Michelle Reen wasn’t sure if she wanted a dog right after her border collie died. The heartbreak was too much after losing her best friend of 15 years.
But when she stumbled upon Minneapolis Animal Care and Control’s fostering program, she thought she’d dip her toe back into taking care of a pet.
Last year, Reen and her husband, Brad Koehn, fostered pets through MACC, which allows families to take pets for a month, a weekend or even one night. The shelter also has a “Home for the Holidays” program, which encourages fostering during Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s to help its limited staff.
First, Reen welcomed young Donna, a black pit bull with big eyes. Then there was Zippo, a cattle dog, who had boundless energy even after two walks a day. And then there were others.
“The thing about fostering is every dog is unique and you learn each time,” she said. “It’s like dating. If you’re open to love but you don’t fall in love every time — you’re going to be a good foster.”
All the animals eventually found permanent homes and Reen and Koehn were happy they had helped them on their journeys — providing a safe and quiet home for them to be in while they awaited adoption.
Their lives changed forever after Betty, a 45-pound queen, walked through their front door.
Betty isn’t rambunctious, doesn’t bark much — perfect for the two who work from home — and doesn’t jump. Now, Reen and Koehn are the proud forever parents of the smiley, drooling gray-blue pit bull.
Fostering through MACC gives people the unique opportunity to choose how long they want to foster, Reen said. Plus, the shelter provides families with crates, bedding, treats and food.
“It helps the dogs, it helps us,” said Koehn of the fostering program. “Ultimately, we found the right dog and were able to leave a bunch of dogs better than we found them.”
Fostering interest in fostering
MACC’s foster program began in May 2022 and has so far gotten 750 animals into foster homes, according to Madison Weissenborn, volunteer coordinator and community partnership coordinator at MACC.
This is the shelter’s second year of its “Home for the Holidays” program. Last year, the program had about 30 foster families, some of which ended up being “foster fails,” meaning the foster family loved their animal so much they adopted it.
MACC also allows people to take dogs for a few hours for a walk. It also encourages taking photos of the animals outside of the shelter, like in a home or at the park, which astronomically increases their odds of being adopted
“We had a dog for two months and it wasn’t doing well in the shelter at all. A foster family took them in and we posted a photo of the dog (in their house) and we got 15 calls of people interested in seeing him,” Weissenborn said.
Interest in fostering has decreased as people return to in-person work. However, animal surrenders continue to rise to unprecedented levels as many struggle with the rising cost of living, housing insecurity and inflation, Weissenborn said.
In 2020, the number of animal intakes was at 1,469 at MACC. Just two years later, that number rose to 2,534. This year, MACC has already received more than that, with 2,669 animals, according to Weissenborn.
“It’s been a hard year. I do anticipate those numbers growing. Life is hard. Our community is struggling. We want to keep their pets with them,” Weissenborn said. “It’s really emotional and we try to keep them together before doing that surrender.”
Right now, the shelter has about 90 animals, including dogs, cats, rabbits and birds.
To alleviate the number of pets in the shelter, MACC recently teamed up with the animal rescue Bond Between (formerly known as Secondhand Hounds) to launch “Pawsitive Impact.”
The goal of the program is to connect MACC dogs that have been struggling in a shelter environment with a wider network of fosters. Bond Between has a goal of rescuing more than 4,000 animals in 2024, said Maggie Schmitz, marketing director.
They hope to find a foster home for every animal until it can be placed in a permanent home.
Fostering is a boost for pets, even if it’s only for a weekend, said Weissenborn.
“The sleep they get in a foster home helps them when they come back to the shelter,” she said. “Even one night with good sleep and rest that’s going to help them in the long term.”
Fostering also helps the people who open their homes — even temporarily — to a pet.
“The bond humans and animals share is great for our mental and physical health — pets keep us active, give us a sense of purpose and some studies have shown they can even lessen anxiety and depression,” Schmitz said.
Especially, she added, if you tend to feel lonely during the holidays.
To apply to the Minneapolis Animal Care and Control’s foster program, go to: www.minneapolismn.gov. To foster at The Bond Between, go to: www.secondhandhounds.org.