By Christy Avery

When Sara completed the Seattle Animal Shelter’s new foster parent training, she imagined fostering an elderly dog—not the litter of five orphaned puppies she would take into her home.

The Border Collie mix puppies were only a week and a half old, with eyes that hadn’t even opened yet. They needed round-the-clock bottle feeding and individual care. After receiving the motherless puppies, Shelter staff had sent an emergency message to the foster dog team, but few had experience raising such young puppies.

Sara had once fostered a litter of orphaned, three-day-old kittens, and so was better qualified than most for the job. She and her husband Patrick took three of the puppies, while another volunteer committed to foster the remaining two until they were weaned at four weeks. Armed with advice from SAS kitten foster parents and a local veterinarian, Sara and Patrick brought the puppies home.

That first night, Sara was so scared for the tiny, helpless puppies that she didn’t sleep at all. She first set them up in a rabbit cage, with a hot water bottle for warmth. Sara and Patrick bottle-fed the puppies every two to four hours, which meant at least one middle-of-the-night feeding. Despite the fact that the puppies lacked a mother, their prognosis was good, and their only health issue was a bout with diarrhea. While 2 am bottle feedings were hard enough, Sara knew it would only become more difficult as the puppies grew and became more energetic and independent.

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At around four weeks, Sara weaned the puppies off formula and onto solid food, and at this point the two other puppies rejoined their littermates in her home. They moved into a playpen, and when they outgrew that Sara gave up her living room to the group. The puppies required potty training, socialization and near-constant attention, but their hilarious antics and adorable looks made up for the work involved. “They’d give you the eyes and it was all over,” Sara remembers.

After the puppies were vaccinated at six weeks, Sara and Patrick took them for walks, two at a time, around their urban neighborhood, socializing them to the sights and sounds of city life. At eleven weeks, they were ready for spaying and neutering, and then adoption. Sara laughs and describes the boisterous pups at this age as “maniacs. I can’t get their attention.”

SAS was inundated with applications for the puppies. Sara and Patrick kept one—an affectionate, lower-energy female that fit best into their household, which included a cat who had made herself scarce since the puppies arrived. The couple was sad to see the others go, but happy they would get individual attention in their own families. The experience was “absolutely worth it,” Sara concludes, and she hopes to foster again.

The Seattle Animal Shelter Foundation (SASF) supports the work of the SAS foster dog program through grants that help pay for veterinary care and supplies. To help support the foster program, please consider donating to SASF. Interested in fostering dogs? More information is available here.


Photos by Emily Rieman