Rudy, a dog from LifeLine Animal Project in Fulton County, who has his own instagram, @rudy_adoptme, was in at least five homes before coming to stay with Leach. (Jenni Girtman for Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Photo: Jenni Girtman
Photo: Jenni Girtman

Temporarily at home? Foster a pet

While most of us are sheltering down in our homes, there is a large population that is traveling and not practicing social distancing — shelter pets.

One unexpected turn of pandemic events seems that Atlantans are stepping up to foster shelter animals, even if it’s only while under the stay-at-home mandate.

Sanford Leach, who graduated from the University of Georgia last August and landed a job at Warner Media, wanted a dog but the time wasn’t right. “My roommate and I wanted to foster, but I was starting a new job, and we weren’t sure we would have the time or ability to foster, much less adopt,” he says. His roommate, Jacob Gottlieb, saw social media posts asking for fosters since, with the quarantine, workers were unable to care for the animals.

Stanford Leach fosters Rudy, a dog from LifeLine Animal Project in Fulton County who has been with Leach now for nearly three weeks as of Wednesday, April 29, 2020. Rudy, who has his own Instagram, @rudy_adoptme, was in at least five homes before coming to stay with Leach. Leach will adopt him if no one with a yard wants to adopt him. “I know I’m not letting him go back to the pound,” Leach said. (Jenni Girtman/Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Photo: For the AJC

The two, who live in the Old Fourth Ward, contacted LifeLine Animal Project and Rudy, a twoish “cuddle bug” found a loving, temporary home. “We went to the shelter, met Rudy and he’s doing good. He’s kind of a mix of a lot of things. This is a great time to foster a dog because everyone has the time.” It’s also National Pet Week.

It seems that more than a few have the same idea.

LifeLine Animal Project runs the Fulton and DeKalb county shelters as well as the LifeLine Community Animal Center. On average the Fulton shelter takes in between 450 to 600 dogs a month — about 20 to 40 a day; Dekalb County averages between 380 to 550.

“The virus came, and we put out a plea to the Atlanta community for help. It was a perfect storm,” says Karen Hirsch, public relations director. “People were stuck at home. It was a great time to get a pet because you had the time to spend with the dog.”

The Atlanta pet-loving community responded. At one point, the LifeLine’s shelters were empty. “We have a waiting list now. We’ve never had this before. It’s a wonderful problem to have,” says Hirsch. Currently, they have about 40 dogs.

Atlanta resident and first-time foster Cindy Comisky selected Terry to foster. Contributed: LifeLine Animal Project
Photo: For the AJC

The virus became a problem in March. That month, the Fulton shelter saw 375 adoption and 269 fosters; Dekalb had 315 adoptions and 457 fosters. The third shelter had 235 adoptions and 220 fosters. By contrast in March 2019, the Fulton shelter had 260 adoptions and 74 fosters; DeKalb, 249 adoptions and 155 fosters, the community shelter, had 50 adoptions and four fosters.

“It’s pretty incredible,” she says.

It’s the same story with Angels Among Us Pet Rescue and other rescues. Cobb County’s animal shelter is the only municipal shelter without a foster program. “We’ve seen a tremendous increase in new fosters and adoptions,” says Jackie Spett, development director for Angels Among Us Pet Rescue. “We’re struggling to catch up. We’re inundated with applications.”

The rescue now averages three to five new fosters a day, and it’s been at that pace for a couple of weeks. “It’s about 30 a month. Normally, we get maybe five a month,” says Kim Kay, operations director for Angels. The fosters range from families to those in their 20s.

The applicants go through the usual screening process of filling out an application and meeting the animal and rescue coordinator. If all goes well, the pet has a new temporary home. The shelters take great pains to ensure the fosters know the pet’s issues and how to make it work. Shelters also pay for vet services, medicines and other supplies.

Typically a rescued pet takes a couple of days to adjust. They tend to be stressed and uncertain. Many sleep. “Probably the only good sleep they’ve had in a while,” says Hirsch. Others, like Rudy, are heartworm positive and need medication.

Stanford Leach fosters Rudy, a dog from LifeLine Animal Project in Fulton County. (Jenni Girtman for Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Photo: For the AJC

The first couple of days Katrina Flanders and her family fostered Coco, a pit bull mix, he wouldn’t go into his crate. “He was so anxious, but I was told to give him time, and he calmed down. Now, he’s a dog. He likes to sit in the sun. He has more confidence,” she says. “It’s better each day. He’s getting an understanding of routines. It makes me wonder what kind of life he had prior to us.”

Coco — or Ollie — had two names, and didn’t respond to either. Her children, 6, 9 and 12, call him Kobe, and he likes it. He had three fosters before the Flanders. “We don’t have time in our lives for a dog,” she says. “I’m a teacher and swim coach, and my kids are on the swim team. We’re in school, practice and, on the weekends, at meets. It’s not fair for a dog, but this situation is perfect.”

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At first, Rudy had a chewing problem, and it took several days to gently train him. “When we first got him, he did so many things wrong. It was hard. He had so much anxiety. He couldn’t sit still. He would just pace and freak out, but after a week he calmed down,” Leach says. “He wants to please, and he’ll do anything for a treat and a ‘good boy’.”

The fosters benefit as well. “Taking him for a walk gets us out of the house,” says Leach. For the Flanders family, it’s a needed break from television and work. “It’s nice to break it up and walk him,” she says. “He’s provided a lot of laughs. He does weird quirky things. The kids are teaching him tricks, and he’s so much happier.”

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Both the rescue groups and temporary fosters hope that many of the fosters will adopt, and if not, will find a permanent home for the pet. Both Leach and Flanders post on social media outlets seeking adopters.

“You realize that you have to be able to love him and give him up,” says Flanders. “We approached this fostering as giving him a safe place to learn how to be a good dog so others can love him.”

Leach will be sad when that day comes. “We’re trying to do everything we can for him, but we love this little dude.”

Spett encourages social networking so that potential adopters can envision the dog in a natural setting rather than stressed out in a cage or at an adoption event. “People can see how they would be in their own living rooms.”

>>RELATED: Why fostering a shelter animal during coronavirus crisis helps you and them

Still, there are downsides. While pet adoptions and fosters are up, many fundraising events were canceled and donations are down. Many rescues, including Adopt a Golden, are seeing more owner surrenders because people can no longer afford a pet. Plus, there is worry about how the temporarily pampered pet will react when it’s back to the kennel. Potential separation anxiety is a fear. “We’re hoping that not many will be returned,” says Spett.

Hirsch, however, is positive. “We’re just hoping that people learn what a great gift a shelter pet can be.”

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