by Susan O’Neill
Campton Hills resident Kristin Anderson is a midwife of sorts. Her specialty just happens to be four-legged mothers-to-be who communicate with a lick and a bark.
Anderson provides foster care for dogs through Help for Endangered and Lost Pets (HELP), a nonprofit organization that rescues dogs and cats that might otherwise be euthanized.
Anderson began fostering dogs in her home four years ago, shortly after her own dog Sadie died of lymphoma. Anderson had adopted 6-year-old Sadie from the Human Society in Minneapolis, where she and her husband lived before moving to the area. Sadie died four years later.
Anderson was a psychologist in Minneapolis, and had just obtained her license to practice in Illinois when she became pregnant. It seemed a good time to shift gears.
â€œI knew I wasn’t ready for another dog, but I wanted to give back something to the dog world,â€ Anderson said.
Anderson’s first foster care assignment was a litter of three pit bull-mix puppies. She ended up keeping one of the puppies. Lolly required a great deal of work and attention. Out of necessity, Anderson learned much about training dogs.
She began taking Lolly to the Fox Valley Training Group every week for obedience training. That went well, and eventually Anderson became a trainer with the group. Not long after that, a HELP volunteer called Anderson to tell her they had a pregnant dog.
Bella, a cattle dog mix, was a stray living around Kankakee when HELP found her. When a vet performed an X-ray on the dog, he told Anderson that the animal was a month away from giving birth to 11 puppies.
That was really a challenge, Anderson said, who recalled bottle feeding some of the puppies. But they all made it, thrived, and went on to good homes.
She and her husband, Mike, decided to keep one of Bella’s puppies, and when no one came forward to adopt Bella, they kept her as well. By this time, their dog family included three foster dogs plus 14-year-old Brandy, who had come with them from Minnesota.
â€œI felt like a failure,â€ Anderson said.
She explained that foster care families are not supposed to keep the dogs they foster, because it can take a place away from another foster dog. With four dogs, Anderson said her pack needed her attention, and she decided to take some time away from fostering.
By the summer of 2008, she felt ready again. Her son Ryan was 5 years old, and life was less chaotic. She re-entered fostering with Sweetie, whose seven pups were five days old when mom and pups came to live with them.
Anderson said it is a lot of work to foster a mother dog and her puppies. The puppies sleep in one room in the basement and they play in another room. She paper-trains them and spends six hours a day cleaning and doing laundry, doing two to three loads of laundry a day.
But Anderson said HELP provides a lot of support and pays for everything. Whenever she needs anything, she calls her dog coordinator, Michelle Clancy. Whether it is food or laundry detergent or bleach, Anderson said Clancy, also a HELP board member, makes sure she gets what she needs.
â€œShe’s outstanding,â€ Anderson said. â€œIt’s truly a labor of love for her.â€
Anderson’s latest foster dog, Annie, gave birth to eight puppies on Nov. 16. Mike said this is the first time Kristin has fostered dogs during the winter, bringing different kinds of challenges. The puppies’ sleeping room has a window that during warm weather opens out into a fenced-in area. This winter, they set aside the second room, where the puppies can play indoors.
Part of the work of fostering is to socialize the dogs, making sure they learn how to interact with other dogs and people. It’s important for them to spend time with their mom, so they can learn how to be a dog. She allows their weaning to take place gradually, eventually feeding the puppies more food and formula, and separating mom and puppies after two feedings.
She lets her other dogs mix with the puppies, and she handles the puppies from an early age, getting them used to being touched. Her son is a big part of the socialization process. Ryan picks them up and handles them the way any other child would.
â€œThis gives us a good sense of what they will do with other kids,â€ Anderson said.
After a few weeks, she begins to invite people over to play with them, at first close friends who are good with dogs, then more and more people as they get older.
â€œThe more strangers and new smells, the better,â€ she said. â€œThey’re now used to people.â€
Although the fostering is Kristin’s project, she said that Mike helps out quite a bit. Kristin said it was his idea to create a web page, and he did a lot of the technical design. Kristin places pictures and videos of the puppies and blogs on the site about their progress. Mike said it’s a great way to generate interest in the dogs.
â€œWho doesn’t want to look at puppies?â€ he said.
She laughed as she recalled when she first told him she wanted to foster dogs. She could tell he was not quite sure about this new venture.
She said the first three puppies were smelly when they arrived. One by one, she gave them a bath, wrapped them in a towel and laid them in her husband’s arms. They were warm from the bath and sleepy from their travels. They fell asleep on his chest.
â€œHe looked at me and said, ‘This is awesome,’â€ she said.
And if there is any question of his commitment to Kristin’s endeavor, she points out that the puppies’ sleeping room used to be Mike’s study.
â€œThey snuggled their way right into my heart,â€ he wrote on their website.
Annie’s puppies are almost ready to be separated from their mother, and Kristin is interviewing prospective owners. HELP does a couple of initial screens before people get to Kristin, so she focuses on just a few things.
She said the most important thing to gauge is if they really understand what they’re getting themselves into. She wants to make sure it is not an impulsive decision, and wants to understand why their reasons for wanting a puppy and why they want one now. She also tries to match each puppy and its temperament with an appropriate owner. For example, if a puppy is particularly dominant or energetic, she would probably not send him home with someone with no previous experience with dogs.
According to its website, HELP works with foster care homes rather than shelters so that the foster family can work on health and behavioral issues with its dogs and cats before they are adopted. The foster care home provides a loving environment, and provides a good idea of what type of home would be the best match.
HELP receives dogs and cats from police departments, vets, shelters and people in the community. HELP volunteers take the animal to a vet for a thorough exam, vaccinations, worming and spaying or neutering. Then the dog or cat lives with a foster family while they recover from surgery and are socialized and evaluated.
HELP currently has 15 foster homes for dogs and 45 for cats. Anderson said the organization can use more foster care homes for dogs, as well as good permanent homes for both. Anderson said the puppies usually go pretty fast, but she knows that an older adopted dog can also bring its owner much joy.
For more information about HELP, visit the website at www.helpinganimals.org.
For pictures, videos and progress notes on Anderson’s puppies, as well as dog training tips, visit her website at www.caninefostering.com.