N.C. — Chloe, a white pit bull with big ears, had one
of the worst starts to life a dog can have.
been chained in a yard, and her first owners never
changed the collar. Chloe grew, and by the time she
ended up in the Wake County Animal Center (WCAC), the
collar was embedded in her neck and her head was swollen
for Chloe, she ended up in Lauren Carberry’s house,
and a bleak story took a bright turn.
came to me as a cruelty case," says Carberry.
"We had her probably four or five months to
recuperate, and now she’s actually a service
Chloe has been trained to respond to panic attacks and
hypoglycemia, and she goes everywhere — airplanes
included — with her owner, wearing the pink vest that
denotes her special job.
owes this turnaround to the practice of animal
fostering, which Carberry and her boyfriend Jason
Coffman do out of their Durham home. Like any foster
home, their place is an extension of the shelter. Other
rescue organizations, some of which have no physical
address or central location, rely exclusively on foster
groups desperately need fosters like Carberry — people
emotionally invested enough to welcome a string of
animals into their homes, yet rational enough to let
them go when it’s time.
animals like Chloe, it’s about the best chance they’ll
you adopt, you save one animal’s life," says Jill
Walters. "If you foster, you can save
wears many hats at Alley Cats and Angels: she’s the
foster coordinator, medical coordinator, vice president
and webmaster for the Triangle-based, all-foster cat
rescue organization, which has rehabilitated and adopted
out hundreds of cats in its eight-year existence. Some
of them, including Walters’ own cat, started their
lives in feral colonies.
an organization like Alley Cats and Angels, Dexter faced
a dire future — a short, scrappy life behind a
mechanic’s shop just outside downtown Raleigh. Yet
this rescue group takes in cats domestic and feral,
provides veterinary care and socializes the animals by
rotating them among foster homes. The more reliable
fosters the organization has, the more cats they can
ideal foster family can follow instructions, does not
need to be hand-held much past the new stage," says
Joanne Duda, foster coordinator at WCAC. "I have
fantastic foster parents. I never hear from them unless
Walters, Duda knows that fostering is a numbers game:
Last year, WCAC fostered 900 kittens; by June of this
year, it was already nearing 600. Duda fostered before
she took the job, so she gets the emotional attachment,
but she also knows exactly how many kittens die for
every one that’s kept by a foster family instead of
adopted out. As a government regulated shelter, WCAC
simply cannot turn away animals.
is a Band-Aid, Duda says matter-of-factly. Hers is a
tough job, requiring empathy and hope in the face of an
unending flood of unwanted animals, but she’s tough:
before her WCAC position, Duda was a sergeant at Central
Prison in Raleigh, where she worked 14 years.
live for the day I do not have to come to work
anymore," she says. "We’re seen as the bad
guys, as the killers, but we can’t euthanize animals
that aren’t brought to us." So she takes the ones
she can — everything from cats and dogs and livestock
to rats, rabbits, reptiles and even a capybara (a really
big rodent), once — and puts them in foster homes.
That frees room on the adoption floor.
it comes to dog fosters, Duda needs people who, like
her, have no problem being the alpha. Most of the dogs
in the foster program, after all, are basically
overgrown puppies: they were never properly socialized,
Carberry says, and are adult-sized but with no manners.
they know that you’re the alpha and you have enough
assertion in your tone, it’s a lot easier
training," Carberry says.
speaks comfortably and confidently, as if drawing on a
lifetime with dogs, yet she’s never had one of her own
— just the 15 dogs she fostered in the past year and a
half. Carberry admits she’ll "foster fail"
one day — the term for adopting one of your foster
pets — but her plan is to socialize, train and adopt
out as many dogs as she can until then.
Cyr is another of Duda’s fosters and she thinks
similarly: she can help one cat for 15 years or 15 cats
every year, Cyr says. For her, it’s a family affair:
in the house are Cyr, her husband and two little girls,
who are 2 and 4 years old. There’s one permanent cat
and one WCAC foster at any given moment.
husband prefers the adult cats, but summer is kitten
season: as of late June, Duda said, 227 of the 312
animals in foster homes were kittens. So Cyr alternates
between adults and babies.
hard," she says. "Kittens die."
are naturally incestuous, Duda says, and the kittens
that come in, particularly those born to strays or feral
cats, can be riddled with bad genes or diseases. Some of
them simply don’t make it, even in a foster home. She
needs people whose love of animals is unbreakable. She
needs people as simultaneously tough and sensitive as
sounds trite, but honestly, they were loved," says
Cyr, thinking about the foster kittens she’s lost this
way. "They didn’t die in a cage. You gave them
the best place that they could have and you did the best
that you could."
WCAC and Alley Cats and Angels have closed Facebook
groups, specifically as support groups for their
fosters: Cyr, Carberry, Duda and Walters all said such
forums are essential to foster families’ mental
well-being. And, as Cyr is sure to point out, there are
more success stories than horror stories by far.
are stories like Chester’s. The cat was old and
severely underweight when he came to Cyr’s house.
Then, after a checkup, Cyr was told Chester was in renal
failure. The news hit Cyr hard — one of her personal
cats had just died of renal failure and she was not
prepared for a hospice foster. Yet they went with it.
better that he dies at home with us than in a
cage," her husband said.
was a sweet, people-loving cat — and his story ended
well. At his next appointment, the vet determined that
his levels were high, but not critical: he was merely on
the verge of serious medical issues. Soon after, he was
adopted by a man who preferred senior cats with health
problems, and voila – Chester got a second shot. Plus,
his adoption opened a slot at Cyr’s house for
whichever cat came next.
are going to help them by giving them a place to crash
for a couple of weeks," says Walters.
you’re interested in fostering, reach out to your
favorite local rescue group and learn about their needs.
Here are some things about fostering to keep in mind.
attention: "Your job as a foster parent is to learn
what their personalities are and market them," says
WCAC foster coordinator Joanne Duda. The animals you
foster are more likely to get adopted — and to get
adopted by the right people — if you understand their
personalities. Beyond that, you need to look out for
health problems, particularly in kittens. "We need
to make sure that they are eating, that they are putting
on weight, that they don’t have ringworm, that they
don’t have what we call ‘wonky eyes,’" says
Jill Walters of Alley Cats and Angels. If you see
something like this, tell your foster coordinator.
overburden yourself: Or, ultimately, don’t be a
hoarder. You aren’t helping if you have more animals
in your house than you can reasonably feed or care for
— in fact, this can exacerbate the problem. "The
sickest ones that we see, and the scariest, are the cats
that come out of people’s homes — particularly the
hoarders," says Walters.
in the work: Fostering is fulfilling, but it isn’t
easy, so don’t be picky and be prepared to work.
"When you think of a shelter animal, the first
thing coming to your mind should not be, ‘It has to be
house trained or I won’t take it,’" Duda says.
"The reason we need you to do this is because
someone else didn’t take care of this." Also,
there are already more than enough people willing to
foster small, hypoallergenic dogs: come willing to
foster a 50-pound or heavier bully breed dog and you’ll
be of more use.
at college: Fostering may be a good fit for college
students with pets at home, Walters says. The short-term
nature of fostering can work out quite well for people
who don’t live in the area full-time.
be part of the problem: Honestly, just spay or neuter