Lt. Johan Hein USN
'19 Guest Columnist
Do you love dogs? Let’s be honest, you do. Do you need extra belly rubs and a couch-cuddler in your life? Certainly couldn’t hurt. Are you unsure if you’re ready for a dog, but are willing to spend some time helping both a dog and local animal rescue? Answering “yes” to those questions launched my wife and me into an ongoing adventure as rescue dog foster parents.
While living in South Carolina, my wife, Hannah, and I adopted our dog, Tulip, from a rural dog rescue, which raised our awareness of the enormous abandoned animal problem across the United States. At the time we adopted her, the Charleston, S.C. animal shelter was acquiring up to 50 to 80 dogs a day. These pups were either directly surrendered by their owner or abandoned and taken to the shelter by people who found them in the wild. Unfortunately, in rural shelters, many are euthanized due to the lack of shelter space and inability to find them a suitable home.
Motivated to find a way to help, we started fostering through a rescue organization which pulled dogs from high-kill shelters in the Carolinas and Virginia and placed them in foster homes. At first, I was extremely hesitant. I never planned on opening up my home to a dog we knew nothing about. We had no idea the issues the dogs might have or their medical situation. As “foster parents,” we cared for the pups while the rescue organization advertised for “furever” families on Petfinder and other sites. Though most of our fosters have been hounds, we also had the pleasure of a super-snuggly boxer who loved squeaky toys, an elderly pit-bull who was a sucker for belly rubs, and a few attention-demanding beagles. It didn’t take long for something that was initially a minor commitment to evolve into a passion for Hannah and me.
Since coming to Charlottesville, we’ve fostered dogs from a local rescue (Caring for Creatures) and volunteered for a local nonprofit that provides dog houses, food, and medical care to dogs that live their entire lives outdoors on the end of a chain (Houses of Wood and Straw, or HOWS). My wife serves as the Forever-Home Coordinator for HOWS and works around the clock (on top of a full-time job!) to find homes for outdoor dogs, provided the owner can be convinced to surrender them. These dogs are placed in foster families while we look for an adoption family that will help them lead a healthy, normal life indoors.
Fostering rescue dogs has been one of the most rewarding experiences we have ever had. Being able to “turn around” a neglected dog and deliver them to a caring family has brought us tons of great memories and plenty of stories to share with the world. At the end of the day, fostering is a way to make our corner of the world a little better.
Are you interested in joining us? Fostering is a flexible activity and can be either short or long in duration. Basically, it’s having a temporary dog: you’re able to provide a pup with food, shelter, and love while the rescue advertises and seeks an adoption family. Over the years, we have fostered rescue dogs for as long as three months, and for as short as overnight, in situations where another foster is traveling and needs a dog-sitter, or where the dog may have a veterinary appointment the next morning.
Full disclosure: fostering is not all sloppy kisses and snoozing. Many of these pups have lived rough lives outdoors and have never experienced people, the inside of a home, smooth floors, food bowls, or walks. But the good news is that most of these hurdles are overcome with two simple measures: kindness and patience. After a few days, almost every foster dog we have hosted is over the moon to have a soft bed and regular meals!
I’ll admit, the toughest challenge of fostering is parting with your foster pup once an adoption family comes along. Over the years, we’ve grown particularly attached to many of our fosters; however, the satisfaction we receive from seeing the joy that they bring their new families overwhelms any sense of sadness as they leave our house. Hannah calls this our “happy-sappy” days. Most of these dogs have so much love to share, we can’t possibly keep it all to ourselves.
I have to admit that there are few things as pure as the unadulterated, butt-wagging joy that I receive at home after a long day of studying. Some of my section-mates have joined the fostering bandwagon and can attest to its benefits as well (looking at you, Siarra and Hutton). Given the continuous stream of rescue dogs through our home, we’ve taken to calling it the “Hein Hound Hotel,” and some nights, it feels like we’re booked to capacity. Right before Christmas this year, we had six dogs in our house! If fostering is something you’d like to try, let us know: we’d love to open new locations for the Hein Hound Hotel! If you’d like to learn more, we even have a website (www.HeinHoundHotel.com) where you can review our distinguished former guests, learn about local laws we are trying to change, and apply to foster.