On the first Friday night of the new year, Brittany Sundell welcomed guests into her home — but not for a party.
For three kitty and puppy meet-and-greets.
One couple stopped by to see Muffin, a cat living at Sundell’s Boise home for more than eight months. The cat scampered playfully around the house, tail in the air, as her prospective adopters admired her sparkling personality, brown-and-gray tabby markings and white paws.
“She likes to rub her face on the back of people’s heads,” Sundell told the couple, then demonstrated that Muffin is a “smooshy cat” who enjoys hearty hugs and kisses, or at least isn’t bothered by aggressive affection. Muffin is a 2-year-old mama cat who raised her own kittens, as well as some orphaned kittens; all the kittens were adopted but she wasn’t.
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In the past four years, the Sundells estimate that they’ve fostered about 150 cats — 90 percent of which were kittens — and 40 dogs for four different local rescue groups. The amount of time per stay varied, but most were adopted within a few days to a few months.
“They have big hearts and are willing to give pretty much any animal a shot,” said Boisean Amy Mitchell, who started Fuzzy Pawz Rescue in 2010. Fuzzy Pawz specializes in finding homes for harder-to-adopt pets, including seniors (8 or older), those with medical issues and/or those suffering kennel stress.
The Idaho Humane Society placed more than 1,000 animals in foster care last year, according to Kristine Schellhaas, a spokeswoman for the shelter. Kitten season in the spring is the busiest time of year for the IHS foster program. Fostering frees up space in local shelters and can help calm stressed-out strays, but there are many other benefits.
“Many of our foster animals need help with socialization, some aren’t old enough to adopt out, some need a little TLC after medical care, and more,” Schelhaas said. “Once an individual becomes a foster parent, they’ll begin to receive descriptions of animals that are in need, and they can let our staff know if they think they’d be a good match.”
Many animal welfare organizations that have a foster program cover the cost of food, veterinary visits, toys and whatever foster families need to care for the pets, but that’s one of the questions you should ask if you’re considering taking in a foster pet.
“The fuzzier they are, the faster they go,” Mitchell said. “If it’s a poodle, we’ll get 100 applications in 48 hours. If they are fuzzy and little, they go very, very quickly.”
A floppy-eared lab-Vizsla mix puppy named Rue was adopted the first week of the new year, after two months with the Sundells. They were fostering Rue for Fuzzy Pawz, after the dog went into cardiac arrest during her spay surgery. The 4-month-old went blind temporarily and suffered some cognitive problems that the Sundells helped her work through.
Fuzzy Pawz places pets into 15 to 20 foster homes, and the Sundells are among eight who provide “continual care.” That means they accept new pets after the ones they are caring for get adopted, Mitchell said.
The group found new homes for 243 animals last year.
Family expands after ‘foster fails’
The Jan. 4 visitors to the Sundells’ house were focused on Muffin, but it was impossible for them to ignore a half-dozen cats and dogs that were curled up asleep or lounging with eyes half-shut, on a nest of furniture or the living room floor. It was a remarkably serene co-mingling of animals, half of them fosters.
“It’s nice to adopt [a pet] from someone who has been living with them and can talk about them,” one visitor told Sundell, whose black-and-white kitten, Pipsqueak, snuggled up on her shoulder when she sat down on the couch.
Pipsqueak, or “Pip,” is one of the Sundells’ “foster fails” — the 4-month-old was not adopted and is now a permanent part of their furry-and-feathered family, which includes birds, too. Evan Sundell nursed Pip day and night to keep her alive; two of her siblings died after a week of care.
“She was the only one left,” he said. “I got pretty invested in making sure that one survived.”
They also enjoy helping older animals with medical conditions, a type of foster care they call “fospice” because some don’t have much time left. They have a 12-year-old long-haired Chihuahua named LadyBug who has a heart condition and had to have both of her eyes removed due to an infection.
“She’s really cute,” said Brittany Sundell, who takes antihistamines to cope with her allergies to animals. “Could you say no to that?”
