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HomeNewsArchivesSt. Thomians Open Hearts and Homes to Foster Pets

St. Thomians Open Hearts and Homes to Foster Pets

A foster kitten strikes an irresistible pose. (Karen Hollish photo)Our first batch of foster kittens consisted of four tiny furballs, their faces covered in wet kitty food, mewing behind the rusting bars of a small crate.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t have time to clean them off,” said Annabel Hiltz, the Humane Society of St. Thomas Operations Manager.

“They’re too little to eat without stepping into their food,” Hiltz added. “So you will have to teach them.”

These temporary charges came to us during the height of St. Thomas’ spring kitten season, when the numbers of homeless cats far exceeds the number of adoptive families – even more than usual.

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Whether dog or cat, the odds for companion animals on St. Thomas at any time of the year are bleak: In 2010, 80 percent – or four out of five – of the island’s homeless dogs and cats were euthanized, according to shelter statistics.

After a year of volunteering as a foster parent, grant writer and public relations professional for the Humane Society, I’ve learned there are many causes for this sad situation, from the V.I. Government’s systemic underfunding of animal control work to the lack of enforcement of anti-animal cruelty act.

Still, the never-ending flow of wasted lives is always traced back to one essential problem: Too many St. Thomians do not spay and neuter their pets, and until the community adopts a more proactive approach to its staggering pet-overpopulation problem, the vast majority of them must die.

In the face of this uphill struggle, there are ways to make life better for homeless companion animals, and stepping up to be a foster parent can be one of the most fun and rewarding ways to help. Every foster pet has different needs, and the Humane Society will work with your family to ensure a good fit.A sibling slumber party for a foster group. (Karen Hollish photo)

You may take in underage kittens, who will need to be bottle-fed and nurtured until they are ready to go back to the shelter and fight off the diseases, parasites and illnesses that run rampant across St. Thomas. You might take in an adult dog who has a home lined up on the mainland, but who needs a place to stay until he has found a ride there, or you may be charged with socializing and potty training a wriggling litter of pups.

The Humane Society will subsidize any medical care your foster charges might need, but you must be able to take your fosters to their vet appointments and follow their health-care directions, and you must be able to provide food, kitty litter and other pet-raising supplies, Hiltz said.

You can take in one animal at a time, or – if your heart, home and kibble budget are big enough – you might take in more, as is often the case with longtime Humane Society volunteer Rhea Vasconcellos.

On Thursday of last week, Vasconcellos was caring for six little Chihuahua mixes, all of whom are destined to be flown off-island to the Humane Society’s partner rescue in Rhode Island, the Potter League. While these pups have an off-island destination, Vasconcellos has taken in plenty of dogs, puppies and even a few kittens who she helped find homes for on St. Thomas.

“It’s very rewarding,” Vasconcellos said. “As a foster mom, you feed them, you wash them, you love them, you try to socialize them, so you have a vested interest in making sure that these dogs go to a good home.”

Vasconcellos said she tends to gravitate toward helping the neediest cases, such as those dogs who might be too weak to weather the medical and emotional stresses of life in a crowded shelter.

“But once they get out of that shelter,” Vacsconcellos said, “they blossom.”

Almost all of St. Thomas’ unwanted animals have not received proper veterinary care before they come into the shelter; for example, many were abandoned at dumpsters, where they ate whatever they could find, or they were kept outside by owners who made little time for their care.

For this reason, Hiltz and the Humane Society recommend that foster families keep their own permanent pets away from their temporary visitors, in case the fosters are harboring an illness or parasite that could infect your pets. This could be as simple as keeping your squadron of foster kittens in your bedroom, and letting your permanent pets roam the rest of your house.

In addition to having the time, money and space it takes to raise foster pets, it helps to have an ability to handle endings that might always be happy.

“Most importantly they need to follow directions and be prepared for an occasional broken heart,” Hiltz said. “Fosters don’t always make it.”

That is certainly true, but you only increase a homeless animal’s chances of having a long, happy life by fostering him or her. And no matter what the outcome, you can know you’ve given that animal, who might never have otherwise known love, a few days, weeks or months of a good life.

Once you express your interest in fostering, the Humane Society will ask you fill out an application, and Hiltz will want to see the area in which the animals will be kept. If you do not already have a relationship with the Humane Society, you may at first feel discouraged by the process. Like many things on St. Thomas, it can at times feel difficult and unwelcoming. But with polite persistence, you should soon have a snoozing puppy at your feet, or a legion of sweet foster kittens purring in your lap.

