#ONEdifference: From Foster to Forever Home

For shelter pets, a temporary stay with a foster volunteer can be an important step toward a permanent family. 

As an employee of the San Francisco SPCA, Shana Long goes to work each day surrounded by pets and people who appreciate all the great things a dog can bring to someone’s life. But something special happened the day she met an adult Chihuahua named Lolly who had just been surrendered by her owner.

“She was so small, and all ears!” Shana says. “She was not intimidating in the least bit, but she just wasn’t a good fit for that family.”

Before assigning her a place at the SF SPCA adoption center, shelter staff decided Lolly might benefit from some time in a foster home to help her overcome her skittishness around people. Shelters all over the country have seen success with this kind of interim placement with foster volunteers, letting pets interact with humans in a smaller, calmer and more focused home setting before presenting them to potential adopters among other dogs and cats at a busy shelter.

“We have so many dogs who are quite shy, and they’re just not ready for a shelter environment, and wouldn’t succeed without the help of foster parents,” says SF SPCA co-president Dr. Jennifer Scarlett. “It’s a wonderful way for people who are not quite ready to become a pet guardian to step in and help.”

Shana agreed to take Lolly into her home and aid in the process of socializing her. The result turned out to be what many shelter professionals jokingly refer to as a “foster failure” — a happy situation in which foster parents are so smitten that they eventually decide to formally adopt the pet rather than return it to the adoption center.

“She is my family,” Shana now says about Lolly. “I probably spend more time with that dog that any other person in my life — more than my boyfriend, more than my friends — we’re together from the minute I wake up in the morning, and she comes to work with me every day.”

Her workplace happens to be a very notable one in the world of animal welfare. In 2014, the live-release rate for shelter pets in the entire city of San Francisco reached 91 percent for the second year in a row — an extraordinary achievement for a major city. Looking ahead, SF SPCA has an ambitious plan to end animal abandonment through smart programs across three key areas: rescuing pets in distress, educating the community about pet ownership, and preventing situations that lead to pet surrender in the first place. (Learn more about SF SPCA’s Vision 2020 initiative here.)

For dogs and cats who do find themselves in the care of SF SPCA and its foster volunteers, Purina ONE provides complete and balanced nutrition at no cost. Dr. Scarlett stresses the importance of having a strong nutritional foundation that not only supports the wellbeing of adoptable pets, but also frees up resources for other programs that drive SF SPCA’s success.

“I think about our partnership with Purina ONE the way I do with our foster program. When we’re able to have confidence and save time on this piece of saving an animal, it allows us to amplify our efforts [elsewhere] and save so many animals.

“It also helps our staff to know that we have a great food here,” she adds. “We know that people who adopt can go on and buy that food and keep that animal on the same diet. Feeding Purina ONE gives us an incredible amount of confidence.”

Learn more about San Francisco SPCA at www.sfspca.org.