Foster Heroes: Tala’s Story

By: Lauren Leffakis, Chief Operating Officer

Tala came to Animal Friends after she had been abandoned in a home. When we first met her, Tala was so timid and fearful that she wouldn’t come out of her transport carrier. We were able to coax her out so that our Medical team could give her a physical, vaccines and make sure that she didn’t have any injuries. It didn’t take us long to realize that Tala would be very overwhelmed spending her days in a kennel.

In an effort to make her transition into our care as comfortable as possible, Tala was set up in a smaller room where she could receive more one-on-one attention from staff and volunteers. For the first few days, Tala would only come out of her crate when no one was around. Staff and volunteers began spending time reading quietly to her and encouraging her to come out. But, it took several visits to teach Tala to trust enough to even take treats that were tossed into her crate. Eventually, Tala began to open up to a small group of people who she would be overjoyed to see and would jump and dance around when they entered the room!

Still, the sounds, smells and routine of the shelter were visibly stressful for Tala. We gradually worked to get her comfortable in new spaces and were just introducing her to walking on leash when COVID-19 changed all of our normal daily operations. Despite limited staffing and a reduced number of volunteers, we remained committed to helping Tala come out of her shell.

After the stay-at-home order was issued, Animal Friends saw an incredible response from the community as hundreds of foster inquires began pouring in. Recognizing that this opportunity to place so many shelter animals into foster homes was incredibly unique, we quickly developed a plan to train new fosters remotely. We were able to find foster homes for over half of our shelter population in a very short period of time.

As the weeks passed, a few of our special residents remained, including Tala. Knowing that she needed someone with incredible patience, experience with fearful dogs and a willingness to let her slowly acclimate, we were careful in matching her with an appropriate foster. That’s when Alex, a young Ph.D. candidate, reached out and asked whether Tala was still available. Since she was spending more time at home, Alex was interested in helping Tala.

We arranged for a foster meet and greet and let Alex know that Tala may be fearful of him and may not be comfortable approaching. When we brought Tala in the room, Alex was calm, patient and extremely gentle with his tone of voice. Tala was uncomfortable at first, pacing and looking toward the door. Respecting Tala’s space, Alex asked questions and we talked through her history and how best to work with her. Although Alex knew that Tala was going to take some time to warm up to him, he still offered to take her home. As we began planning for her foster stay, Tala quietly approached Alex and sniffed him. Alex, understanding and respecting Tala, spoke to her and let her make the important choice to approach without forcing her. This was a big step in the right direction!

After a few days, we reached out to Alex for an update on Tala. In no time at all, Tala had made herself right at home! Developing trust based on respect and empowering Tala to choose her interactions, Alex and Tala had become fast friends. As an active young dog, Tala enjoys going on runs with Alex. When Tala left, we gave Alex a crate that she could use as a safe space, but we learned that she hasn’t used that crate at all and is becoming more comfortable each day.

Foster homes are vital for some of our residents. Tala’s timid and fearful demeanor made it difficult for us to be able to keep her stress down and get to know her. In the comfort of a home, with someone who understands and respects her, Tala has truly blossomed. Not only has this foster home given her a chance to take a break from the shelter environment and to enjoy spending time in a home, it has helped us to gain essential information that will help us match her with potential adopters.

While Animal Friends provides the highest quality, most compassionate care for our residents, we know that a shelter environment is a highly stressful place for pets. We work tirelessly to reduce this stress as best we can, but we know that Animal Friends is meant to be a temporary stop for the animals who find their way to us. It is through compassionate and loving foster homes that we are able to truly get to know how our animals will react when placed into loving homes. It helps us get to know them better and to place them appropriately. Foster homes are the most incredible gift and an essential part of animal welfare.

While the outbreak of COVID-19 has certainly created new challenges for all of us, we are humbled by the hundreds of people in our community who have chosen to take this opportunity to open their homes to shelter animals. While this situation is challenging, scary, frustrating and terribly sad, we are so grateful to those who have chosen to use their time at home to benefit homeless animals.

It is in the face of this adversity that we have been able to place some of our most unique residents. These animals with medical and behavior challenges are able to make incredible progress in a home environment under the care of a dedicated foster family. While the sadness surrounding the current situation remains, we are so happy to know that we have expanded our community of foster guardians. While they may not know it, the lives of countless shelter animals have changed for the better as a result of the selflessness and compassion of these amazing people.

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