Best Friends Network spotlight: Humane Society of Utah

Being part of the Best Friends Network gives animal welfare groups across the country the tools they need to save more lives, as well as the chance to work together to Save Them All.

Best Friends has network partners in every single state, each one saving lives every day. We never get tired of hearing their stories, and that’s why we want to share them with you, too. So today, we're proud to present one from the Humane Society of Utah in Murray, Utah.

Tova says of the dog she fostered and adopted, "From the moment Ziggy arrived at our house, he acted like he was part of the family."When a Utah family decided to foster a shelter dog over the Christmas holidays, it didn't take that lucky pup a whole lot of time to get comfortable.

"From the moment Ziggy arrived at our house, he acted like he was part of the family," says Tova Heaton. "He was so excited to be out of his shelter kennel and in a home. He spent most of his time going from person to person, making sure that everyone got their kisses and snuggle time."

Shelter foster program helps dogs go home

Ziggy is a four-year-old dog who came to the Humane Society of Utah in mid-November. His former family told shelter staff they didn't have time to "to adequately provide for his very active personality," according to HSU spokesperson Guinnevere Shuster. "Although Ziggy is four years old, he is a big puppy at heart. He is playful with people and other dogs. He tosses toys in the air and bounces after them."

While Ziggy is beloved by HSU's staff and volunteers, his energy and exuberance was a little off-putting to potential adopters; so, come Christmas-time, he hadn't yet been adopted.

Luckily for Ziggy, the Humane Society of Utah has a program called Home for the Holidays, which finds temporary foster homes for shelter pets.

"The HSU's adoption center only closes two days a year, Christmas and Thanksgiving,” says Guinnevere. “While our staff still works to ensure all the animals are fed and cleaned, the dogs don't have the opportunity to get adopted or get attention from the public. So, we invite our HSU volunteers and foster families to take a dog home on these holidays to get them out of the shelter."

According to Guinnevere, programs like these are important for many reasons. One is to give dogs a much-needed break from what can be a very stressful shelter environment. (Think of how good you feel when you get a vacation.) Another is that the pets often behave differently in a home than in a shelter; so, short-term fostering is a great way to glean important information that can guide adoption decisions to make a great match.

Ziggy went home Christmas Eve with Tova, her husband and three children. Having just lost a beloved family dog in August, the family truly intended to be short-term fosters.

"My family and I loved the idea of being able to give a shelter dog a warm home and a soft bed for the holidays,” Tova says. “Knowing how many animals are in need, we felt like it was something we could do to make a difference in some small way."

Ziggy gets the best Christmas present: a family

Ziggy spent Christmas being spoiled rotten. He got a special breakfast, and loved opening presents. There was a long walk around the lake, where "he was super excited to get to see the ducks," says Tova. Plus, of course, there were lots and lots of cuddles and even massages, complete with soothing music and towels for comfort and modesty.

"Ziggy did get lots of massages," Tova says. "We'd pet him, and he'd roll over on to his back with a big smile on his face. We really just tried to help him know that he was loved and safe while he was with us."

Ziggy’s return to HSU was scheduled for 9:30 a.m. December 26. After these blissful couple of days, it was time to bring him back.

"We cried all the way there and all the way home," says Tova.

The family knew the drill. They'd previously fostered a dog over Thanksgiving, and while they also cried while bringing that dog back to the shelter, they were heartened when he found his permanent family that very day.

Still, the Heatons couldn't get Ziggy off their minds. They were even posting on the HSU Facebook page about how much they adored and missed their foster dog. And they received lots of encouragement in return.

Ziggy gets adopted

It took two days to make up their minds, but on December 28, the Heatons returned to the shelter, picked up Ziggy and took him home for good.

"It was a big decision for us. Having lost our other dog just four months earlier, we weren't sure we were emotionally ready to have another dog in our home," says Tova. "But we missed Ziggy so much after he was gone, we decided to make him part of our family."

"We were thrilled," Guinnevere says. "When they returned, we knew it was meant to be."

All of Ziggy's time these days is filled with fun, love, car rides and, of course, massages. Tova says Ziggy grins a "big goofy smile" whenever anyone gives him praise — which is (of course), a lot.

"We weren't actively looking for a dog to adopt. We just wanted to help a dog in need have a happy holiday," Tova says. "Ziggy has already carved a place in our hearts, and we're looking forward to loving him every day as part of our family."

More about Best Friends Network Partners

Ziggy the dog has has already carved a place in his new family's hearts

Photos courtesy of Guinnevere Shuster