Seattle Animal Shelter provides comfort and joy to pets with its “fospice” program

By Katie Johnson

If you’ve ever thought about becoming a pet foster parent, consider becoming a fospice parent. The fospice (foster-hospice) program is for pets that come into the Seattle Animal Shelter’s care that are nearing the end of their lives. Volunteer foster parents provide a home, and the shelter provides the medical care necessary to keep the animals comfortable. I talked with Christiane Woten, a dedicated fospice parent, to learn more about the program and about her experience.

Why did you become a fospice parent?

I saw an email about this beautiful little cat, Susie, who was still in stable health but was not considered adoptable due to her age and illnesses. This was before our official fospice program started, but there was a lot of shelter support for someone to take Susie home.

How is being a fospice parent different from being a foster parent?

It is not that different! The biggest difference is that you are not responsible for promoting your cat for adoption. And it is possible that fospice can turn into a long-term commitment. I had Susie for nine months, and it has been almost 10 months with Ginger. Which goes to show that it can be very difficult to determine how much time a sick animal really has!

How do you acquire any necessary medications or supplies?

Ginger is on medication that I get from the shelter. Susie ate a prescription food that I got from the shelter. Fospice animals are seen by the shelter vet, so there is no cost to me.

How long do animals usually stay with you?

Ginger was very sick in the shelter, and everyone believed she had a very short time. However, once out of the stress of the shelter environment, in a safe home, and eating food that did not make her sick, she has completely rallied. She’s even put on weight!

Fearless and friendly Susie spent nine happy months in her fospice home.

Who has been your most memorable fospice pet?

I will have to say my first fospice, Susie. Not only was she a stunningly beautiful cat, she was fearless and friendly. She would meet me at the front door at night and want me to pick her up and carry her around. Anytime anyone sat down she was in their lap.

What do you love about being a fospice parent?

Animals matter until the very end of their natural lives. Both Susie and Ginger were surrenders; their families gave them up to the shelter when they were old and sick. In many places, cats like them would immediately be euthanized. I am so grateful that SAS gives them another chance. I love old kitties. They have just as unique personalities as younger cats. Ginger still loves to play with wand and feather toys. Susie liked to go out on the balcony and watch the birds. I find it immensely rewarding to foster old kitties until the end. When Susie’s time came she had spent nine happy months in a home, and I was with her at the very end, the way it should be for all pets.

What would you like someone who is thinking of becoming a fospice parent to know?

Please just consider trying it. The shelter always needs more fospice homes. Some animals may need more actual care than others (fluids, shots, pills, etc.) but not necessarily. You may end up having the animal a lot longer than you think, so be prepared for that. And recognize that eventually you will lose them, but at least they had a good life until the end.

To apply to become a foster parent at Seattle Animal Shelter, visit the Foster Care section on the SAS website.

The Pet Loss Support Group is here to help

Our pets are part of our families. If you experience the loss of a pet, you may have feel a range of emotions from shock to sadness to anger, but you don’t have to go through those feelings alone. Seattle Animal Shelter offers the free, weekly Pet Loss Support Group to help you through this uniquely difficult time.

Pet Loss Support Group leader Connie Starr reflected on the value of the group.

“When one is grieving, support is essential to healing. Pet loss falls into a category of grief called ‘disenfranchised grief,’ meaning society doesn’t recognize or support the loss,” she said. “The group attendees can share the pain of their loss and support each other. The facilitators also provide ideas for healing interventions – journaling, meditating, reading, exercising – and other resources.”

Six volunteers facilitate the group, rotating shifts so that you can usually expect two facilitators at every group. Most facilitators have personally experienced a loss of a pet, and all are animal lovers. As volunteers of the shelter, the facilitators are limited to discussing pet loss only. If other issues arise, visitors will be referred to another professional or group for support.

“Many [people] are also still in shock, so it’s incumbent on the facilitators to make them feel welcome, normalize their loss and then listen,” Starr said.

Still wondering what to expect at the group? There’s no need to sign up and you may attend as often as you like. At a Pet Loss Support Group meeting, you’ll be welcomed into a safe space of other animal lovers. There may be anywhere from one to 10 guests, and each will have an opportunity to share his or her story. Starr assures that whether you feel more like talking or listening, “people are amazingly kind and supportive.”

