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Volunteers open their homes, hearts to dogs in need

Susan Navarre, a Brandon Township resident, with her two “foster failures”: August, a labradoodle, and Sophie, a chihuahua. Photo by Susan Bromley. (click for larger version)
August 24, 2011 - Brandon Twp.- Jane Moltman jokes that if she didn't have a husband, she'd be the crazy dog lady.

Over the past three years, she's had close to 20 dogs, but she has only kept one. Moltman is a volunteer with K-9 Stray Rescue League and fosters homeless dogs at her township residence until a permanent home can be found for them.

"It's amazing how quickly you can get attached to a dog," she said. "You think, 'Oh, there is no dog like this dog.' They are so affectionate, loyal, so happy to see you, there's nothing like a dog. If you have the time and space to do it, I would warn anyone, be prepared to have to turn it over. We have kennel space for only 'x' number of dogs and everytime I can take a dog and place it, we can save another. You can only foster so many dogs, if you keep keeping them, you wont be able to foster more."

Moltman calls the dog she kept a "foster failure."

Maddie, a terrier mix, was the second dog Moltman had ever fostered. When she arrived from the kennel the non-profit K-9 Stray Rescue League has in Oxford, Maddie was very nervous and sat in a corner of Moltman's kitchen.

She had to work with the dog, as she does all the dogs she fosters. Volunteers who foster may have to housebreak the dogs they take in, and most dogs need some obedience training.

Moltman chose to volunteer in this way because although it seems like a bigger commitment than simply going to the shelter a few hours a week to donate time, she finds it more difficult to work at the kennel. She is not always available the hours the shelter needs her and having dogs right in her home allows her more flexibility.

"I love dogs, but it also allows me to share volunteer work with our family," Moltman said. "It's a great experience for my daughter Hannah to learn the importance of volunteering."

Moltman has fostered a couple of puppies, but in general, the dogs she has helped have mostly ranged in age from 1- to 5-years-old, and have been all different breeds and sizes. She picks dogs that are having an exceptionally difficult time in the shelter setting.

"Some dogs are happy-go-lucky and some get very stressed," Moltman noted. "I never walk in with a specific dog in mind to take home."

She has kept the dogs for varying lengths of time until each is adopted, getting to know them and working hard to place each with the family best suited to them. Sandy, a hound mix who was afraid of men, was her longest foster at 10 months.

"The longer you have them, the more attached you get," said Moltman, currently fostering a cattle dog named Ellie who may be her second 'foster failure.' "My family enjoys having a dog in the house and taking time with them and training them. It's very rewarding. The hardest thing is handing the leash to someone else and walking away, but it's wonderful to get them in a wonderful home."

Susan Navarre has fostered "hundreds" of dogs during the past decade as a K-9 Stray Rescue League volunteer, including mothers and their litters.

"We try to keep the puppies in foster, because they are scared to death at the pound and they arrive and they are petrified," Navarre said. "All the dogs are stressed at the kennel— it's almost like being institutionalized, and it's very stressful for people to visit there. I tell people, 'Don't feel bad for them, they are safe and on their way to a home.'"

K-9 Stray Rescue League, 2120 Metamora Road, Oxford, is a no-kill shelter. About 50 dogs can be kept at the shelter, but foster homes are essential to being able to save more dogs from pounds or shelters that euthanize excess animals.

In foster situations, caretakers can learn much more about the dogs, too— how they react to different situations, children, and other animals, if they are housetrained, and their temperament in general.

Fostering is a lot of work, Navarre admits, particularly puppies.

"Cleaning up after them is a huge deal and finding homes for all the dogs is hard, too," she said. "You get picky about who they go to and what kind of home they are going to have. It's great to see them develop and grow and see their personalities, know which will be good with kids, or who is shy with noise. This one is very outgoing, or this one is timid. The ones that need more exercise, or the ones happy to be a couch potato. A lot of people want a perfect dog and I don't think there is a perfect dog."

Foster volunteers help dogs become more suitable for permanent homes, however, through training and exposing dogs to many different situations so they learn social skills.

Navarre has two dogs she adopted after fostering— Sophie, a chihuahua, given up by her family due to finances, and August, a labradoodle brought to her because the couple who owned her was divorcing.

Fostering is very time consuming, but also very rewarding, Navarre says. Foster volunteers are supplied with everything they need to care for a dog, including food and dog crates. The rescue organization pays for all veterinary care for dogs being fostered and will find someone else to care for the dog if the foster family takes a vacation or if the dog becomes ill.

"It's always a little heart-wrenching when you find a home for them," Navarre said. "The thing that bothers me is they think they are already home and you feel terrible telling them they have to move again. Sometimes tears are shed, but they are good tears, because they are going on to a permanent home."

For more information on fostering a dog or other volunteer opportunities, call K-9 Stray Rescue League at 248-628-0435.

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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