure each foster and volunteer is informed, feels appreciated, and fits in well with the program. From staffing office hours and fostering animals, to helping with intakes and transporting animals, Mairose says there would be no Secondhand Hounds without the impressively large network of volunteers.
The passion of the volunteers is reflected in Mairose’s own dedication. “I decided from an early age I needed to throw myself into something I was truly passionate about,” she says. “I couldn’t imagine working long hours, hard days, and putting my work ahead of almost everything, if I did not believe it was necessary and worthwhile. Being involved with rescue has not only been worthwhile, but it has also changed the way I view my life. Working for something bigger than yourself, an organization that makes a difference, a community that believes what you do—there is nothing better.”
The idea of making a difference has, without a doubt, worked its way into the organization’s mission statement to “help dogs [ed. note: although Secondhand Hounds also works with cats and other small animals] that are suffering or neglected, by rescuing them from unsuitable conditions, providing veterinary and foster care, and placing them in qualified, responsible and caring adoptive homes.” This mission statement, paired with the four guiding principles of responsibility, leadership, commitment, and compassion, has set Secondhand Hounds up for success.
With the mission statement and guiding principles as a backbone, Secondhand Hounds has committed to combating pet overpopulation, changing the perception of “bully breeds,” finding forever homes, and treating every rescue as a personal family pet.
Every rule and regulation is a direct reflection of that backbone. For example, Secondhand Hounds forbids adoptive families to declaw their cats, and making sure that every animal is kept as an indoor pet to combat diseases of not only the newly adopted animal, but also any current animals in the home.
This commitment is even reflected in Secondhand Hounds’ training classes, offered free to dogs currently in rescue and discounted for dogs adopted through the organization. According to Mairose, this is great for two reasons. “First off, some of our rescue dogs have minor to moderate behavioral issues, ranging from animal aggression, reactivity, to bad manners like jumping, mouthing, and so on,” she says. “Our classes help foster parents learn how to deal with these issues, while also having tips and tricks for any potential adopters. The classes also are great for new adopters, who either want to start bonding with their new dog through training, or have had issues arrive after adoption that need to be addressed.”
These classes serve as a tangible representation of the commitment to find forever homes for each animal, ensuring that they won’t be sold or traded after adoption. And, as the guiding principles allude, overpopulation is a serious problem for animals. Luckily, according to Mairose, the Twin Cities has a lower euthanasia rate than many communities, although efforts are still needed to focus on the local community when possible. For this reason, Secondhand Hounds concentrates pit bull and lab rescues locally, and supports higher kill communities with other breeds.
Mairose says, “We concentrate on Joplin, Missouri, as well as many high-kill communities and shelters in Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kansas, and Georgia. On average, 10-30 dogs are imported from out of state to Secondhand Hounds on a weekly basis.”
The need for forever homes isn’t reserved just for dogs, either, with a large euthanasia threat to cats and other small animals. Due to a continuous need in the Twin Cities community, all of Secondhand Hounds cats and critters are local. “We are huge believers that local overpopulation and neglect issues must be addressed when possible,” Mairose adds. “And only at that point will we go outside our community to help out-of-state shelters and impounds whose euthanasia rates are much higher than ours.”
All gallery photos by Karin Newstrom. www.karinnewstrom.com