Did you ever fall in love with something that wasn't yours? I did. Her name was Savannah.


She had four legs...and as many puppies.


Remember last winter when it was so cold that each breath felt like thousands of tiny
icicles puncturing your lungs? It was on such a day that an elegant, white-and-tan hunting
hound limped into my life and changed the way I think about the animal-adoption process.


My family and I had just heard a story on the radio about a female dog found frozen on the side of the road with pups in her belly. The mercury had dipped into single digits and the creature's owner had left her outside with no shelter.


Moments before this broadcast, my kids and I had left our warm home, bound for school, after a full breakfast. Now we were sitting at a stop sign with tears in our eyes. We reflected on our many blessings, including a roof over our heads and enough to eat, two things most homeless canines lack.


We had always been grateful to the family who fostered our own beloved pet, who came from a Golden Retriever rescue group; perhaps we could pay the debt forward. That is how we decided to foster.


And so, I contacted Saving Grace Animals for Adoption, a Wake Forest organization that rescues as many as 90 canines each month. I discovered that the dog on the radio, whose owner had chained her outside and had abandoned her when the puppies' arrival became imminent, had given birth in a ditch.


As a mom, I found it easy to empathize. I simply could not imagine how it would feel to be unable to provide food and shelter for my newborns.


On the day I met the dog we named Savannah, she was so thin I didn't see how she had survived the experience of giving birth in such extreme cold. The sadness was overwhelming as I surveyed the filth matted in her beautiful coat.


Fortunately, Savannah's appetite was good. With copious amounts of food and baby shampoo supplied by Saving Grace, along with plenty of love, our family nursed her back to life, enabling her to care for the offspring.


Fostering Savannah and her puppies – whom we named London, Paris, Siena and Charlotte - brought our family a tremendous amount of joy.


Animal lover that I am, I had not previously realized the critical need for pet fostering in our community. Those of us who have adopted animals from rescue organizations realize the important role these groups play in matching us with our best friends. What goes unnoticed by many is the integral role that in-home foster-care plays in supporting the adoption process.


In facilities that take in sick adult dogs, puppies younger than 10 weeks are at risk for contracting deadly pathogens. This makes in-home foster-care crucial. In addition, fostering provides adoption team members with valuable information that allows them to match the furry ones with forever families.


As a first-timer, I not only witnessed the benefits for Fido in foster care, I also reaped the rewards this program can bestow upon families. It was a transformative experience for my kids. They learned in a very hands-on way their responsibility to care for animals as part of the environment. Additionally, we had the satisfaction of knowing we were providing a community service by giving other families' pets a good start in life.


Further benefits of fostering include providing entertainment and companionship for the permanent four-legged members of the family.


Christie Rhoad, a regular foster parent for Cause for Paws, which is headquartered in Raleigh, appreciates that her dog, Sophie, has a playmate when another tail-wagger is in the house. For single-pet households in which owners are reluctant to introduce another permanent member of the family, pets often need more exercise and get into trouble out of boredom. Introducing a temporary companion animal can protect homes from destruction and save money spent on doggie daycare.


Fostering may also provide an opportunity to "test drive" a bowwow to see if her companionship is right for a particular family.


Many volunteers with Saving Grace have adopted dogs that they fostered. Then, they often continue fostering more woof-woofs to provide companionship for their new pet.
Foster families also appreciate that they're able to do so much good without breaking the bank.


"I liked that I had no out-of-pocket expenses as far as my foster pet was concerned," Rhoad reflected.


Like Cause for Paws, most rescue organizations that rely upon fostering pay for all expenses while the pet is in a home.


One of the things that surprised Rhoad was how easy it was to get involved. For smaller organizations, such as Saving Grace and Cause for Paws, often a brief questionnaire and phone interview suffice. In many cases, the need for fostering is so great, you could be welcoming a cherished, if nonpermanent, member of your family in only a few hours.


Beth Sage, foster coordinator for Saving Grace, recommended that prospective foster families begin with short-term care. Minding a mom and pups for 10 weeks, as we did, is demanding and not always feasible. New foster families can begin with an older puppy who needs shorter periods of watching over or an adult dog who needs digs for the weekend.


Saving Grace's Weekend Host Program allows families to enjoy the company of an adult dog in their home for two days. The program supports the adoption process because prospective adopters learn important information about Spot's personality from foster families. It also provides people with a low-risk opportunity to assess their preparedness for fostering.


Even full-time workers and parents of young children have success with fostering.


"It's OK to be gone all day," Sage noted. "The pups are still better off than in their previous situation."


Groups like Saving Grace use social media, such as Facebook and Instagram, to fuel interest in adoption. This strategy has been successful for canines like Savannah and her pups, all of whom were adopted as soon as their pictures were posted on the organization's website.


My own incentive for fostering arrived in the moment I met Savannah. I looked into her eyes as she curled her emaciated body protectively around her newborn pups, and I knew that I had saved a life...make that five. More importantly, I knew that they were all grateful for anything I could do.


Note: This article focuses on Saving Grace and Cause for Paws because they accept any sort of dog and also rescue cats and an assortment of other animals.


If you have an interest in fostering, please contact:
Beth Sage,
foster coordinator
Saving Grace


Mollie Doll,
outreach coordinator
Cause for Paws


Also, many local rescue organizations focus exclusively on one breed of dog. For example, we adopted our family dog from Neuse River Golden Retriever Rescue in Raleigh. Finally, there are organizations that focus exclusively on felines, such as Safe Haven for Cats, a no-kill shelter based in Raleigh that serves Wake, Durham, Orange and Franklin counties.



Elisabeth Lee, who enjoys writing about Southern women's history, lives in Raleigh with her husband and four children, two of whom have fur.