COVID-19 pandemic sees rise in fostering pets


Eryn Fleener

Three of the 50 dogs that Eryn Fleener and her family have fostered.

As business closed their doors and shelter-in-place orders were put into effect around the nation, many people opened their homes to some furry friends.  

Mark Rutkowski and his partner, Rebecca Taylor, took in a terminally ill corgi named Daisy. They are fostering her through Lakeshore Pembroke Welsh Corgi Rescue.

Rutkowski works as a software implementation specialist and Taylor is a school teacher. Both now working from home, have some more time to spend with Daisy and their other dog.

“She got dropped off to us about two days before Chicago closed down,” Rutkowski said. “The quarantine was a nice way to bond with her and get her settled in.”

The closing of several Chicago businesses meant the closing of many shelters across the city as well. Clare Hamilton, coordinator of foster services at The Anti-Cruelty Society said many changes had to be made at the shelter within a short period of time.

Daisy, a corgi fostered by Mark Rutowski and Rebecca Taylor. (Photo courtesy of Mark Rutowski and Rebecca Taylor)

“In mid-March when the governor ordered us to shelter in place, we closed the shelter down to the public and stopped all adoptions and programs,” she said. “We had been expecting this order though, so we’d already been preparing for it by bolstering our foster ranks, placing as many animals in foster homes as possible and switching to virtual foster orientations”  

According to Hamilton, the shelter has made several changes that include putting together a virtual adoption team and creating virtual adoption policies/procedures that are all listed on the shelter’s website.

Similarly, at New Leash on Life, Foster Coordinator Maureen Thurman describes the extra work that the volunteers at the shelter are doing to take on the high number of applications that have been coming their way. While they normally receive around five foster applications per month, in March and April they received over 160.

“Normally, we got dogs and don’t have enough fosters, so we’ll do a drive to try and get more, but this is crazy,” Thurman said.

However, as states start to lift their restrictions, some people have voiced their concerns over the future of many of the animals that have been taken into foster homes. As the number of people willing to foster animals while the stay-at-home orders are in place increases, shelters must change the way that they are reviewing applications. The biggest change involves asking potential fosters about their availability once orders are lifted and people start to go back to their pre-quarantine routines.

“Don’t get me wrong, I love people’s hearts, I love that they want to step up, but the discussion is the same among all of the prominent rescues in Chicago,” Thurman said. “We have to be careful.”

DePaul junior Eryn Fleener expressed similar sentiments. She and her family have fostered over 50 dogs in six years and most recently adopted a dog they were fostering.

“I hope people are thinking about what happens when it’s over,” she said. “I think fostering is an amazing way for dogs to find a home and it’s a great time to add in a new family member, but I worry about when life restarts.”

Each shelter provides resources and aid to potential fosters, but it’s important to do as much research as possible. Look into animal behavior and what your pet may need before fostering.

“I always tell my fosters to try and think of the situation through the animal’s perspective,” Hamilton said. “It may take time, but with patience and love the animal will start to adjust, and when they do, and you see their progress and witness the trust between you build, it’s the most wonderful thing in the world.”

Rutkowski and Taylor plan to open their home to Daisy for as long as she needs. She’s been a great addition to their lives and “the absolute sweetest dog we have ever met.”