Fostering Puppies During the Pandemic

It's great for the dogs, but even better for people.

Frankie foster puppy
Fluffy foster puppy Frankie is deaf and vision impaired.

Mary Jo DiLonardo 

We have two new guests that joined us over the weekend. Admittedly, they’re a bit high maintenance. They get cranky when they’re hungry, hate to be left alone, and sometimes wake up in the middle of the night yelling.

Sheldon and Frankie are my latest foster puppies. I have been fostering for several years, but like so many people, I really got busy during the pandemic. If we were going to hunker down, I wanted to share our space with some little guys in need. So far, I’ve had seven puppies since March. They have been the best stress busters ever.

Early on when the novel coronavirus hit, everyone had the same idea. In spring, many rescues and animal shelters had lots of inquiries from people wanting to adopt or foster pets. They figured it was the perfect time to be home with a new family member. 

Unfortunately, many shelters had to shut down and stop accepting animals and for a while, they couldn't let people in to adopt the ones they had. In April 2020, the total number of dogs brought into rescue organizations dropped by 49.7% from 2019 with adoptions falling by 38%, according to national statistics from PetPoint. Cat intake dropped by 51.9% with adoptions falling by 43.3%. (It obviously makes sense that adoptions would fall if you don’t have the animals available for adoption.)

But still, many rescue groups and shelters couldn’t say no to the animals in need.

“It has been wonderful to hear from shelters across the country that are so grateful for the outpouring of community support. An unprecedented number of individuals and families applied to become first-time fosters during the pandemic, saving many shelters from becoming completely overwhelmed and allowing them to pivot to supporting pet parents in their community,” Amy Nichols, vice president of Companion Animals and Equine Protection at the Humane Society of the United States, tells Treehugger.

“During such a challenging and stressful time, it is human nature to want to help, and for the thousands of people who ‘always wanted to foster,’ this was their chance. With kids at home eager to lend a hand, very limited travel and vacations, and an increase in walks and reconnecting with nature, it is the perfect combination to help out shelters — providing an enriching experience for the foster and the pets they stepped up to help.”

Sheldon and Frankie

foster puppy Sheldon
At one point, Sheldon was missing most of the hair on his paws and tail.  Mary Jo DiLonardo

I have fostered for several organizations, but really love to take in pets for Speak! St. Louis, which focuses on dogs with special needs. Because I’m in the Atlanta area, we rely on volunteers to help get the puppies here. Frankie and Sheldon are both Speak puppies.

Frankie is a double merle. Merle is a swirl pattern in a dog’s coat. Sometimes disreputable breeders will breed two merle dogs together in hopes of ending up with more merle puppies. Those puppies have a 25% chance of being double merle, meaning they have a predominantly white coat – and typically some sort of hearing or vision loss or both. 

Frankie came from a puppy mill where he is a new designer breed mix of Cocker spaniel and Australian shepherd. He was discarded because he is deaf and vision impaired. He weighs a mere 3.3 pounds and is a tiny little bouncing fluffball that I just want to carry around with me everywhere. (Frankie often has other ideas and will let me know with his very well-developed little lungs if he wants to get down and play.)

By comparison, at 5 pounds, Sheldon is huge. The story is that someone adopted Sheldon’s mom not knowing she was pregnant. She delivered her puppies under the house and when they finally ventured out, they had lost most of their hair. It took Sheldon quite a while to grow his hair back, but he looks amazing now. He is a bouncing, happy little guy.

I’m already thinking about what to write in their bios and what kind of homes they will need. I’ve had several blind, deaf, or blind and deaf puppies and it’s amazing what perfect families they found.

Everyone Loves Puppies

Russell and Henry McLendon with puppies
Treehugger's Russell McLendon visits puppies with son, Henry.  Mary Jo DiLonardo

Yes, it’s ridiculously wonderful to foster dogs, and yes, it’s hard to let them go. Everyone asks how you can possibly love them and then pass them on to a new family. But that’s a foster’s job.

Although right now, Best Friends Animal Society is hoping that pandemic first-time fosters might decide to just keep their temporary family members.

“Fostering a pet is ideal during this pandemic, as most shelters provide the food, supplies, medications, and any necessary veterinary care you’ll need to care for the pet during the foster period,” Julie Castle, CEO for Best Friends Animal Society, tells Treehugger. “Of course, we’re hoping that a lot of people who are fostering become ‘foster failures,’ which sounds negative but is really a good thing. It means they fell in love with their foster pet and decided to adopt them.”

Since the beginning of the shutdown, the number of fosters and adoptions have increased at Best Friends centers across the country, Castle says. Now, later in the summer, things have slowed down a bit in some places.

“There has been an absolute surge of pets going into foster homes during the pandemic. For example, Best Friends in Los Angeles has sent 176 adult pets into foster homes from March 13 to April 22 this year. In 2019, just 76 adult pets went into foster for that same time period. We’ve also had thousands of inquiries over the first two months of shutting down, which is unprecedented in our history,” Castle says.

With technology, fosters and adopters can do virtual meet and greets. (My fosters always make it a point to show up on my Zoom calls.) And because so many people are working from home, potty training and other training is easier. It's key that new adopters (and fosters) let the pups spend plenty of quality time alone so they don’t develop separation anxiety if and when their new parents go back to work.

The only issue is that this young age is a critical time for puppies to be socialized and exposed to all sorts of people and sounds and experiences. So that’s why my friends know they have a standing invitation to come over and play with all the puppies.

Although the humans are required to practice social distancing, the puppies have absolutely no respect for personal space and are quite happy to cover all the visitors with sloppy kisses.

Earlier this summer, I convinced my friend and coworker Russell McLendon to come by with his wife and 2-year-old son, Henry. You can see in the photo above that the puppies and Henry had a blast. But I think the grownups loved watching them play more than anything.

Playtime is awesome for the puppies and I think it’s pretty amazing for the people too.