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Pet foster care program labor of love for participants

Kelly Hilzendager holds Biggins, one of two cats she has taken in through the Circle of Friends Humane Society’s foster program and keeps at her pet supply store in Grand Forks. JOHN STENNES/FORUM NEWS SERVICE

GRAND FORKS — Biggins and Gingersnap don’t share a typical home.

They sleep in a room in the back of Treat Play Love, a pet supply store in Grand Forks. During business hours, Biggins wanders around the store and solicits attention from customers while Gingersnap prefers to watch from afar before approaching.

Neither feline is for sale, but both are looking for good homes.

Store owner Kelly Hilzendager is a participant in the Circle of Friends Humane Society’s foster program. She has been fostering pets for various organizations since 2009. The cats are her 14th and 15th foster pets.

“It’s hard to give them up sometimes,” she said. “But it’s fun when they come back to visit.”

During these visits, dogs are thrilled to see Hilzendager while the cats head straight for their old room to check things out before their reunion with her.

Each is different

While these cats stay at Treat Play Love, other area foster animals are usually placed in homes.

Finding the right foster pet for the right home is the key to a successful experience, according to the shelter’s executive director, Arlette Moen.

“We foster animals for specific reasons,” she said.

Some are placed in homes because they are recovering from medical procedures or illnesses. Others need extra attention and training to address behavior problems. Still others just don’t fare well in a kennel environment.

“Each dog and cat is different,” said program coordinator Leslie Hagert. “Some go kennel crazy sooner than others.”

Older animals and newborns are often candidates for foster care. So are some of the shelter’s residents that have been there for long periods of time.

Both Biggins and Gingersnap were strays and stayed at the shelter for months before moving in with Hilzendager. Biggins is estimated to be 3 to 4 years old while Ginger’s age is somewhere between 5 and 7 years.

Major commitment

The pair of cats make fostering look like all play and no work, but that’s not always the case.

People tell Moen taking care of newborn puppies and kittens sounds like fun, but she says fostering critters that small is a major commitment, as they need to be fed every few hours.

“It’s very labor-intensive when you’re working with the little ones,” she said.

Five to 10 people are usually available at a time to foster animals, but each has different preferences. One woman volunteers only for litters of kittens, meaning she often goes months in between foster pets, according to Moen.

To ensure foster pets are placed with the right people, potential participants are required to fill out an application.

“We want to make sure they’re in a safe and loving home,” Hagert said.

The application requests details about other pets, children and people living in the home. It also asks applicants to specify any size or breed preferences and where the foster pet would stay in the home.

It may sound like a lot of questions, but Moen said potential participants should understand the commitment required by a foster pet.

“Some people ask to take them just for the weekend,” she said. In reality, a foster pet’s stay could be anywhere from a week to a year.

Others looking to adopt ask to test drive a pet by fostering it first. Moen said this is a misconception and not the purpose of the foster care program.

Not for all

Treat Play Love provides a public location for foster pets to get noticed and adopted. Biggins is a charmer and Canadian visitors often lament they aren’t sure what kind of paperwork would be required to bring him across the border.

“He would have gone to Canada twice by now if it was a matter of just picking him up,” Hilzendager said.

Biggins and Ginger’s presence at the store frees up kennel space at Circle of Friends, but foster homes aren’t ideal for every pet, according to Moen.

Some can handle living in kennels while others may need to stay at the shelter for medical reasons.

“We had one dog that was here for about a year and she loved it,” Moen said. “She could have been here, outside or in a house — she would have been happy.”

Similarly, fostering a pet isn’t for everyone. Hagert said pet foster parents may need a lot of patience, whether it’s waiting months for the right animal to care for or training and socializing their foster pet.

Hagert, Moen and Hilzendager encourage anyone interested to apply for the Circle of Friends program or others offered through rescue organizations.

“You’ve got to go into it knowing you’re helping for only a brief period of time,” Hilzendager said. “But it’s worth it because you’re helping animals.”

Article written by Brandi Jewett of the Forum News Service

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