Hoosiers are fostering dogs in record numbers amid pandemic

By: 
JOHN TUOHY
The Indianapolis Star

    INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — In record numbers, central Indiana residents have been seeking time-tested unconditional companionship as they ride out the COVID-19 pandemic at in their homes: dogs.
    Shelters report large increases in the number of four-legged fosters since stay-at-home orders took effect — and while humans are advised to practice social distancing, dogs, well, they don't know what that means.
    "There's nothing better than a cuddly pet at home when you are self-isolating," said David Horth, chief executive officer of the Humane Society of Indianapolis.
    He said the short-term adoptions of pandemic pooches are mutually beneficial: They give the animals a respite from hectic and quickly-crowding shelters and provide their humans comfort or a distraction in a stressful time.
    It also helps that the shelters provide food and medication at a time residents are feeling economic hardship. The only sacrifice they ask from foster parents in return is love, pets and walks for their new friends.
    "People don't have a lot to do right now and the kids are all at home looking for something. So as terrible as things are, it's a perfect fit," said Rebecca Stevens, president of the Humane Society for Hamilton County. "We have found that people are really stepping up to give these animals a break."
    Stevens said 185 animals were being fostered last week, compared to a normal week when 75 would be. And the fostering process is a little different during the pandemic, with initial applications and training being conducted online instead of in-person.
    Though shelters have a steady base of repeat foster parents, officials said the majority of temporary adopters now are first-timers. The length of the stay depends entirely on the foster parent but Stevens said she hopes most can do at least a few weeks. Some of the parents are expected to permanently adopt the dogs, as well.
    Indianapolis resident Brian Snow took in Kermit, a 2-year-old mixed breed, from the Humane Society of Indianapolis, because his work-related travel has been eliminated.
    "I've never owned a dog as an adult, though I love them, because I'm single and travel so much and it would be too hard," said Snow, a 34-year-old sportswriter for a website. "I knew I'd be home for a couple months in a row so I started asking friends about how to go about fostering."
    Snow said he took a training course online then was offered a choice of dogs to pick from.
    He drove to the Humane Society location on North Michigan Road and a worker brought the dog out to meet Snow. "He was great right away, now, he's my buddy," Snow said.
    "He loves to cuddle and I have thoroughly enjoyed having him around," Snow added. "We take a lot of walks and I've really put in some miles, which is a good thing."
    IndyHumane saw a spike to 400 foster pets last week from a normal of about 120 at this time of year, Horth said.
    "It has been very gratifying," he said, "to see the community react as they have."
    At Indianapolis Animal Care Services, the city's shelter, 125 more animals have been fostered compared to the usual amount. A spokeswoman said the shelter has been able to send some of its animals that aren't being fostered or adopted to boarding facilities for the time being to prevent overcrowding at the shelter.
    The agencies report that traditional adoptions are down because their buildings are closed to the public and applications are being taken only by appointment, a slower and more cumbersome process than walk-in adoption. And the shelters are still accepting stray and unwanted pets, increasing the burden on them.
    Kim Joab and Adam Sterle have been fostering dogs for about a decade and recently took in Carla, a pit bull mix, from the Hamilton County shelter.
    The Fishers husband and wife, both working from home in marketing jobs, said their new charge is a "perfect fit" for their own dog, Gigi, a rescued bull terrier.
    "They have play-time together and go on walks," Joab, 49, said. "The humane society put out a call a few weeks ago for the regular fosters and we responded. We didn't give it a second thought.
    "This is great for the dogs, it gives them a chance to go outside and stretch their legs and a couch to sleep on in a quiet place."
    Steven said that normally the dogs that need fostering are those who are sick, injured, old or have heartworm disease and have a better chance of recovering in a home but now they are also sending out their most adoptable for fostering, as well.
    The humane societies have had to reduce work and volunteer hours, and fundraising has declined, Stevens said, especially from business donors who are suffering badly.

HOW TO HELP:
    To make contributions to the Humane Society of Hamilton Count visit online at: hamiltonhumane.com/how-to-help/donate.
    For the Humane Society of Indianapolis visit: indyhumane.org/get_involved/donate.
    For Indianapolis Animal Care Services go to: indy.gov/activity/make-a-donation-to-animal-care-services.
 

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