Real Happy Dogs » Documentary Dog Photography by Milla C. Photography

Foster Dogs: Sarah’s Story

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Story of the week, part 1:  Sarah always knew she wanted to work with dogs, and as an adolescent and young adult, she tried to find her place by volunteering at local shelters and working at a veterinarian office.  She decided not to pursue medicine, but as she walked the halls of her local shelter as a volunteer, she felt alive.  She told me, “Visiting the shelter for the first time was a thrill for me.  I had always heard people say that shelters are sad, but I didn’t see it that way… I saw an opportunity to help each dog have a better day.” Not only could she help dogs by giving them food, attention, and exercise, she also loved the way that she could help people by introducing them to their next family member.
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Years later, after graduating college and spending time at the ACC, she also learned about a program that she hadn’t known about: the foster program.  She wasn’t in a place in life where she could adopt, but she agreed to begin giving homeless dogs a comfortable home until they were permanently adopted.  When she brought her first foster dog home, she had no way of knowing that the trajectory of her life was about to change forever.

 

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Story of the week, part 2:  Meet the dog who started it all:  Mocha.  Sarah’s second foster dog was a ‘death row’ Pit Bull who had been overbred and abused. She was only 25 pounds (half her normal weight) when Sarah took her home, named her, and provided her with love and a stable place to rest while she waited for an adopter.  While Sarah was fostering Mocha, she realized that there weren’t many fostering resources, so in July 2009, Sarah launched a simple website dedicated to providing support for people and exposure for dogs being fostered.  This website would soon grow into @fosterdogs, a robust community and non-profit organization serving NYC and beyond, and it all started with a little homeless Pittie with big brown eyes.
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Within a month coming to Sarah’s house, Mocha found her forever-home with a mom (another amazing Sarah!) who loved and worked in chocolate and had always dreamed of starting her own company.  After adopting Mocha, she started @rescuechocolate with the vision of raising awareness for animal rescue and donating 100% of the proceeds to a different rescue group each year.  Mocha’s face is on the front of each chocolate bar, and the chocolate bar names such as Bananas Foster Dogs, Peanut Butter Pit Bull, and Mission Feral Fig each represent different groups of animals in need.  At the end of this story, I am going to hold a giveaway to send some of this delicious chocolate to honor Mocha and other dogs in need.

 

Story of the week, part 3: “If you want to date me, I have to know that you’re serious about fostering and adopting.” Sarah had met a man named Mike and was beginning to fall in love, but she had to know that he would also embrace her life’s passion of helping dogs in need.  Before they moved in together, Mike fostered a small homeless black puppy named Ozzie.  Sarah told me, “I was sure not to try to convince Mike of anything… I wanted to see that he wanted to do this on his own. You have to really want to adopt.” Mike fell in love with this little soul and Ozzie soon became a permanent member of the family. Soon after, Sarah and Mike decided to get married and join their lives permanently.
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During this time, @fosterdogs was continuing to grow, and Sarah met a dog named Shaggy at an adoption event who no one volunteered to foster.  She brought him home thinking it would be short-term, but Ozzie and Shaggy bonded quickly and it was soon evident that Shaggy was never going to leave.  Sarah told me, “Shaggy wasn’t what we expected from a second dog.  We thought our next dog would be small, old, and portable, but Ozzie chose Shaggy, and we knew that he was family.”

Story of the week, part 4: Sometimes our dreams are big, and sometimes our dreams are modest.  We chase some that sprout and grow, and others simply fizzle with time. But sometimes, just sometimes, we have the joy of watching a dream develop into much more than we ever imagined.  Nine years ago, Sarah started @fosterdogs as a small website with one person managing but had dreams of seeing it turn into something that would truly help people and dogs in the city.  Now, it’s a non-profit organization with a 20+ person volunteer staff, a board, grant funding, and an ongoing schedule of adoption events, trainings, and fundraisers year-round.  Hundreds of people and dogs have benefited from the work that Sarah and her team are doing, and in the coming days, I am going to share more specifics about the exciting work that is happening in NYC because of this big-hearted operation. This is the most exciting part for me, and I can’t wait to share and to encourage everyone to chase dreams and see how they might grow.

