Underdogs helped by 'adoption agent' foster program

Underdogs - shelter animals who are having a difficult time finding an adoptive home - are helped by new innovative ‘adoption agent' foster program.
By Kelli Harmon

Calistoga the brindle dog who is in a special foster programCalistoga, a sweet, friendly brindle dog, had probably started to wonder if something was wrong with her. Practically still a pup, she grinned and danced and wiggled whenever potential adopters approached her kennel at the Best Friends Pet Adoption and Spay/Neuter Center in Los Angeles. Caregivers kept showing Calistoga off to adopters, but time and again, no one chose her. Mary Alice Davis, foster program coordinator, says, “People would meet Calistoga and another dog, and the other dog would go home.” It is dogs like Calistoga who inspired a new program at the center, which gives them a chance outside the kennel to meet their perfect person.

Special foster program for hard-to-place pets

While the foster program at the center had previously centered around puppies and kittens too young to be adopted, staff identified a new opportunity for placing pets like Calistoga who were ready to be adopted, but just hadn’t been. The “adoption agent” foster program, Mary Alice says, “is for animals who haven’t found their person yet, for no good reason.”

She adds, “Some animals need a really special, unique home, but we look at others animals and think, ‘We don’t understand why you’re here. You’re amazing, you’re a great fit for almost anyone, but somehow you’re still here. How do we change that?’” Sometimes a change of venue is all it takes.

The difference between adoption agent foster homes and others is that these foster parents don’t only care for a pet in their home; they also actively work to find an adopter, because pets in the program are more than ready to be adopted.

Spreading the word about great adoptable shelter pets

Foster volunteers get coaching on how to introduce the dogs to new people, and “adopt me” bandanas for dogs to sport every time they leave the house. The more the dogs get out and about, the more likely they’ll find homes quickly. Mary Alice says, “Foster volunteers bring their dogs around in their worlds, exposing them to people who wouldn’t normally meet them. The sneaky idea behind (the program) is to let people know how many amazing shelter pets there are.”

It’s a way to reach people who might not head to the shelter to look for a dog, but when they meet, say, a friendly, wiggly brindle dog out for a nice walk with her foster mom, they fall in love.

Making pet adoptions easy

Calistoga the brindle dog with her new adoptive familyCalistoga was a perfect match for foster adoption agent Kristin Gavin, who wanted to foster a “bouncy, young, playful, social, fun dog.” Of Kristin, Mary Alice says, “She described Calistoga without having met her.” What happened next is exactly the hope for all dogs in the program. Kristin brought Calistoga out to the Long Beach Pet Expo, a family met her, and Kristin was able to describe what she was like to live with. The family fell in love and adopted her.

Mary Alice says, “What’s exciting to me about her story is that we had this amazing dog at the adoption center for a year who went out to foster. Two weeks later, she’s in her forever home.”

While hundreds of pets go home from the adoption center every month, there are people looking out for the ones like Calistoga, who know what it feels like to get passed over again and again. Even if it takes a bit longer for some, they all eventually find that special someone who chooses them.

Learn about Best Friends’ Los Angeles programs, including No-Kill Los Angeles, a coalition of animal rescue organizations, city shelters, and passionate individuals dedicated to ending the killing of healthy and adoptable pets in L.A. shelters.

Photos by Kristin Gavin


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