PAWS Magazine

Issue 41, Spring 1999

Fostering hope

PAWS' foster care program helps prepare animals for life beyond the shelter

by Richard Huffman / Editor

It was a long night for PAWS volunteers Jim Keller and CeeCee McCray. Betty the pointer mix and her five newborn pups—dogs they were fostering in the PAWS Foster Care program—were not doing well. Betty had a bad case of kennel cough, which several of her puppies had contracted as well. Amidst coughing fits and tremors, one of the pups died.

"I was so upset," says McCray. "I called Ann in the middle of night, and she told me that we had done everything right, that we had done the best that we could. She was so encouraging."

Late night phone calls are part of the territory in Ann Watkins’ job. As the coordinator of the PAWS Foster Care program, Watkins places more than 700 animals a year that need specialized care before entering the general shelter population. Watkins’ program is a major reason why PAWS has been able to effectively eliminate the euthanasia of healthy, adoptable companion animals.

The PAWS shelter is the perfect environment for most of the companion animals that come through the shelter’s doors. Dozens of clean, roomy kennels are available for dogs while two dozen cat cages populate a bright and airy cat room. But other animals need special care that simply can’t be provided at the shelter. Newborn litters of kittens need round-the-clock bottle feedings. Non-socialized dogs need one-on-one attention to help them become appropriate household companions. Young litters of puppies and kittens need human companionship while they approach the appropriate age for spaying or neutering. In past years at the PAWS shelter these animals would have been prime candidates for immediate euthanasia.

Watkins is currently tackling her busiest season of the year as hundreds of kittens invade the shelter needing specialized care. "If they are under five weeks old and without their mom, they need to be bottle-fed," explains Watkins. "For the first couple of weeks they need to be fed every two hours through the day and night. After that it slows down to just every four or five hours.

"And until they are four or five weeks old, they don’t go to the bathroom by themselves. They need to be helped along by a warm washcloth. It can get pretty messy to raise kittens this way, but we’ve found that the kittens tend to be more social and interested in human contact."

Dogs require more behavioral training, says Watkins. "They mature at a slower rate, so most of what you are doing is making sure they learn proper social behavior and they get a good start nutritionally."

Watkins has close to 150 families that are signed on as foster homes. "Even that amount isn’t enough during kitten season," says Watkins.

Watkins is especially grateful for the foster families willing to tackle special cases. "Some families are much more adventurous. ‘Ringworm? No Problem! Bottle feed eight puppies? Why not?’ These families make me look good."

Being a special needs foster family means extra attention is paid to help sick or mistreated animals become healthy and happy. It also means the possibility that the animal being cared for might die.

"Jim and CeeCee are a terrific foster family for my special cases," says Ann. "They have the confidence and emotional strength to give things a shot that are potentially not going to have good outcomes. You have to respect that."

Jim Keller and CeeCee McCray had been volunteers and PAWS supporters for close to 20 years before they even considered fostering animals. "I overheard a conversation in the shelter about [a potential foster animal with] ringworm and I said ‘hey, I’ve dealt with that before,’" says McCray. That night McCray and Keller found themselves fostering a ringworm-afflicted mom cat and her litter of two-day-old kittens.

That was June of last year. twelve cats and eight dogs later, they have become one of Watkins’ favorite foster families. "People like them are priceless in terms of the lives of the animals that they affect."

They couldn’t have done it without the support of Sugar, the Newfie mix that they adopted from the Humane Society for Seattle/King County. "Sugar treats the kittens and puppies so well," says McCray.

McCray and Keller have managed to fit their fostering duties into their very busy schedules. Keller is a DJ for the popular radio station The End 107.7 FM while McCray runs the Flower Power Hair Salon near Greenlake. "I often take my litters of kittens to work with me," says McCray. One of her customers fell in love with the mom cat of her first litter of kittens and McCray was able to help PAWS adopt out what everyone assumed would be a hard-to-place cat.

Perhaps McCray and Keller’s favorite foster companion has been Manny, a neglected Shar-Pei that they have been caring for recently. "Manny is short for ‘Manatee,’" says Keller, noting the amusing resemblance between their dog and the gentle sea creature.

Manny is a purebred Shar-Pei who was neglected by his original owners. Continual eye and ear infections left him with almost no senses except smell. With a recent ear surgery performed at Inglemoor Animal Hospital in Kenmore, Manny is hearing for the first time since puppyhood. With proper care for his eyes, Manny is also beginning to see again (though eye surgery is still a possibility).

McCray and Keller encourage people who have always wanted a puppy or kitten to become foster parents. "You get that need out of your system right away," jokes McCray. "You also gain some incredible satisfaction."

Watkins agrees. "It’s just like fostering kids," says Watkins. "You’re not adopting them or keeping them. You are fostering them because right now they need something that being a shelter cannot provide."

Those interested in becoming foster families are encouraged to contact PAWS Foster Care Coordinator Ann Watkins at (425) 787-2500 ext. 822.

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