These families open their hearts and homes to foster petsJan 27, 2022 12:09PM ● By Katherine Weinstein
A proud mama poses with her pups in the Spencer family’s backyard in Draper. The family fostered the dogs as volunteers with Nuzzles & Co. Pet Rescue and Adoption. (Photo courtesy Emerald Spencer)
By Katherine Weinstein | [email protected]
The Spencer family gazed down with pride at the new mom, snuggled up in a make-shift bed with her nine healthy, week-old puppies. The Spencers took in the dog just before she gave birth as part of a fostering partnership with Nuzzles & Co. Pet Rescue and Adoption. The family is just one of many in who open their homes and hearts to homeless pets in need.
The Spencers have fostered a total of 23 dogs since they began working with Nuzzles & Co. last summer. “We always had dogs in our home,” said Misti Spencer. “I wanted to buy a home so bad so we could get a dog. I just have to have a dog in my life. I think I’ll be fostering forever!”
Nuzzles & Co. is always seeking volunteers to foster pets. The organization has grown by leaps and bounds since its founding in 1990 and now includes a pet adoption center in Park City as well as a Rescue and Rehab Ranch. Nuzzles & Co. works with the Navajo Nation and the Ute Reservation to care for and find homes for the many homeless dogs and cats on the reservation. In 2020, the organization saved a grand total of 1,863 dogs and cats.
There is a great need for people to foster dogs who are pregnant or nursing pups and the Spencers agreed to take on the challenge. Jonathan Spencer explained, “We help the moms to get back in good health, socialized and used to living indoors. We’re helping them to become a desirable family pet.”
“We give the moms lots of love, they get a lot of attention,” said Ronan Spencer, a student at Corner Canyon High School.
“The moms are often in bad shape,” Misti explained. “The first mom we picked up was so sick, they thought she was going to die. It felt so good to bring her back to life.” She recalled the joy the family felt watching their first foster dog play with her puppies in the backyard. That dog was later adopted by a family in Murray and the Spencers had the pleasure of seeing her again when the family brought her to Draper Dog Park.
As a pet foster family, the Spencers are not responsible for finding forever homes for the dogs. When the puppies are eight weeks old, they are taken back to Nuzzles & Co. to be adopted out. However, the family often finds ways to keep in touch with their former canine charges. Emerald Spencer, a student at Utah State University, explained that a family friend adopted a couple of puppies that they had fostered. “We still get to see them, which is cool!” she said.
Emerald described how her family helps to socialize the dogs which includes leash training them and taking them on walks. “We invite the neighbors over to play with the dogs,” she said. Jonathan added, “The kids bring friends over so that the dogs get used to teens.”
Misti noted that having older kids who can help care for the dogs is a bonus when you’re a pet foster parent. She also explained that the key to being a good foster pet family is flexibility. “You have to be a problem solver,” Misti said. “Every dog has its own personality and issues, their needs are so different. Every batch of puppies has its unique needs.”
“There’s going to be some characters in this batch!” Jonathan said of the tiny, roly-poly puppies who are currently in their care.
“There is a stigma on rescue dogs,” he continued. “But these are good animals, dogs that are going to love you forever because you gave them a home. The pets we’ve had have always been rescues.”
“People pay a fortune for a purebred dog,” Misti said. “There are so many good dogs out there. Dogs make such an impact on peoples’ lives. That’s what I find so rewarding.”
Ronan observed that dogs can become a key part of the family. He explained that while he enjoys helping to care for the family’s dogs, “I feel a connection with cats. If I ever see a cat, I have to go up to it and pet it.”
There are many others who share that love of all things feline, including folks who foster cats and kittens. The Day family has fostered nine kittens so far since October 2020.
“I had thought about fostering for a long time,” Becca Day explained. She began her journey as a foster cat mom when her mother found a tiny stray kitten hiding in her garage. Becca and her family cared for the kitten until it was adopted by a family friend. “We still get to see it,” she said with a smile.
Becca joined Celestial Zoo Pet Rescue, a Facebook community based in Bluffdale. Unlike Nuzzles & Co., Celestial Zoo does not have a brick-and-mortar location. There are separate Celestial Zoo Facebook groups for those who foster cats and dogs. Through the online community, “the nice thing is that we can find other kitties that need help,” Becca explained. “They do a lot with feral cats. If a cat shows signs of being a potential good pet, we foster them. Really feral cats end up as barn cats.”
The Celestial Zoo community often coordinates foster care for homeless cats and kittens found in the rural areas of southern Utah and brings them north where they are more likely to find forever homes.
The first two kittens that the Day family fostered from Celestial Zoo were from a large cat colony in Utah County. At first, the black kitten later known as Jiji was very fearful of humans and would hiss when approached. Becca’s husband, Ben, helped to socialize Jiji by sitting with him and eventually had the kitten literally eating from his hand. “It was calming for me,” Ben said. “I gave him the opportunity to build trust with humans and form a bond.”
Fifteen year old Oliver Day is a bit wary of getting too attached to the kittens but enjoys playing with them. “I really like cats,” he said. “They are always cute! I like the experience of raising them and finding them a good home.” For Oliver, the best part of fostering kittens is, “You get to have the experience of having a lot of pets and, if you like one, you get to keep them.”
Currently, the Days are fostering a young gray and white cat who has bonded with their own older pet cat. The family is leaning toward adopting him, making him a so-called, “foster fail.” Becca admits that it’s hard not to keep all of their young feline charges. Sending kittens off to a new home can be bittersweet. “Of course you’re going to be sad at the end,” she said. “It’s because you care.”
The cats and dogs being fostered through Celestial Zoo are advertised for adoption on Petfinder and the organization hosts weekend adoption events at PetSmart stores in Sandy, West Jordan and Orem. “Celestial Zoo really cares about who is adopting the cats,” Becca explained. Prospective owners need to complete an adoption form and are interviewed by the pet’s foster parents.
Making sure that a prospective owner is not getting a pet on a whim is key as is determining the sort of home environment that the pet would be going to. Not every dog or cat has the temperament to get along with young children or other pets. “If the adoption doesn’t work out, the kitty goes back to the foster,” Becca said. She happily keeps in touch with some of her adopters.
Becca would encourage others to foster pets if they have the time and capacity, but added that there are other ways people can help homeless pets. “Maybe you can volunteer to transport animals or make a donation,” she said. “Keep an eye on your neighborhood and if you see a cat that is clearly not someone’s pet or find a litter of kittens, contact a rescue group to help.”
Both Nuzzles & Co. and Celestial Zoo are seeking people to foster pets and volunteer in other capacities. Nuzzles & Co.’s Pet Adoption Center is located at The Outlets, 6699 N. Landmark Drive, Suite B-103 in Park City. Call 435-649-5441 for more information or visit www.nuzzlesandco.org. Celestial Zoo Pet Rescue has a website as well; visit www.celestialzoo.org or find them on Facebook.