Big-hearted family making a big difference for dogs

Sage the dog on a couch with three kids from the Brooks family
Members of the Brooks family turned to fostering after losing their beloved dog, and now they’re on a mission to help as many dogs as they can.
By Rachel Daniel

Karen Brooks, her husband, James, and their three boys have always been animal lovers. Their Shih-Tzus (15-year-old Molly and 12-year-old Charlie) completed the family until, sadly, Molly passed away last November. While grieving her loss and living the busy lifestyle that comes with three kids, Karen and James felt they weren’t quite ready to add a new member to their family. But after noticing that Charlie was getting lonely without Molly, they decided to look into fostering and haven’t looked back.

The Brookses have been fostering animals from Best Friends in Northwest Arkansas since May, and in that short time they’ve already made a big difference.

Photo courtesy of Karen Brooks

A family full of fostering naturals

Karen and James say they are open to fostering whoever needs them: seniors, pets with special needs or those needing a little extra love after leaving an anxious shelter environment. But they’ve quickly found that they especially love fostering the big adult dogs.

The family’s first foster dog, a 56-pound pit bull named Sage, came to stay with them soon after they decided to begin fostering. Sage quickly settled into their home and the family saw right away how loving and well-behaved she was, as well as how wonderfully she got along with Charlie and the kids.

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Once Karen got to know Sage and her personality, including her habits, preferences and how she interacted with the kids and Charlie, she shared what she learned on social media. The family was excited to take Sage to adoption events, too.

In fact, it was at an adoption event — hosted by Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in partnership with Best Friends — that Sage met a family specifically looking to adopt a dog who was good with kids. Sage’s stellar behavior (fit for an art museum, no less, not to mention their sons’ solid endorsement of her) sealed the deal and it was decided that Sage was the dog for them. A few days later they made the adoption official.

Photo courtesy of Karen Brooks

First foster success is just the beginning

Though Sage wasn’t with the Brooks family for very long, they all missed her when she was adopted, especially the boys. “I made sure to take pictures of our boys with her, and we talked about how excited we are for her,” Karen says. “Now we get to open our hearts and home again for another dog who has been in a shelter.”

That’s exactly what they did. Soon after Sage’s adoption, the family welcomed their next foster dog, a pit bull terrier named Lilly. She was recently adopted, and now they are gearing up to foster another dog.

Since Karen and James are used to having multiple dogs, they’ve found the transition into fostering to be quite easy. They also love that their kids have gotten involved. Karen hopes that one day, when they are all grown up, they will remember what they learned from dogs like Sage and decide to foster or adopt a dog of their own.

Photo courtesy of Karen Brooks

Fostering changes lives for pets, families

“Karen and her family have been amazing to work with,” says Nicole Smith, foster coordinator for Best Friends in Northwest Arkansas. Over her months of fostering, Karen has shown that she’s very knowledgeable about dogs and caregiving, and she’s working to expand that knowledge as much as possible.

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“She takes everything foster-related in stride. Not only that, but every time a dog goes into her home, she does more than her part to get them adopted,” says Nicole, adding that foster volunteers play a vital role in saving the lives of homeless pets. “The first clear benefit of fostering is that an at-risk animal is no longer at risk.”

When dogs and cats are waiting to be adopted, relaxing in a home environment enables them to be themselves more than they would at a shelter, which can be a stressful place for many animals. In a home, foster volunteers can take note of everything from food preferences to how the animals interact with kids and other animals in the house. “This information is invaluable when it comes to finding the perfect match for families and adoptable pets,” says Nicole.

As for Karen and her family, they can’t wait for their next canine houseguest. “Being able to foster dogs knowing they won't have to go back to a shelter is such an amazing feeling,” she says. “Seeing each dog’s personality gives our family so much joy.”

Photo courtesy of Karen Brooks

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