The Pet Loss Support Group has been supporting the Seattle community for 11 eleven years. The group meets every Thursday from 5:30-6:45 p.m. in the shelter conference room at 2061 15th Ave. W. Please enter through the door on 15th Avenue West. You can learn more about the group and other pet loss support resources on the Seattle Animal Shelter website.

Shelter helpers are some of SAS’ behind-the-scenes heroes

Nan Wonderly does her volunteer chores at SAS with a smile.

Story by Erin Berge

The Shelter Helper Team at the Seattle Animal Shelter washes dirty blankets, towels and water and food bowls during its weekly shifts. Although these chores are not exciting, the Shelter Helper Team is critical to SAS, according to interim volunteer supervisor Laura Mundy.

“Shelter helpers bring order to the ‘back of the house’ and set the stage for a productive work day,” said Mundy.

Currently, there are 15 shelter helper volunteers who allow SAS staff to focus on tasks like setting up adoption papers for new pet owners, reuniting animals with their owners or counseling potential adopters, Mundy said.

Shelter helper volunteer Nan Wonderly said whether directly or indirectly, she knows she is helping SAS’ animals.

“That makes me smile,” said Wonderly.

Starting as an SAS dog walker volunteer, Wonderly ended one of her shifts by filling Kongs and chew toys. As she also folded laundry and prepped dirty bowls for the dishwasher, Wonderly realized how important the shelter helper role was. Shortly after, SAS started recruiting for shelter helper volunteers.

“I worked in the position organically. It was from seeing a need and filling it,” said Wonderly.

In a two-hour shift, Wonderly sometimes generates seven or eight loads of clean laundry, washes all the food and water bowls and litter boxes sterilizes critter habitats. Some tasks are worse than others, and, to Wonderly, cleaning litter boxes is called “doing the nasty.”

“But when I’m done with them, they are C-L-E-A-N,” said Wonderly.

SAS has only a small space available for laundry and storage, but, despite the space constraints, the Shelter Helper Team uses the back room efficiently. Wonderly looks forward to volunteering with the Shelter Helper and other SAS teams every shift.

“What you find out quite quickly is that it’s a great group of people. The staff and the volunteers all interact smoothly, and it’s a friendly place,” said Wonderly.

According to Mundy, the shelter helpers are the “right arms” of SAS.

To be a part of the growing Shelter Helper Team and help keep the SAS running smoothly, fill out this online application.

It’s time to vote for Josie Hazen, our nominee for 2017 FUTY Festival Volunteer Award of Excellence

Josie and her cats

We are excited to announce that Josie Hazen is Seattle Animal Shelter’s 2017 nominee for the FUTY Festival Volunteer Award of Excellence!

Josie is a volunteer extraordinaire. She joined our volunteer community in 2004 and since then has helped thousands of cats find their fur-ever homes and thousands of dogs have a blast at the annual Furry 5K! Josie is at the shelter every week serving as the lead of our Sundays 9-Lives volunteers, helps adopted cats succeed in their new homes via our Cat Adoption Follow-up Team, organizes the Furry 5K Shelter and also finds time to welcome and orient new volunteers to our program.

Josie always gives 200% to every effort. For example, although her 9 Lives shift requires only two hours a week, Josie usually works the entire afternoon (five to six hours), because Sunday is the shelter’s busiest day and she wants to ensure that our cats, the public, shelter staff and her fellow volunteers are all well-served. On the follow-up team, she was the first member to sign up for and complete the Cat Behavior and Retention Course, scoring 98 percent and instantly putting her new skills to work in counseling cat adopters. Josie has a “can do” attitude and promotes cooperation and teamwork.

Hosted by Mud Bay, the FUTY Festival is a celebration and thank you party hosted for animal welfare volunteers and staff of the Pacific Northwest. The top three FUTY Festival Volunteer Award of Excellence nominees will receive recognition during the celebration. Winners will be awarded a $1,000 cash prize, and Mud Bay will make a $1,000 donation to their organization. Voting closes on Aug. 6.

Please vote for Josie at http://mudbay.com/futy-voting to help us show her just how much we appreciate her!