Meet Momo. Dog, save America. photo: Anokha Venugopal

Dear Neighbor,

We acknowledge the elephant (and donkey) in the room: It’s Election Day. But you’ve probably had enough election talk to last a lifetime. And, if you’re like us, you’re crippled with anxiety right now.

So this week’s newsletter is about something we believe to have full bipartisan support: dogs. Specifically, a guide to fostering and adopting, which have surged in the pandemic. With more people working from home and more free time, it makes sense. Have you been thinking of getting a pet? We spoke to rescue advocate Samantha Cheirif, who, along with her now-husband, has fostered over 100 dogs (three of which they adopted), and got the scoop.

What does it mean to foster? Animal shelters, even the private, full-service ones that can provide extra attention and enrichment to their wards, are stressful places for dogs. Shelters can be loud, isolating and unfamiliar. Fostering a dog — or caring for one for a temporary amount of time (usually a minimum of two weeks) in a home environment — allows the pup to socialize and thrive, making it easier for the animal to get adopted.

Fostering, Cheirif told us, is a great way to test how you will do with the responsibilities of having a pet, without the actual long-term commitment, especially if you’ve never had a pet on your own before.

Bella living her best life. Photo: Danielle Hyams

Is fostering “mean” though? This is a common misconception from people who think it’s unfair to bring a dog into a home only to adopt him out to another, according to Cheirif. “There’s a day or two where they may be sad or confused, but dogs live in the moment,” she said. “Waiting in a home is much, much, much better for that animal than waiting to be adopted in a shelter, so taking them home and giving them a quiet place to decompress, giving them affection, and setting them up for success in a home then adopting them out is not only not mean, it’s truly the kindest thing you can do.”

LooseSeal (L) and a foster sibling (R). Photo: Samantha Cheirif

Where should you look? As far as rescue organizations go, New York City’s shelter system, Animal Care Centers of NYC has the greatest need for adopters and foster care volunteers. It’s the city’s only open-intake shelter, which means it accepts all animals, regardless of age, breed or behavioral issue. It’s where Cheirif adopted her current dogs, Penny and LooseSeal, and for full disclosure, where I (Danielle) got my dog, Bella, as well. The AAC team does great work. (Woof from Momo, pictured above: I was adopted from BideaweeEdison, pictured below, chimes in: Me from the Brooklyn Animal Resource Coalition Shelter, or BARC.)

Cheirif also recommends Friends with Four Paws, which mostly rescues smaller and older dogs from Oklahoma, Hearts & Bones, which rescues animals primarily from more crowded shelters in Texas, and Mr. Bones & Co., which focuses on pit bulls and other breeds that face discrimination or health challenges. There are many other rescue and advocacy groups, and you can join the Foster Dogs “foster roster” to be connected to many of its partner organizations. Check its website for reputable partner organizations.

Edison was found at a Con Ed plant and taken to BARC. photo: Nitin Mukul

Set on a purebred? If you have a particular breed in mind — say, one that’s hypoallergenic — finding a reputable breeder is of utmost importance, stresses Cheirif. “If you can buy a dog like any other kind of transaction, you’re looking at a puppy mill,” she said. “If the only requisite is having enough money on a credit card, that’s not a reputable breeder.” Find someone who breeds very few litters per year, keeps the dogs at home as pets and interviews you prior to letting you purchase one. What’s more, the breeder should test the health of the dogs and generally want to ensure puppies are taken care of for life.

Don’t even think about purchasing a dog from a pet store: “Pet store puppies come from puppy mills. Even if they tell you they don’t, they do,” Cheirif said. “The mothers of the puppies in pet stores are living in horrendous conditions, bred over and over, with no human contact, their puppies taken away and sold without any health testing.” We know, the window displays are adorable and eye-catching, but just don’t do it. 

The application process is … a process. Especially in the pandemic. Don’t get discouraged: While it can be disheartening to apply over and over and not get the dog you have your heart set on, Cheirif likens it to getting a job or finding someone to date. “The first person you match with on an app or job you apply for isn’t necessarily the best fit for you, so just trust the process that your soulmate pup will come along.”

LooseSeal (L) , a foster and Penny (R). Photo: Samantha Cheirif

Her advice? Really put your heart into your applications. Also, save your answers in a Google doc so you can apply to multiple rescue groups without having to retype common questions like “what is your training philosophy?” Additionally, be sure to check with your landlord before applying. If your lease explicitly gives you permission to have a dog, consider including it in your application.

And be open-minded: Instead of getting hung up on breed and size requirements, also focus on the personality you’re looking for in a dog, Cheirif stressed. “You may be surprised who you end up falling in love with!”

LooseSeal (L) , a foster and Penny (R). Photo: Samantha Cheirif

More questions about adopting and/or fostering a rescue? You can connect with Cheirif at @pigpenthepittie (we recommend following for the dog content either way), and read more about her experience fostering on her blog, Hello Pigpen.

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