New Mexico's Pet ResourceSPRING 2003

by Cindy Richards

Many of you know the concept of supply and demand. But these are more than mere "concepts" in the animal welfare arena. They are a grim reality that manifests itself daily in all animal rescue organizations: too many unwanted cats and dogs and too few places for them to go. In New Mexico, including the Albuquerque metropolitan area, the supply of cats and dogs seems endless. But the demand is limited, and the supply of shelter space or safe havens to house them is finite. The result: cats and dogs become surplus "commodities," unwanted, disposable, not highly valued and homeless.

Many become strays, staying alive by their instincts, leading sad and miserable lives. The lucky ones end up in shelters or humane societies where they can get adopted. The luckiest animals end up in the homes of volunteers with no-kill, foster-based groups where they are cared for until they are adopted. Foster parents' compassion leads them to open their hearts and homes to temporarily care for these animals.

In Albuquerque, foster-based organizations like A.C.A.T. (Albuquerque Cat Action Team), NMAF (New Mexico Animal Friends), PACA/AAR (People's Anti-Cruelty Organization/Albuquerque Animal Rescue), and Pound Puppies rescue, rehabilitate and adopt out thousands of cats and dogs collectively each year. Foster-based groups with no permanent shelter space depend entirely on foster homes to operate. Even some animal shelters incorporate foster homes.

Without foster homes, groups like A.C.A.T., NMAF, PACA/AAR and Pound Puppies would find it impossible to operate. Communities would lose a critical component of the rescue equation, and thousands of homeless animals would lose their last chance. Through foster homes, thousands of Albuquerque's homeless cats and dogs eventually found their own permanent, adoptive homes during the past few years.

Cats like Braveheart, who was asleep in the clippings bag behind a lawn mower when the homeowner started the mower. Braveheart panicked and ran under the blade. He needed immediate surgery to amputate his front leg and save him from bleeding to death. Braveheart's owner decided he wanted him euthanized. Instead, the vet asked if she could contact A.C.A.T., eliminating the need to kill such a young cat. The owner agreed, Braveheart had his surgery, and he recovered both physically and emotionally in his foster home. Braveheart found his lifetime home with a woman who says, "He has completely compensated for his disability, and has a wonderful, affectionate personality. He is a true companion who follows me everywhere and greets me at the end of each work day."

Braveheart's story is an example of the fine work done by foster parents. Not all animals have special needs like Braveheart. Most do not. But his story speaks volumes about the courageous animals we save, and the compassionate humans who save them, foster them and adopt them.

Foster-based organizations forever depend upon the generosity of people in their communities. In the past 12 to 18 months, many Albuquerque groups have experienced a critical shortage of foster homes. While there is always an ebb and flow in the rescue business, the recent attrition rate has far outpaced replacement foster homes. A.C.A.T., PACA/AAR, and Pound Puppies are some of the groups feeling this crunch. Cynthia McDougal, PACA/AAR director for animal welfare, says, "There was definitely a decline in 2002. We need foster homes, especially for dogs, and bottle feeders for puppies and kittens." Pam Rice, president of Pound Puppies, says that she has "seen a reduction in folks even showing an interest in learning about fostering." Linda Sullivan, A.C.A.T. foster coordinator, says, "We critically need fosters for all types of cats and kittens. We are entering kitten season with fewer foster homes than we've had in 3 years."

What is the role of a foster parent? What skills and home environment do you need? The answers vary from one organization to another, but there are some common characteristics of good fostering. Compassion, value and respect for pets are probably the most critical traits one can possess. Tolerance for the unexpected (as no two cats or dogs are alike), spare time, money for food and supplies, and a willingness to train, re-train and possibly restore trust and a sense of well-being are also important qualities that many successful foster parents possess.

As a foster parent, you will help homeless pets and also discover that your compassion helps you grow as a person. You will rejoice in helping needy animals in your community, and the Bravehearts of this word will be eternally grateful.

For more information about becoming a foster parent, please contact: A.C.A.T. (505) 323-2228, NMAF (505) 881-7297, PACA/AAR (505) 315-0004 (Cynthia McDougal), Pound Puppies (505) 275-2265.

Cindy Richards is the founder and past president of the Albuquerque Cat Action Team. She is currently A.C.A.T.'s director for external affairs. Prior to establishing A.C.A.T., Cindy was treasurer and served on the board of directors for PACA/AAR for 3 years.

I care not for a man's religion whose dog and cat are not the better for it. -Abraham Lincoln

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