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A foster kitten strikes an irresistible pose. (Karen Hollish photo)Our first batch of foster kittens consisted of four tiny furballs, their faces covered in wet kitty food, mewing behind the rusting bars of a small crate.

“I'm sorry, I didn't have time to clean them off,” said Annabel Hiltz, the Humane Society of St. Thomas Operations Manager.

“They’re too little to eat without stepping into their food,” Hiltz added. “So you will have to teach them.”

These temporary charges came to us during the height of St. Thomas' spring kitten season, when the numbers of homeless cats far exceeds the number of adoptive families – even more than usual.

Whether dog or cat, the odds for companion animals on St. Thomas at any time of the year are bleak: In 2010, 80 percent – or four out of five – of the island's homeless dogs and cats were euthanized, according to shelter statistics.

After a year of volunteering as a foster parent, grant writer and public relations professional for the Humane Society, I've learned there are many causes for this sad situation, from the V.I. Government's systemic underfunding of animal control work to the lack of enforcement of anti-animal cruelty act.

Still, the never-ending flow of wasted lives is always traced back to one essential problem: Too many St. Thomians do not spay and neuter their pets, and until the community adopts a more proactive approach to its staggering pet-overpopulation problem, the vast majority of them must die.

In the face of this uphill struggle, there are ways to make life better for homeless companion animals, and stepping up to be a foster parent can be one of the most fun and rewarding ways to help. Every foster pet has different needs, and the Humane Society will work with your family to ensure a good fit.A sibling slumber party for a foster group. (Karen Hollish photo)

You may take in underage kittens, who will need to be bottle-fed and nurtured until they are ready to go back to the shelter and fight off the diseases, parasites and illnesses that run rampant across St. Thomas. You might take in an adult dog who has a home lined up on the mainland, but who needs a place to stay until he has found a ride there, or you may be charged with socializing and potty training a wriggling litter of pups.

The Humane Society will subsidize any medical care your foster charges might need, but you must be able to take your fosters to their vet appointments and follow their health-care directions, and you must be able to provide food, kitty litter and other pet-raising supplies, Hiltz said.

You can take in one animal at a time, or – if your heart, home and kibble budget are big enough – you might take in more, as is often the case with longtime Humane Society volunteer Rhea Vasconcellos.

On Thursday of last week, Vasconcellos was caring for six little Chihuahua mixes, all of whom are destined to be flown off-island to the Humane Society's partner rescue in Rhode Island, the Potter League. While these pups have an off-island destination, Vasconcellos has taken in plenty of dogs, puppies and even a few kittens who she helped find homes for on St. Thomas.

“It's very rewarding,” Vasconcellos said. “As a foster mom, you feed them, you wash them, you love them, you try to socialize them, so you have a vested interest in making sure that these dogs go to a good home.”

Vasconcellos said she tends to gravitate toward helping the neediest cases, such as those dogs who might be too weak to weather the medical and emotional stresses of life in a crowded shelter.

“But once they get out of that shelter,” Vacsconcellos said, “they blossom.”

Almost all of St. Thomas' unwanted animals have not received proper veterinary care before they come into the shelter; for example, many were abandoned at dumpsters, where they ate whatever they could find, or they were kept outside by owners who made little time for their care.

For this reason, Hiltz and the Humane Society recommend that foster families keep their own permanent pets away from their temporary visitors, in case the fosters are harboring an illness or parasite that could infect your pets. This could be as simple as keeping your squadron of foster kittens in your bedroom, and letting your permanent pets roam the rest of your house.

In addition to having the time, money and space it takes to raise foster pets, it helps to have an ability to handle endings that might always be happy.

“Most importantly they need to follow directions and be prepared for an occasional broken heart,” Hiltz said. “Fosters don't always make it.”

That is certainly true, but you only increase a homeless animal's chances of having a long, happy life by fostering him or her. And no matter what the outcome, you can know you've given that animal, who might never have otherwise known love, a few days, weeks or months of a good life.

Once you express your interest in fostering, the Humane Society will ask you fill out an application, and Hiltz will want to see the area in which the animals will be kept. If you do not already have a relationship with the Humane Society, you may at first feel discouraged by the process. Like many things on St. Thomas, it can at times feel difficult and unwelcoming. But with polite persistence, you should soon have a snoozing puppy at your feet, or a legion of sweet foster kittens purring in your lap.