In the five years she has been a foster "parent," Pam Fisher estimates that she has taken care of about 150 dogs who later found permanent families.
Fisher, who lives in Geneva, is treasurer and a volunteer for Homes for Endangered and Lost Pets (H.E.L.P.), a volunteer-run organization that adopts dogs from high-kill shelters in Illinois and puts them in foster homes until they find a permanent family. The organization also fosters cats.
"Without foster homes, we can't save the dogs and cats," said Michelle Clancy, vice president of H.E.L.P., based in St. Charles. "The foster homes are how we save lives."
Without the help of volunteers, the 25 dogs and the roughly 100 cats and kittens now being fostered in the homes of H.E.L.P. volunteers may still be at high-kill shelters or abandoned.
And H.E.L.P. makes being a foster "parent" easy, Fisher said.
"They provide me with more stuff than I could ever need," she said. "They're a real easy organization to work with."
H.E.L.P. provides foster families with food, crates, litter, treats and toys. The organization also covers a pet's medical expenses while in a foster home.
"Really, the part that we're missing is someone to get them healthy and ready for a new home," Clancy said. "We need more foster homes. Unfortunately, we turn down animals because we don't have foster homes."
Fisher said she has yet to encounter a problem dog or cat that she had trouble finding a family for. Fisher said all the pets she has fostered have been adopted, and only one has ever been returned to her, which was the result of a divorce in a family. The longest she has ever fostered a dog was four months, and that was because she was waiting for just the right family to adopt it.
"I've turned people away because I don't think they'd be a good home," she said. "With fostering, you learn the personality of the dog and you can make sure it's a good fit before you let them go. That's why we don't have a big return rate."
Volunteers who are interested in fostering pets can fill out an application at www.helpinganimals.org. Fisher said she always has the final say on which dogs she decides to take in. H.E.L.P. sends out newsletters with all the dogs and cats available for fostering, she said.
Clancy said for those who aren't interested in fostering, there are ways to support H.E.L.P. at just about any level. Volunteers can help with events at PetSmart in Geneva, be a phone volunteer, help organize programs, help with fundraising events or deliver pet supplies to foster homes. All volunteers must be 18 years and older. Children who want to participate in fundraising events or volunteer must be accompanied by an adult.
But the best way to help is to adopt a pet, Clancy said.
"You don't have to adopt a dog or cat from H.E.L.P. – just adopt," she said. "We're trying to get the word out that there are so many dogs and cats in need of homes from shelters, and buying a dog or cat in a store takes the place of a dog or cat in need."