A Conversation with Grace Phillips, Foster Coordinator with Fetch + Releash
The following is an interview that took place with Grace Phillips, a dog fosterer and foster coordinator with the volunteer run dog rescue organization Fetch + Releash. She splits her time between Toronto (while she is attending University of Guelph-Humber) and the Fergus-Elora area. Through our conversation I learned a lot about what was involved in dog fostering and how the current pandemic has impacted dog rescues like Fetch + Releash.
How long have you been fostering dogs? How many dogs have you fostered so far?
I have been fostering dogs since August 2020 (Just over a year now!). In that time, I’ve fostered 5 dogs: Champ, Benji, Boop, Cornish, and Pinta.
Where do the dogs typically come from that you foster?
I've fostered dogs from all over the world. Fetch + Releash rescues dogs internationally as well as local surrenders. I personally have had dogs from Texas, Tennessee, Mexico Toronto, and even babysat a foster from Oman. The southern United States has a huge overpopulation issue that often leads to the euthanization of fabulous dogs, purely because shelters can’t afford to keep them alive. Foster number four, Cornish, was set to be euthanized in Texas the day he arrived in our care. That is why you see such a high number of rescues coming from those States.
What is the most challenging aspect of fostering dogs?
I would say the most challenging aspect of fostering is the unknown. Many times, I receive dogs with very little background [information] on where they came from, what they know, and how they might react to a new environment.
My second foster Benji came in as a local surrender. He was well behaved and loved human affection; he was even mostly potty trained! However, he kept going potty in our bathrooms and we couldn't figure out why. Later we learned that for 5 years of his life Benji lived with his littermate in an apartment bathroom. They were never given the chance to potty outside, and they spent such little time outside that their previous owners only had one leash for the two of them. This explains his bathroom accidents, but it just goes to show that you never know what you might get (there’s kind of an exciting aspect to it also!).
In other cases, like with my Mexi-Mutt Boop, we never found out why they disply certain behaviors. At only 5 months old Boop was extremely afraid of the world and everything in it. We will likely never know what happened to make him so terrified but luckily, he landed amazing parents who help him gain confidence every day!
What is the most rewarding/satisfying part of being a foster dog mom?
Besides watching the dogs I love so much find the most amazing families, I love the process of watching my fosters become dogs. I will use the example of Boop again. When he first came to us, he was terrified and expressed this by lunging and barking at my parents. For a month we worked with Fetch + Releash’s behavioral team to help him understand that he was safe with my parents. When the hard work and consistency finally paid off, Boop was greeting my parents on his back ready for belly rubs every morning. While he was my most difficult foster, he was also the most rewarding. There is nothing quite like watching a dog, so aggressively fearful, start to trust and love the humans taking care of him.
Are you able to share with everyone what it means to be a “Foster Fail”? Have you ever had a dog that you felt would make you a “Foster Fail”?
Foster failing is when you set out to foster a dog but end up adopting it! My most frequently asked question is if I would ever foster fail… the answer is yes, someday for sure. Every single dog I've fostered I would have foster failed in a heartbeat. However, for now, my philosophy is when you foster a dog, you don’t only save that dog but also the dog who takes its place in the shelter. I like to remind myself that if I didn’t say goodbye to my last foster, the newest wouldn't be here. To save more dogs, I've got to say goodbye to the last.
What would you say is the hardest thing to deal with emotionally when fostering dogs?
A basic answer, but saying goodbye always hurts. Someone once told me that it gets easier with each dog, but I'm here to say that's false! It never gets easier, I will never, not cry on adoption day, but I always know that my babies go to the most wonderful homes. I’m not sure if it’s like this for everyone but I am great friends with each one of my foster's parents. They have all created Instagram Accounts for their dogs so I can watch their journeys, and I make efforts to see them all at least once a year!
When you are meeting someone for the first time and you tell them that you foster dogs for fun, I imagine you get all sorts of different reactions from people about what they think is involved with this type of volunteer work. Care to share some of the common myths out there that you hear frequently?
Myth: You need a fenced in backyard to foster/adopt
Reality: Rescues match you with dogs who fit your lifestyle, you don’t need to worry about not having a backyard
Myth: You must work from home to foster.