A busy house
The city of Boise caps the number of dogs and cats that may live in a household to a total of four (could be all dogs, all cats, or a mix). There is no specified limit in the code on the number of fosters that may stay temporarily in a home. At times, the Sundells’ “pack” of cats and dogs, including pets and fosters, swells to as high as a dozen.
The Sundells, both in their late 20s and busy with full-time jobs, said they saw the need for pet foster homes when they were volunteering for the Idaho Humane Society and Boise Bully Breed four years ago. They started with one dog who needed a home while recovering from a leg amputation, and then took in another, and it slowly grew into a full-time pastime that’s a lot of work — but also very gratifying.
“I have a lot of good memories from fostering,” Brittany Sundell said. “One of my favorite dogs was a boxer who just had his leg amputated. He was a hot mess, was on drugs the whole time and was super out of it. He ended up being the coolest dog. I liked the couple who adopted him.”
A 3-year-old pit bull-Great Dane named Flash was the most difficult foster they’ve had. He had collar sensitivity, didn’t know how to walk on a leash and had terrible separation anxiety.
“Flash is easily the most difficult foster I’ve had, and my favorite foster,” Brittany said. “I love him.”
The Sundells became good friends with the people who adopted him, and they see Flash a couple of times a week.
Snuggles, cleaning and Instagram
Brittany Sundell, who works as an academic adviser for Boise State University’s School of Public Service, uses her personal social media accounts, including Facebook and Instagram (@triceraboss), to share photos and videos of the foster pets — hoping to reach folks looking to adopt.
The images offer a glimpse into the lives of these animal lovers, including hiking trips, dog washes and cuddling with Santa.
At home there’s a lot of snuggling and snoozing, and a little mischief. In one video, Brittany strums a guitar and sings “You Are My Sunshine” to a group of dogs on a bed, with Muffin the cat chiming in with a loud “meow” at the end of each verse.
One room in their two-floor, four-bedroom house is a dedicated “cat room,” featuring climbing trees and wall-mounted shelving the felines can play or sleep on. Another room is primarily for one foster cat, Charlotte, a mama whose kittens were adopted; she prefers staying in the room. An elderly pair of foster dogs named Jack and Mario — Border Collie-black Labrador Retriever mixes with white faces nicknamed “The Old Men” — have their own room, too. It has a couch and some toys.
The couple dedicate a lot of their free time to keeping their animals fed, up on medications and exercised. They have a routine: Evan handles the morning feeding, Brittany does the night feeding, and they share dog-walking responsibilities. They mop the floors with bleach at least once a day, often twice.
“Feeding is not the hardest part,” Evan said. “I would say that it’s cleaning up after everybody, multiple times per day, and having the supplies.”
Brittany talks about caring for sick and/or grieving animals in some of her Instagram posts.
“I know that grief affects all beings but I’ve never seen it hit a dog so hard,” she wrote of a dog named Jack, who lost one owner to death and the other to a terminal illness. “Sometimes, he’s fine, sometimes he’s not but he is surely missing his person. His whimpering and howling breaks my heart.”
The Sundells have enough room in their hearts and their house for a few other pets, too — cockatiels, chickens, Russian tortoises and leopard geckos. They dream of one day buying a rural piece of land, possibly in Oregon or Vermont, and creating a farm sanctuary for animals.
“Some day, if we ever start a rescue, we’re going to call it Feathers & Fluff,” Brittany said.
Interested in learning more about fostering?
Here are Web site links to some Treasure Valley groups who have pet fostering programs.
Idaho Humane Society: https://idahohumanesociety.org/get-involved/foster/
West Valley Humane Society: https://westvalleyhumanesociety.org/foster.htm
Happy Jack Cats: http://www.happyjackcats.org/foster
Take Me Home Dog Rescue: http://www.takemehomedogrescue.org/foster/questions/
Boxer Lovers Rescue: https://www.boxer-rescue.net/foster