By SCOTT AUST
Bear, a 13-year-old chow-mix, plops down next to the visitor, sticks his paw out and begs for some loving while looking up with a doggie-smile spread across his furry face.
Bear is just one of many dogs and cats getting a second chance at life and finding forever homes through the foster home program through the Garden City Animal Shelter and Finney County Humane Society.
Bear has been in foster care with Tami Schwindt since April and fits right in with Schwindt's other dogs, all older dogs she adopted through the shelter.
Schwindt applied to become a licensed foster home about three years ago. Her daughter was fostering puppies at the time and Schwindt enjoyed helping out. Now, Schwindt tends to look for older dogs and dogs that are in dire need of getting out of the shelter.
"Bear, if we hadn't taken him, he was so old he would have been put to sleep because he's just not adoptable," Schwindt said. "He just came in our home and plopped down. I think he likes it here because it's more of a laid-back atmosphere because the other dogs are older."
Bear has a hard time with his back legs and some hearing problems. Schwindt thinks she'll probably have him until he dies.
"You get attached to them the longer you keep them. Bear is a tough one. If there was someone who wanted to adopt him, and we felt like they would take good care of him, we'd certainly do that. But you get attached," she said.
Typically, Schwindt takes in one or two dogs at a time, usually emergency cases that are close to being euthanized, which buys time to find a rescue organization with an opening, or to find individuals looking to adopt.
Becoming a licensed foster home requires a person to go through an application process through the animal shelter. Some of the requirements include having a fenced yard, owning a home or having a landlord's permission, keeping immunizations current, providing food, shelter and socialization, and making animals available for potential adopters to see. In addition to filling out applications and signing forms, part of the process involves a home inspection.
Carol Hauschild became a foster person 13 years ago and takes in both dogs and cats. She said there was a "cute, little, fluffy blonde puppy" with a broken leg and bite wounds from other dogs that she saw in the shelter one day who stole her heart. She filled out forms to become a foster home and ended up adopting the puppy, who she named Bailey.
"They're all sweet beings, and they all deserve a chance. There's only so much room in the shelter, and if we can't get them out of there, they don't have that chance," Hauschild said.
While every dog or cat that ends up in the shelter brings its own baggage, Hauschild said she has never had a bad experience with an animal she has fostered.
"That may sound stupid, but they're just sweet, sweet animals, and they all deserve that chance. That's all they need is a place to hang out until we can either get them to rescue or we find that forever home that they're waiting for. It's just a worthwhile, rewarding thing to do," she said.
Hauschild usually fosters several animals at a time. Right now, she has about five dogs and several kittens. The length of stay for a fostered animal varies, she said, depending on whether a rescue organization has an opening or individuals come along looking to adopt.
Laurie Chapman's family adopted a cat fostered by Hauschild about three years ago. Levi, assumed to be a Russian Blue, fit right in with Chapman's two dogs and even asserted himself by taking over a dog bed.
"We always at our home look for animals through the shelter. We believe it's better to adopt an unwanted pet rather than going to a breeder," Chapman said.
Hauschild was recommended to Chapman by the shelter. It didn't take long for the family to settle on Levi, and she wouldn't trade him for the world.
"Levi was always in a basket, always in a corner away from the others. He just kind of kept to himself and was really quiet. I guess we were drawn to his personality," Chapman said. "It's been great. He's just been a neat addition to the house. He's so laid-back."
Chapman would recommend a fostered animal to anyone looking for a pet.
"There are so many animals out there that don't have a home, and they need love. It's just a shame that people don't adopt more often. These animals need love, too. They are great pets," she said.
Luci Douglass got her foster license three years ago after learning about the program while trying to find the owner of a stray dog that showed up at her rural Finney County home. At any one time, she has fostered up to seven or eight dogs at a time, usually larger breeds that are more difficult to find homes for. She also has seven dogs of her own, which makes living in the country a benefit, she said.
"A lot of these dogs just need a place to stay for awhile," Douglass said.
Douglass said Danna Jones, rescue coordinator at the shelter, is tireless in matching up dogs with rescue organizations. But if a dog is adopted locally, it's usually because someone saw the dog posted online at Pet Finder or through Facebook.
Douglass set up a Facebook account primarily so she could post pictures of her foster dogs and has had some success finding good homes.
One of Douglass' success stories was a big Doberman mix named Clifford, who had socialization issues at first, but Douglass' son, Daniel, worked with him to become placeable with a rescue organization.
"He was 85 to 90 pounds of muscle. A gorgeous dog, but he didn't like other male dogs. After working with him for a couple of months, we had a perfectly adoptable dog that went on to be adopted by a pediatrician in Colorado, and goes jogging off leash, does all sorts of things you would have never thought he could do," she said.
Happy endings like that provide great satisfaction in being a foster home, Douglass said, and also allowed her and her kids to meet some really great dogs.
Hauschild said the Humane Society is the backbone of the foster program, providing assistance with medical care, transportation to rescue organizations some distance away and with food.
"Without that assistance, it would be real hard to keep the program going," she said. "We really appreciate those connections. They do help."
Hauschild said there's always a need for more foster homes — even taking in one or two animals, so many more could be saved.
"Bottom line, there's only so much space at the shelter, and they have to keep some open kennels. The reality is, one way or another, there has to be space," she said.
While the goal is to find good homes, it's often a bittersweet moment for foster families when they have to let their friend go. But, as Hauschild noted, you can't keep them all, and letting one go opens up a spot to help another dog or cat.
"I don't stand and bawl like I used to do," Hauschild said. "I can handle it a little better than I did at first. It gets easier. Because there's always that other dog and cat out there who needs help."
For all the foster people interviewed, the best part about what they do is helping dogs and cats in need, many of them very close to being euthanized, and all the affection the animals return to them.
"To me, dogs are like children. They rely on you for their food, care and nurturing. They give you such unconditional love and don't ask for anything in return, and they're such sweet companions," Schwindt said.
Douglass said watching a timid dog, one who may have been abused, turn into a happy, social, lively dog is what she enjoys.
"It's watching a dog come alive like that, that's as much a reward as anything," she said.