Want to make a difference in animals’ lives on Maui?
It’s a typical Wednesday afternoon at Maui Humane Society in Puunene. The reception area buzzes with people inquiring about adoptions, low-cost spay/neuter clinics or the status of lost and found pets.
In the cattery, Will and Phil Bernard-Duff watch intently as a vet tech examines and administers medication to a handful of tiny kittens the men are fostering. Nikki Russell, who until recently served as MHS’s foster coordinator, looks on.
“These amazing guys take the tiniest babies, some with the umbilical cords still attached, home where they bottle-feed them, give them meds if needed and generally keep them healthy and happy,” Russell says.
The couple, who turned an extra bedroom into a dedicated kitten foster area, keeps these fragile little fur-balls for seven to nine weeks on average depending on the developmental stage.
This particular round of fosters were only a couple of days old when Will and Phil took them home.
With their own cats and a couple of dogs to care for in addition to revolving litters of feline fosters, it’s a full-time endeavor often punctuated with round-the-clock feedings. But rather than bemoan their sleep-deprived lives and ever-changing number of mouths to feed, Will and Phil view the fluid nature of their brood as vital in socializing their vulnerable temporary charges and preparing them for adoption–the ultimate goal of the foster program.
“Our foster-to-adopts have about a 70 percent success rate of being adopted out,” Russell says.
Will and Phil are examples of MHS’s routine fosters — a core group of between 85 and 150-plus foster families the shelter can call upon in any given month.
“These are the people who are ‘in it to win it.’ They’re involved because they want to keep these animals healthy and adoptable and, ultimately, watch them go to their new forever homes,” Russell explains. “That’s what drives them to be a foster parent.”
For Jamie-Sue West, who’s already fostered 77 shelter animals over a mere couple of years, it’s her way to give back.
“I’ve always been a really big animal lover,” she says, “and I hate seeing people come in [to the shelter] and surrender them after the animals have been in a home.
“I just want to do everything I can –almost to a fault,” West adds with a laugh. “I need to control myself a little bit.”
Another powerful motivator for West is her professional affiliation with clinical research, an industry which often involves animal testing.
“Fostering is another way that I can give back to the animals that lost their lives so we could have better care,” she says, her voice wavering with emotion. “So I help as many as I can. By taking one of them home, even if it’s only for five days, it’s opening up a kennel and possibly saving a life.”
West’s permanent four-legged household currently consists of her two dogs and her roommate’s two dogs. She generally tries to limit her fosters to one or two at a time, which ups the number to five or six animals in the home.
“Our record is 13,” she reveals. “We had our five dogs [one has since passed away], and were fostering a mama dog with seven puppies.”
During last month’s Foster SOS — an emergency plea to the community when overcrowding is imminent — West took three dogs in addition to four already in the home and a fifth that she was watching for a friend.
“When you get 34 dogs into the shelter over four days, you’ve got to do what you can,” she says, adding that working primarly from home and having roommates who share her passion make this volume of animals possible.
“It takes a village,” West admits. “There is absolutely no way I could take on all these fosters by myself.”
This year, MHS has seen a rise in the number of animals involved in its foster program. From July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019, 2,038 animals went into foster homes compared to 1,781 the year prior. Of the 2,038 animals, 318 were kittens (otherwise known as bottle babies) that required bottle feeding and round-the-clock care.
In August alone, there were 32 more animals than last year needing foster placement due to an overwhelming influx of animals in a short period prompting two separate Foster SOS alerts to the community.
“We know that we’re going to get a significant influx on the Fourth of July and between Christmas and New Year’s due to fireworks and house-sitters for vacationing homeowners — all of which can scare dogs,” Russell explains. “Otherwise, there’s no real ebb and flow. We never know when we’re going to get a lot of animals through our humane enforcement officers, owner surrenders, mother dogs with puppies — all these animals kind of just show up. That’s when we go to our foster parents and the community and ask for help so we can free up shelter space.”
Coordinating fosters with families is like a jigsaw puzzle with infinite pieces.
“We have to figure out what the emergencies are, do assessments, and match up the animals with foster families — all of whom have different schedules and requirements,” explains Russell. “We have foster cards that we use to match with foster parents to figure out which animals we can get out immediately so they can come back healthy, happy and ready for adoption.”
After the matches are made, appointments are set up to introduce the foster. If a dog or cat has special medical needs, MHS makes up kits with necessary medication. When prospective foster parents come in, staff discuss health status and any special needs.
“We supply everything for our foster parents — food, dishes, bed, towels, toys — for the entire duration of the foster period,” Russell stresses. “Because if someone’s fostering a bunch of kittens for five weeks, that can really add up.”
A walk through the shelter reveals signs outside the kennels indicating which dogs are looking for foster families. MHS staff are always available to talk to those interested in or curious about fostering.
“Our foster programs are growing and changing every day, so people who thought they couldn’t foster before now can foster for the weekend, which helps our long-stay dogs who need enrichment.”
Even just coming to the shelter and spending time with cats in the family rooms or taking dogs to the beach or out for the day is appreciated as a kind of ‘virtual foster,’ says Russell.
“When we’re at critical capacity, if we didn’t have our foster families, I don’t know what we’d do,” she admits. “They are an extension of us — the second Maui Humane Society — and our unsung heroes.”
VOLUNTEER/FOSTER AT MAUI HUMANE SOCIETY
Vital to the success of MHS, volunteers provide much needed assistance in a variety of areas, from conducting Doggie Play Groups to helping the staff as needed. If interestd, fill out the Volunteer Interest Form at www.mauihumanesociety.org.
If you’re interested in adoption, call 877-3680, ext. 210, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the adoption center open daily from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Potential foster parents can sign up for foster orientation via the MHS website or by contacting the Foster Care Coordinator at 877-3680, ext. 221.
Maui Humane Society is open daily from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and is located at 1350 Meha Meha Loop (off Veterans Highway) in Puunene. Call 877-3680 or visit www.mauihumanesociety.org for more information.