The Prudent Pet team is made up of passionate animal lovers, and I’m incredibly proud to be part of it. I’m Brittany, a blog writer, and the social media manager for Prudent Pet. I have a big soft spot for rescue pups (I have one at home named Walter), so when I saw there was an opportunity to write about foster dogs for the Prudent Pet blog, I jumped on it.
Our friends at Real Dog Moms of Chicago recommended I speak to Stephanie Thomas, the Medical Coordinator at ALIVE Rescue, about fostering. She suggested we meet at Sip of Hope, a coffee bar in Chicago where 100% of proceeds support proactive suicide prevention and mental health education.
After learning more about Stephanie and her naturally charitable nature, the location choice felt all the more appropriate. Growing up, Stephanie’s family always had at least two rescue dogs at home. As a lifelong vegetarian with an environmentalist mother, it’s no wonder Stephanie’s path led her to a career and homelife rich in goodwill.
From her job coordinating medical needs at a local animal rescue to her personal time devoted to fostering dogs, Stephanie taught me a lot about the dedicated and inspiring animal rescue community in Chicago.
Medical and Hospice Foster Dogs
Given her role as a Medical Coordinator, it’s no surprise Stephanie has a soft spot for older dogs with special medical or hospice needs. Since Stephanie has a background in the medical field (she works with dialysis patients), she knew taking on medical fosters was something she wanted to do.
What is a medical dog?
A medical or hospice foster dog is one who requires extra medical care or treatment due to serious and sometimes terminal illnesses. Medical dogs are often seniors, making it extremely difficult to place them in forever homes.
How long are dogs fostered on average?
The average foster time for Stephanie is around three months. Most dogs are only in their foster homes for several weeks before getting adopted (some rescues even let foster families take an animal just for the weekend) but finding a caretaker for a medical dog is rough, which is why Stephanie’s foster time is longer than most.
How do you care for medical and hospice dogs?
Medical and hospice dogs require a lot of care and attention. When Stephanie began fostering her now-permanent pup John Paul, she was initially told he was not expected to live very long because of his medical issues.
That was last September. John Paul is truly a shining example of how far a foster can go with the love and care of a family.
Caring for a medical dog necessitates attention beyond prescribed meds and vet visits. Providing a loving environment can do wonders for an animal’s physical and mental health.
Understanding a pet’s needs is crucial. A great example of this is Stephanie’s use of CBD oil for her dogs (Blooming Culture is her CBD oil of choice). From treating anxiety to pain management, Stephanie has learned to recognize and act on her dogs’ various needs. John Paul suffers from respiratory problems and used to cough constantly, unable to relax. CBD oil has helped him cut back on meds and reduced the number of episodes.
Time and cost are common reasons people are hesitant to foster a dog. While fostering does require your time, it’s important to note that fostering a dog is free. Rescues provide foster families with food, bedding, and supplies and cover any vet care or medical costs.
And remember, you do not have to foster a medical or hospice dog. If you feel you cannot provide a medical dog proper care and attention, you can still foster a pup without those needs.
Advice for Foster Families:
- Give it Time
It takes time for a pup to get acclimated to a new environment, and foster parents need to prepare for the unexpected. A dog might bark, destroy window blinds, or have accidents in the house – this doesn’t mean you’ve been paired with a destructive dog.
“A foster family is the animal’s first stop after trauma,” Stephanie notes. “Give the animal appropriate time to get comfortable before judging them and giving them up.”
- Assess Your Behavior
Foster parents often focus on a dog’s negative behavior but forget to evaluate their own. Look at yourself as the animal’s owner or caregiver and work with their specific needs.
Stephanie explained to me: “I’ve had a foster bite me. I put my hand in front of my blind foster dog, and she snapped. At that moment, I knew it was my fault. Foster parents need to evaluate their behavior just as much as the animal’s.”
- Learn to Read a Situation
The more time you spend with your pup, the more in tune you will be with their energy. This will help you spot warning signs and read a situation before it occurs.
As a pro foster parent, Stephanie knows how important it is to be present around foster animals.
“You can prevent negative circumstances by reading your animal’s energy.”
- Be Patient
It could take days, weeks, or sometimes months for your foster dog to feel at home with you. Remember, your pup has just experienced trauma and needs you to be patient with them.
- Remember You’re Not Alone
In addition to the financial assistance your foster’s rescue will provide, there are a lot of resources out there for foster families. Stephanie especially praises Chicago’s rescue community; her network of animal lovers is always growing and offering support.
When Stephanie met her husband Jared, they each had one dog. They’ve since doubled their canine count, not including the eight dogs Stephanie and Jared have fostered in the last two years.
Their gang of forever pups includes:
- Pooh, a 13-year-old Pitbull mix
- Ziggy, a 12-year-old Maltese
- John Paul Bones, a 12-year-old Pomeranian mix
- Finley, a 7-year-old Yorkie mix
The couple is also currently fostering a Pomeranian named Wally.
Some of their dogs are rescues, and others (like John Paul) are “foster fails”, a tongue-in-cheek expression meaning a dog was permanently adopted by their foster family.
Stephanie has worked as the Medical Coordinator for ALIVE Rescue, a 501c3 non-profit animal rescue in Chicago, for the past six months. She is in charge of organizing spay and neuters, vaccinations, microchipping, and coordinating visits between foster families and veterinarians.
It’s easy to see what drew Stephanie to working at ALIVE. The rescue’s core values stated on their site describe a devoted community dedicated to protecting the lives of animals, with the belief that every animal deserves a well-balanced and fulfilling life.
In addition to ALIVE’s admirable mission, the shelter is dedicated to going green to promote sustainable living. ALIVE provides their foster homes with bio-degradable poop bags and eco-friendly cat litter and ensures the material used at their events are sustainable.
Before coming into her current role at ALIVE, Stephanie volunteered with the Chicagoland Rescue Intervention and Support Program (CRISP). CRISP provides low or no-cost services to pet owners who decide to keep or rehome their pets instead of surrendering them to the city shelter.
CRISP members go to city shelters and speak with people who feel they have no choice but to surrender their animal. The volunteers then arrange to have the animals placed in a rescue or sent to a foster home.
All the Animals Social Club
If her volunteer work wasn’t enough, Stephanie co-founded a 501c3 non-profit called All the Animals (ATA) Social Club with her friend Alix in January 2018. The ATA Social Club offers event planning and fundraising services to Chicagoland animal rescues, hoping to raise awareness for the need to foster and adopt.
The ATA Social club does monthly events with different rescues, including the upcoming nuptials of Stephanie’s dog John Paul and a pup named Buck, hosted by ATA Social Club, ALIVE Rescue, and local organization The Hot Mess Express.
Stephanie taught me a lot about the extensive animal rescue community that’s right in my backyard. As a pet lover, I find Stephanie’s work at ALIVE and participation in other local animal non-profits highly admirable.
Not everyone can commit to fostering a medical or hospice dog. However, I do encourage you to learn more about these incredible Chicagoland organizations: