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Open heart, open home

Neighbors: Profiles of our community

Kihei resident Jamie-Sue West (pictured here with one of her forever dogs, Monroe) is helping save lives by providing a home between homes for shelter animals. Photos courtesy Jamie-Sue West

For the past two weeks, Jamie-Sue West has hosted a visitor in her Kihei home. She’s the perfect houseguest: friendly, funny — and very cuddly.

Girly, a mixed-breed puppy, will board a West Coast-bound flight at the end of the month as part of the Maui Humane Society’s Wings of Aloha program, which transfers animals to adoption-guaranteed rescues and shelters on the Mainland. For now, Girly is staying at West’s home, where she’s fed, walked, socialized and receiving plenty of belly rubs.

This isn’t the first time West has volunteered to foster a dog. Since 2017, she’s opened her home to 88 animals awaiting adoption. No, that’s not a typo: 88 animals.

“I’ve had 66 dogs and 22 cats,” she said. (Of the 66 dogs, there have been two litters of puppies.) At one point — around number 50 — West created a spreadsheet to keep track of the animals under her care, recording their names, arrival and departure dates and other noteworthy details.

And she’s not stopping at 88. West says she will continue to foster as long as she’s needed.

West goes for a spin with Teddy (so named for his teddy bear-like nature), a foster dog who was transferred to an adoption-guaranteed shelter on the Mainland in 2017 through the Maui Humane Society’s Wings of Aloha program. In addition to fostering animals designated for Wings of Aloha, West serves as the program’s lead volunteer.

By now, she’s accustomed to having a full house. In addition to her four-legged guests, West has two forever dogs: Monroe, a 6-year-old Catahoula mix, and Boogie, a year-and-a-half-old Shih Tzu mix. Boogie came to West’s home as a medical foster case when he was 3 months old. She cared for him for 102 days, and somewhere along the way, fell head over heels. He is her only “foster fail” (so far).

Like Boogie, other fosterees have stolen West’s heart. She says it can be tough to say goodbye, particularly after an extended stay. But she takes comfort in knowing they will bring immeasurable joy and unconditional love to their adoptive families. “I get to see the success stories,” she said. “It’s so fulfilling.”

She hopes more people will experience the same fulfillment. Volunteers are always needed to provide temporary care for homeless cats and dogs — and occasionally, rabbits and guinea pigs — who aren’t quite ready for adoption or when the shelter is full. And, the need cannot be overstated: according to the Maui Humane Society, 2,033 animals were fostered from July 2019 to June 2020.

Depending on the circumstances, a foster stay can last anywhere from one to several weeks. Animals designated for the Wings of Aloha program typically stay with their foster families for a week or two before their scheduled departure date. Caregivers choose the animal that best fits their lifestyle or living situation and the Maui Humane Society will provide the essentials — food, bowls, toys, beds, leashes and kennels — if needed. The rest is pretty straightforward: a week or more of wagging tails, wet noses, contented purrs and sleepy snuggles.

But the best part?

“You know you’re saving a life,” West said.

Apart from helping prepare animals for adoption, she and her fellow fosterers are freeing up valuable spots at the shelter. For every dog or cat fostered, she said, “You’re creating space in the shelter so another one can be saved.” That’s why West encourages others to consider taking in an animal — regardless if it’s one or 88.

“Every foster helps,” she said.

And, if you’re ready to open your heart and home permanently, there’s a new best friend waiting for you at the Maui Humane Society’s Puunene shelter.

As Maui’s only open admission shelter, the Maui Humane Society provides vital services to animals and people alike, including facilitating adoptions and reunions, humane education, a spay-neuter program, enrichment programs for shelter animals and the recently launched 4EverPets community assistance program, which provides food and supplies to pet owners financially impacted by COVID-19. To learn more, visit www.mauihumanesociety.org or call 877-3680. To inquire about foster opportunities, email foster@mauihumanesociety.org or call 877-3680, extension 221.

* Sarah Ruppenthal is a Maui-based writer. Do you have an interesting neighbor? Tell us about them at missruppenthal@gmail.com. Neighbors and “The State of Aloha,” written by Ben Lowenthal, alternate Fridays.

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