How one family helped save 20 dogs (and counting)

Child affectionately petting the face of a foster dog wearing an orange bandanna
A busy Houston family of five makes time to foster homeless pets and memorializes each one in a paw print memory book.
By Anna McClain

Members of the Baumgartner family lead busy lives. Taylor and Tiffany have full-time jobs, coach soccer, teach church classes and volunteer — all while raising three children under the age of 10. Rounding out the busy household is their dog, Lola, and their two senior cats, Burke and Blahnik. (Whew!)

Considering their active lives, you’d think the Baumgartners wouldn’t have time for much else, but over the last four years, they have fostered 20 dogs and one cat (more on that later) through Best Friends in Houston. Together, the family members take turns feeding, walking, cuddling and playing with every four-legged foster guest. They realized early on how special each pet is, and so they found a sweet way to remember them all. They’ve also figured out what works for them in their home with their kids and other pets. So, when they get a call to foster a dog in need, they can say yes.

A longtime commitment to helping animals

Tiffany has always felt a tug on her heart to help animals in shelters, and over the years she’s supported many animal welfare organizations in Houston and elsewhere. After learning about Best Friends back in 2018, that same year she attend a Best Friends event in Houston. That’s where she met Deyra Galvan, coordinator of community engagement for Best Friends, who encouraged her to consider fostering.

[Couple converts RV into foster pet crash pad]

Not long after that conversation, the Baumgartners welcomed their first foster dog. The kids loved helping so much that once the first pup was adopted, they decided to foster another dog and then another. Four years later, they’re still going strong.

“Best Friends creates a special way for individuals like me to become part of the mission through fostering,” says Tiffany. “It takes time to make a difference, but every big change starts with small steps.”

An affinity for helping all dogs, especially big ones

Over the years, the Baumgartners have fostered dogs of all ages and sizes. They even fostered a cat named Luna for about a week. But if there’s one thing the family shares, it’s an affinity for helping big dogs. The help is sorely needed because large dogs need the most help in shelters in the Houston area and across the country.

“Finding foster homes for big dogs can be difficult because of stereotypes — like big dogs can’t live with cats, or (they) have a lot of energy and need an active lifestyle,” says Deyra. “By fostering big dogs, the Baumgartners are helping debunk these myths.”

Regardless of the size of the dog they’re fostering, when it comes to letting the kids help out, Tiffany and Taylor have set some strict ground rules for everyone. For example, when they first welcome new dogs to their home, the dogs get time to rest and acclimate to their new surroundings in a quiet room until they feel more comfortable. Then, the adults (gauging the dogs’ comfort level as they go) introduce the kids one at a time to the new dog so they each can slowly build a relationship with the new houseguest.

[Big-hearted family making a big difference for dogs]

As for the daily tasks that come with fostering, everyone helps out. “The kids take turns feeding the dogs, filling their water or changing out blankets in their crate (a favorite task of my two girls),” says Tiffany. “Our family also loves playing fetch in the yard and trying to teach the dogs how to sit, lay down and shake, with the help of treats.”

Everything that Tiffany and her family learn about the pets they foster (from favorite treats to how comfortable they feel around Lola and the cats) is documented and shared with the Best Friends caregivers. This helps them match up dogs with potential adopters.

A treasured memory book

Early on when they first started fostering, Taylor decided to surprise everyone by creating a memory book as a way to remember all their four-legged guests. It was constructed out of a photo album and inside each sleeve he placed photos and paw prints of their foster pets. Now, the Baumgartners include a photo and a paw print of every dog they foster in the book.

“Our children love flipping through the book and retelling each story,” says Tiffany, who sometimes looks at the blank pages of the memory book and gets excited knowing that someday, they will be filled with new photos and stories of pets they’ve helped save. “I love the reminder of how our family is making such a difference, one paw print at a time.”

Have room to spare?

You can help pets feel at home while they’re waiting to be adopted ― by becoming a foster volunteer.

Foster near you

Read more

Inspired by one extraordinary senior dog to adopt another

Scruffy dog has trouble walking, lands his perfect home

Dog, adopter take healing journey together