ACCORDING to Margaret Twohig, a spokeswoman for a Co Cork-based rescue centre for dogs, “Fosterers are like gold dust, they do amazing work and we simply couldn’t survive without them”.
Cork Dog Action Welfare, known as Cork DAWG, takes in between 700 and 800 dogs and puppies a year that have been abandoned by their owners.
Most dogs remain at their shelter outside Macroom until they find a new home, but others, including puppies, sick or injured dogs, as well as dogs that are used to a home environment, are placed in one of the charity’s 25 foster homes where possible.
“Fosterers are the most invaluable assets of a rescue. The fosterer is the gateway between the shelter and a new home,” says Twohig.
“The prospective new owners view the dog in the foster home and they can imagine the dog being part of their own family,” she says.
While many of the charity’s foster carers have children and animals, anyone can foster once they love dogs, Twohig says.
“We sometimes have people in their 20s who don’t want the permanent responsibility of a dog, but are happy to foster for a short time. We’d also have people who take dogs for the summer.”
“Our criteria is that the dog is looked after, would be part of the family and be taken for walks and that there’s a secure garden.”
When want-to-be fosterers contact the shelter, a charity member travels to meet them and to carry out an assessment at their home.
All going well, the process then begins of matching a dog to their particular circumstances.
“You wouldn’t place a nervous dog in a home with young children,” says Twohig, who added that there was a huge need for people to foster and adopt dogs at the moment.
Angela O’Brien, who lives outside Macroom with her husband Oliver, has been fostering ill, pregnant and troubled dogs for CDAWG for the last six years.
Currently the mother of two, who has volunteered at shelters for more than a decade, is providing a foster home for Ginny, a labrador-cross who is nervous of people; Fred, a jack russell who has a medical condition that requires his food to be liquidised; and Fionn, a harrier hound, who hit the headlines before Christmas after he was left for dead under a rubbish heap, having received a blow to the head.
Fionn underwent surgery in Dublin after Christmas and, thanks to Angela’s loving care and attention, is back to full health.
“Fionn is in great form. He howls if I leave the house so I just take him everywhere with me,” she says.
Angela has a “soft spot” for greyhounds and lurchers and has two adopted lurchers named Blanaid and Honey.
Her daily routine begins with feeding the dogs, and the next priority is making sure they get their walk.
If a dog has to go to the vet, or needs surgery, Angela brings and collects them.
She says fostering can be a lot of work, but is very rewarding.
“You take a dog into your family and the reward is they get better and go on to find a new home.”
The mother of two lost her son Andrew through suicide 10 years ago and she said that her voluntary work with dogs had given her back her life following the tragedy. “I went back to it about three years after that and it gave me a purpose in my life,” she says. “I feel like I’m giving back something to society.”
The mother of two always finds it difficult to say goodbye to the dogs. “It never gets any easier. You always feel sad when the dogs are going, but we get feedback from the families they go to.”
The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA) has approximately 50 dogs in foster care in any given year. Spokesman Conor Dowling said many of the dogs with fosterers need time to get used to a home environment and noise.
“They may have spent all their time in sheds, may never have been out,” said Dowling, who added that the charity is always looking for people to foster dogs.
“We look for people with a bit of experience. Very often they could be people that have volunteered with the ISPCA previously. They may have walked dogs and they decide to take that extra step and take a dog into their home.”
Once an application is received, there is an assessment. “When we find the right people we take them on and we hope they will help us again and again,” he says. “It takes a certain type of person. You are taking in animals at their most difficult and, after putting a lot of work in, you are handing them back.”
For people interested in fostering or adopting:
The ISPCA National Animal Centre, Keenagh, Co Longford: 043-3325035, email@example.com, www.ispca.ie
Cork DAWG: 086-3457488