Dana started volunteering with SAS in 2011 and is now an Adoption Lead for dogs. She is responsible for scheduling and training volunteers on how to help dogs find their perfect forever homes. It’s a fulfilling role and one that SAS depends on to help every pup find lasting happiness. Dana is also the shelter’s Dog Foster Co-lead, an essential role that matches shelter dogs with perfect foster homes. We interviewed Dana to find out more about her roles at the shelter and to highlight her passion for and commitment to each and every dog that comes through the shelter doors.

SASF: First of all, we just want to thank you for your on-going support and commitment to SAS dogs. The amount of effort it takes to not do just one but two essential volunteer roles is greatly appreciated. Can you describe what you do as the Dog Foster Co-Lead?

DANA: As a Foster Lead, I train new foster parents on rules and regulations of the shelter and outline what the requirements are for being a foster parent. We have roughly 150 foster parents and they each have different levels of skill, training and availability so we try to match the dog with their perfect foster parent. When dogs come in, we write a detailed description, and send that out to potential foster parents. I then review the responses and create a match. We also create support schedules for multiple foster parents because in some cases we might have a dog with a litter of puppies or special needs and it can take a foster village to make sure the dogs are well cared for. It takes collaboration and good intentions on everyone’s part to keep the foster program functioning at a level that we feel is far above the typical foster program. Our foster parents are truly unsung heroes but it is work that is absolutely necessary for guaranteeing a better future for SAS dogs.

SASF: What was the most fulfilling foster project for you in 2016?

DANA: We had the highest amount of dogs in foster care at one time. The shelter took in 28 dogs from a hoarding situation and at the same time we had two pregnant mothers that eventually gave birth to 14 puppies. Plus we had the usual ongoing foster care needs. Essentially we had over 40 animals in foster care at one time. We had a foster home for each of the mothers and their puppies and we needed other foster parents to help with short shifts of support like feeding, laundry, vet visits, walking and caring for the mothers, socializing and giving breaks to the primary foster parent so that they could also attend to the needs of their own families. After eight weeks we found 14 more foster homes to take in one puppy each so that they could start socializing, training and be spayed/neutered at 12 weeks. It was a logistical challenge but well worth the effort. Every puppy and mother has since found his or her forever home. Because the court system can take up to two years, the dogs from the hoarding situation had an extended stay with their foster parents. While in foster, the dogs received critical medical care, food, warmth and most of all love for the first time in their lives. They have all been adopted to happy homes. All thanks to our amazing SAS foster parents.

SASF: Wow, that’s wonderful. Are all foster parents active all the time?

DANA: I would say that 20-30 foster parents are active all the time. Many of them are constantly fostering, training and finding the perfect forever homes for SAS foster dogs. For most dogs, fostering involves house training, learning basic manners, and leash manners but for the more difficult behaviors we have been using animal behaviorists and local trainers to help with special training needs. Because of this, we are able to adopt out nearly all of our SAS foster dogs.

SASF: As you know in 2016, SASF funded a new Behavioral Training and Assessment Program. How have programs like this helped shelter dogs in foster care?

DANA: One of my absolute favorite foster stories of all time is the story of Blue. Blue was a very sweet dog but needed to work on impulse control and realizing that the world wasn’t such a scary place. As such, we had to find a foster who was willing to put in the work to make Blue adoptable. In addition to his amazing foster parent, Blue had the support of multiple trainers, an animal behaviorist, manners classes and constant positive reinforcement (treats), all provided by SAS. He has since been adopted and is actually an emotional support dog for his new owner. I really love this story not only to highlight the dedication that our foster parents have for the dogs, but also to highlight the support and programs that make it possible for these dogs to overcome rough beginnings and be able to trust and love humans.

SASF: How do you think SASF has helped your work at SAS?

DANA: Well, in so many ways. The new glass dog kennels a few years back made a massive difference with the dogs. The dogs are much calmer and happier now. The new kennels took the shelter from looking more like a “pound” to a state of the art shelter where animals are welcome and cared for. I instantly saw a change in the dog’s behaviors. Let’s face it, any shelter is a stressful place for animals, and any way that we can make it easier on them helps everyone on every level. The Animal Behavior Training and Assessment Program is also a major improvement. It will allow all foster parents to know how to provide the right kind of training and positive reinforcement so that each dog can be set up for success. Providing this type of learning really sets our foster program apart from any other animal welfare organization. I’m really excited and happy that we are in the forefront of new and better ways to serve our animals. The in-house veterinary clinic was a lifesaving improvement as well. We get a lot of foster animals that have never been to a vet or have had minimal medical attention.
I know that SASF also funds foster care basic needs, like prescription food, medical attention, toys, beds and necessities that make a shelter dog’s life easier in foster care. It’s truly a multilayered effort. Our foster program could never be as successful as it is today without SASF support.

SASF: What would you like to see happen in the future at SAS?

DANA: There is always more to learn. We are a city that loves animals and I would like us to continue the progress we’ve made transforming animal welfare. A lot of it will depend on the attention, thought and effort we give to increasing the quality of life we provide animals in the shelter and animals in foster care.

SASF: What would you say to someone who was interested in becoming a volunteer at SAS?

DANA: We are a really engaged, passionate group of volunteers. It’s actually pretty amazing to realize the breadth of work that SAS relies on from their volunteers. Although it can be hard work, it is some of the most rewarding work that you’ll ever do. Plus, being surrounded by other like-minded and passionate animal lovers is a really amazing feeling. My work here has enhanced and enriched my outlook on life. At least for myself, it has become a central part of my identity and part of my persona. My first glimpse into animal welfare was when I adopted my dog eight years ago from a shelter back east and I can tell you that it was not a pleasant experience. Like so many shelters, it was underfunded and frankly, depressing. Volunteering here at SAS, however, has been a positive experience and reminds me that shelters can actually be places of hope and inspiration. I would like to think that I have made a positive difference in SAS dogs’ lives. It’s what gives me fuel. I try to contribute to the happiness of every dog that comes through our doors. That feeling is immeasurable.