Homeless pets need good foster parents

April 6, 2009

By Jeff Richards

Kathy Mulej holds her latest foster cat, Kalli, who was pregnant at the time. Kalli gave birth to three kittens March 14. By Jeff Richards

Kathy Mulej holds her latest foster cat, Kalli, who was pregnant at the time. Kalli gave birth to three kittens March 14. By Jeff Richards

Cats are typically at their most adorable and most playful when they’re still small, fluffy newborn kittens. But inevitably, they grow up.

 Sammamish resident Kathy Mulej has found a way to keep her home almost perpetually filled with kittens for the past 15 years, by becoming a foster parent for the Seattle Humane Society.

“We get them when they’re fun,” she said. “When they get big enough to really get into trouble and start scratching up things, then they find another home.”She is one of more than 200 cat, dog and small critter foster parents volunteering with the organization, which serves all of King County.

It’s a vital contribution to the shelter, which can’t always house or properly care for all of the animals it receives.

“Foster volunteers make it absolutely possible to expand the walls of the shelter,” Seattle Humane CEO Brenda Barnette said. “They provide the care and treatment to allow it to thrive and succeed.”

Most animals that go into foster care are either sick or in need of social rehabilitation. A private home can seclude contagious animals and give frightened animals the attention they need to get them ready for adoption.

Issaquah resident and cat foster parent Laura McKagan said the humane society would go to any and all lengths to ensure sick animals are healthy for adoption.

But while the shelter has no problem finding homes for the animals, there are always more to come, either from the streets or those surrendered to the shelter by a family.

“That’s the depressing part about it,” McKagan said. “You see dogs get adopted, and in a day, you just know those kennels will get filled. It never ends. Never.”

She got involved with Seattle Humane Society 15 years ago, when she was working in a veterinary office. A customer left a dog there, but never came back to pick him up. 

After several days, staff members called the dog’s owner, who then asked the vet to put the healthy, middle-aged dog to sleep, because the family could no longer take care of him.

McKagan took the dog to the Seattle Humane Society, where a family quickly adopted him.

She started out as an adoption support worker, helping those who came into the shelter find an animal that met their needs. She soon shifted to fostering cats and estimates she has fostered about 150 cats over the years.

“It’s a way of giving back and having fun at the same time,” she said. “Even though it’s not a big deal for me, it’s a big deal for the shelter.”

Issaquah resident and dog foster parent Suzi Spiridakis hasn’t been at it quite as long. She started in December, and has fostered three dogs and one puppy in that time.

“I had no plans on fostering. I just wanted to see where I fit in at the shelter,” she said. “But once you’re in, they’re in your heart.”

While McKagan and Mulej deal mostly with newborn kittens, Spiridakis has fostered full-grown dogs. They’re usually dogs dealing with high stress that need to develop the social skills that will make them adoptable.

The most extreme case of this was Rolly Polly, who had been found abandoned in an apartment.

“That was the most frightened dog I’d ever dealt with,” Spiridakis said. “My stepson actually tiptoed around him for a week, so he didn’t make direct eye contact and frighten him.”

She said her own dog, Honey, has been a great comfort to the foster animals, giving them companionship and an example for how to act around humans.

While giving her first foster dog, Buddy, a walk, Spiridakis’ husband sent a text message to her, saying he wanted to keep Buddy. It didn’t happen.

“People always say to me, ‘I couldn’t do that. I would get too attached,’” she said. “Well, you’re not doing it for yourself.

“You might have to give them up, but they’re going to a good place.”

Fostering is only one of many ways to help the Seattle Humane Society. Volunteers must attend a two-hour orientation and commit to six months with the shelter.

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