Rallying for Fergus

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Fergus the dog with an adoption bandanna next to a smiling person
A special foster event helped a dog named Fergus get heartworm treatment and a home.
By Nicole Hamilton

Nanci Neugebauer will never forget the first time she saw Fergus. The longtime volunteer with Best Friends in Houston had been thinking it was high time she fostered a dog again, and then she received an email about an upcoming Best Friends foster rally at BARC Animal Shelter and Adoptions. The event was focused on helping dogs in the shelter who had heartworm disease and needed foster homes while they underwent treatment.

Nanci scrolled through the photos and stopped when she saw Fergus. “There was something about his eyes that drew me in,” says Nanci. “They were just very soulful.”

The more Nanci read about Fergus, the more compelled she felt to foster him. But even though she has helped many foster dogs overcome all sorts of challenges in the past three or so years (Samwell, for example, who needed help to corral his energy), she’d never fostered a dog during heartworm treatment before, and it made her hesitate.

But Fergus’s big brown eyes won out. In fact, the more she thought about it, the more she began looking forward to fostering a dog who needed to take it easy for a few months (a must for dogs as they undergo heartworm treatment).

Besides, after Samwell and a string of particularly energetic canine houseguests, she thought maybe a low-key dog was just her speed. So, she made plans to foster Fergus, fully intending to care for him until he was adopted. But sometimes the best intentions don’t work out as planned — they work out better.

Foster rallies help save pets’ lives

The foster rally that matched Nanci with Fergus is one of many such events that Best Friends hosts at Houston-area shelters. The goal is to recruit more foster volunteers and to more quickly match up foster pets with those homes.

For the rallies, the shelter provides Best Friends with a list of pets who have a particular need for a foster home. Then the team at Best Friends puts out a call asking foster volunteers to show up at the shelter on the day of the rally to meet the pets. Best Friends staff are at the shelter during the rally to recruit new foster volunteers as well.

[6 unexpected benefits of fostering a dog during heartworm treatment]

Cory Stottlemyer, the public information officer at BARC, says that the rallies are a great way for the shelter staff to match pets in their care who are getting overlooked. The rallies also help raise awareness about the importance of fostering pets.

Fostering changes lives,” says Cory. “We can’t control the number of animals coming into BARC, but our foster volunteers can help us control the number that make it into loving homes. Through their selfless dedication, they help us give these animals a chance.”

Photo by Nanci Neugebauer

Showing up for dogs with heartworms

At the time that Fergus arrived at BARC, the shelter was already dealing with a particularly large number of dogs with heartworms. Those dogs needed foster homes where they could be kept calm and keep their heart rate down, which is a critical part of treatment.

On the day of the foster rally, Nanci got the house ready for her new guest and headed to BARC. When she met the seven-year-old shepherd mix and saw those soulful eyes in person for the first time, her doubts about helping a dog through heartworm treatment went away.

A perfect canine patient

Fergus acclimated to life in his foster home with Nanci and her husband, Tom, without a hitch. His gentle nature matched the personality of Pearl, the 10-year-old Labrador retriever that Nanci and Tom had recently adopted, and in no time they were living easily with one another. They gave each other plenty of space — except at bedtime, when they took over the bed, leaving little room for Nanci and Tom.

When it came time for Fergus to begin his heartworm treatment, everything fell into place. Nanci was nervous when the vet administered Fergus’s first injection, but he did just fine. Back home, to keep his heart rate steady, Nanci limited his walks to the backyard. Soon, they fell into a routine.

[Senior dog with a heart of gold now has a new home]

“At night, he slept in his kennel. In the morning, I’d take him on a leash to the backyard. Then, he’d rest in the study, where Tom is often on the computer,” says Nanci. As Tom worked, Fergus would lie nearby, taking in the Texas sun through the French doors. “He was as calm as can be,” says Nanci. “He was perfect.”

Photo by Nanci Neugebauer

Dog foster volunteer has a change of heart

After three months of being a very good patient, Fergus completed his heartworm treatment. During that time, he not only gained weight, it was looking like he might have gained a family, too.

Until then, Tom had always supported Nanci’s love for fostering dogs, but he had an easier time than she did letting them go when they were adopted. This time, though, when Nanci began talking about saying goodbye to Fergus, she was somewhat surprised (and thrilled) by his response. “Do we have to?” he asked, to which she replied, “No. We don’t.”

Fergus, they both agreed, fit in with the family like he’d been part of it for years. Adopting him simply seemed like the most logical (and let’s be frank, most wonderful) next step.

Photo by Nanci Neugebauer

Very good boy, very good teacher

Now, whenever Tom and Nanci return home, Fergus is at the back door waiting for them. He’ll readily give anyone his paw. And if you look closely at his face, Nanci says, you can see a white line that goes from his nose to the top of his head, where it forms the shape of a heart. “He’s just gentle and lovable,” she says. “When he lays on Tom’s lap, he’s just in heaven.”

From Fergus, Nanci has learned how to be more patient and more appreciative of what she has, right now. “He calms me down,” she says. “He’s happy with just what he has, so now I try to make the best of a situation.”

[Foster sees beyond dog's heartworm status and adopts her]

Nanci still plans to foster dogs with Best Friends, and she often gives the team updates about Fergus. “We were all overjoyed when we learned that Nanci was adopting Fergus,” says Brittany Moore, Best Friends lifesaving specialist in Houston. “We couldn’t have imagined a better outcome.”

Fergus has come a long way from that day when Nanci met him at the foster rally. Now that he no longer has heartworms, he can run around the backyard as much as he wants (although he prefers an easy trot). He and Pearl still get first dibs on the bed, and there may be a move to the Colorado mountains in his future. “He’s shown me that we need to love whenever we can, both pets and people,” says Nanci. “He’s a very good boy.”

Photo by Nanci Neugebauer

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