Reality: Nope. As long as your dog gets a potty break at least every 8 hours you are good to go!
Myth: You need lots of dog experience.
Reality: I was 18 and had never had a dog when I started
Myth: You can’t rescue puppies.
Reality: There are always puppies to be rescued - there is a huge overpopulation problem
Myth: There are no purebreds or designer dogs in the rescue world.
Reality: Wrong! Rescues come in all shapes and sizes.
Myth: Rescue dogs are aggressive/dangerous.
Reality: Just no.
Myth: Rescue dogs all have behavioural issues.
Reality: Some may [be aggressive], but I’ve had tons of dogs that you wouldn't even know were rescues.
Myth: Shelters euthanize dogs because they are aggressive.
Reality: In reality they just don’t have the funds to care for the abundance of dogs they have.
Myth: Rescues are untrainable.
Reality: My foster dogs continuously surprise me; these dogs are smarter than you know!
I’ve read a lot online about pandemic pets/’pet boom’ that has happened since the pandemic hit North America in the spring of 2020. How do you feel this overall increase in the desire to have a pet has impacted the work of Fetch + Releash?
The rescue world has also adopted the term “Pandemic Puppies”. During [the Pandemic] adoptions were consistent and dogs were being adopted within days of being posted. However, on the flip end of that, all the puppies people bought (not adopted) are now in their ‘teenage phase’ when they start testing boundaries and often a lack of training starts to show. On top of that, most people are heading back into the office and these dogs are facing separation anxiety. This has created a high number of dogs being surrendered or sold online (please never buy a dog online) but unfortunately, the demand for dogs right now is not there, resulting in overcrowded shelters globally.
In your role as Foster Coordinator, have you noticed anything different about the types of people coming forward to volunteer to foster dogs since the Pandemic began?
In general, more people were coming forward to foster throughout the pandemic. I feel as though more people who didn’t know much about the rescue world (like myself) dove in and started fostering during the pandemic. I can happily say that I've met lots of post-secondary students starting their fostering journey this year. If you are someone who might be considering fostering, but doesn't know where to start I have a podcast along with another University foster where we chat about our experiences in the rescue world called Foster University and you can listen to Season 1 Episodes on Spotify and check us out on IG @Foster.Univesity .
What do you feel is unique or different about fostering dogs with Fetch + Releash as opposed to another Dog Rescue?
There are so many great, reputable rescues out there, however, I stick with Fetch + Releash for several reasons. Fetch has a wonderful transport team that volunteers to drive dogs to vet appointments, foster homes, and events. I was also blown away by the support I received from my foster coordinator and the rest of the team. If you ever have any issues or questions, there is a whole team of people who have your back and want you to succeed. Not only do they support you, but they turn into great friends!
As many people have transitioned back to working outside of the home, how has this impacted the dogs in their care? What sorts of strategies have you suggested?
As people transition back to work, we are faced with the sad reality that we can no longer facilitate the large intakes we could during the height of Covid. Unfortunately, we can only save the number of dogs that we have fosters for, resulting in a large decrease in the number of dogs we can save. Currently, we are in great need of temporary fosters or babysitters as well as committed fosters to continue saving dogs. High kill shelters are filling up as a result of this and there is truly nothing we can do without having confirmed homes they can join.
Is there anything else that you would like to add that you would like people to know about fostering? About rescue dogs?
I’m passionate about letting people know that you don’t have to be a certain type of person to rescue/foster. You don’t have to have some extreme love for animals and dedicate your whole life to it, you don’t have to be a dog behavior expert, and you don’t have to have a huge fenced-in backyard. When I started fostering, I was an 18-year-old high school student, who had never had a dog in my life… If I can do it, so can you. I could go on and on but in reality, the most important thing for people to know is that rescue dogs are good dogs. They aren't damaged, they aren't mean, and they aren't only for seasoned dog owners. There's a rescue dog for everyone and once you find it, it will change your life.
For more information about their fostering program or the dogs that are currently available for adoption, visit www.fetchandreleash.ca
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