Story of the week, part 5:  Have you ever considered what happens to terminally ill dogs who are part of the shelter system? In order to help rescue groups move terminally ill dogs from shelters into loving homes to live out their diagnosis, Sarah created the @fosterdogs Fospice (foster+hospice) program.  The fospice program finds foster homes for dogs with less than 6 months to live and provides each dog with beds, food, training, toys, a photo shoot, treats, veterinary care, and end of life care. Foster parents just have to be willing to provide the dog with love and a comfortable space to live out their retirement.
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17 year old Taz (pictured above) is currently in fospice care. He has lived longer than expected because of the care of great veterinarians and the love he receives from his foster mom Madhumita. The program is now large enough to have its own coordinator, Melissa (pictured on the right), and in the five years since it started, more than 50 terminal dogs have been spoiled by #fospice foster parents.
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Sarah told me, “People might think that the fospice program is sad, but actually, every Fospice caretaker has come back to say they want to do it again.  We want it to be a positive experience for both the caretaker and the dog, and though we all mourn when these dogs pass, we are so happy knowing that they were comfortable and loved for their final days, weeks, or months.” Would you consider caring for a dog with a terminal prognosis? Contact @fosterdogs for more info!

“Fostering dogs is something that many people don’t even know they can do, but it’s simply being willing to bring a dog into your home until he or she finds a permanent adopter.  Fostering does demand some flexibility, but if you know yourself and are working with a rescue group who can pair you with a dog to fit your lifestyle, it can be such a positive experience.  If people could feel the joy of fostering just once, they would probably continue doing it.” – Sarah (@thedogmatchmaker)
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@fosterdogs is an inclusive organization that brings together rescue groups from all over NYC and beyond and helps them find foster families for dogs in need.  But, even more importantly, Sarah and her team offer in-person trainings, seminars, adoption events, and social media exposure to ensure that each fostering experience is a positive one.  Additionally, Sarah runs @thedogmatchmaker to help people who want to adopt but feel overwhelmed by the process.  I mean, can this amazing woman possibly do anything MORE?! 💛
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Would you be interested in helping by fostering, training, posting about adoptable dogs on social media, donating, attending adoption events, or becoming more involved in the #fospice program?  I am including a link in my profile to sign up for the Foster Roster to learn more about potential foster dogs, and you can always contact Sarah at @fosterdogs or @thedogmatchmaker for more information about becoming involved.

When Sarah heard the news, “You’re pregnant” she really had to process it.  She was running a busy non-profit with multiple off-shoots, was constantly attending trainings and adoption events, was caring for two large dogs, and on top of that was married to a man with his own career and interests.  She told me, “When we found out we were pregnant, one of our first thoughts was how the dogs would react.  My initial excitement quickly turned to nervousness about the boys because they hadn’t spent time with infants and hadn’t lived with a child before.” But, Sarah and Mike’s priority was ensuring that Ozzie and Shaggy would adjust well to this huge change, and they were committed to this no matter what.
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Baby Liam joined Sarah’s family last fall, and Sarah and Mike began working to integrate the dogs from day one.  Thankfully, Shaggy and Ozzie’s personalities both allowed for a easy transition, but even still, these new parents were careful to prioritize not only their baby but also their two dog-boys by giving them ample exercise and love and by allowing them access to Liam gradually and carefully to avoid unnecessary stress.  When I came over to photograph their family, I was so touched by how well they made the transition work and how much love their family shares.

Thank you so much for following the story of @fosterdogs this week!  It was a joy for me to share more about this wonderful organization and Sarah (@thedogmatchmaker), the heart behind it all.  In closing, would you consider joining the effort to move dogs out of shelters and into foster homes?  No matter where you live, you can foster dogs from a local shelter or rescue group, and even if you don’t live in NYC, please take advantage of the Foster Dogs Inc. resources and education series.  Additionally, you can tag @fosterdogs in the photos of YOUR foster dogs so they can share/encourage adoption. If you are local, there are many ways you can help Sarah and her team of volunteers: foster, donate, help with #fospice, attend educational classes or adoption events, share on social media, etc.  I have a link in my profile to the “foster roster” to join the fostering team.

 

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