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Thursday, June 20, 2024

Hurricane Idalia brings pet fostering surge to local animal shelters

Storm inspires Gainesville residents to take in “hurricane fosters”

Sante Fe student Ava Sardina plays with shelter-dog Jake at Camp Run-A-Mutt on Friday, Sept. 1, 2023. Ava took Jake home hoping to give him a forever home.
Sante Fe student Ava Sardina plays with shelter-dog Jake at Camp Run-A-Mutt on Friday, Sept. 1, 2023. Ava took Jake home hoping to give him a forever home.

The Humane Society of North Central Florida manages 250 fosterable animals, but on the morning of Aug. 30, not one could be found at the shelter.

The Humane Society and other Alachua animal shelters began efforts late last week to find foster homes for their animals to wait out Hurricane Idalia. The storm made landfall in Florida the morning of Aug. 30 but spared much of Gainesville.

The cinderblock building would have kept animals safe regardless, but the shelter wanted to keep its employees off the roads during the storm and give animals a break from the facility, said Humane Society director of development Leesha Baumann.

A successful social media and flier campaign led the Humane Society to both find foster homes for all its animals, with the exception of ringworm-positive cats that aren’t fosterable, and for five dogs in outdoor kennel facilities taken in from the Dixie County shelter during the storm, Baumann said.

“Once the storm was announced … we started by posting in our foster group to get as many animals out to current fosters as possible,” Baumann said. “Then we went to our general social media and did a plea to the community.”

The foster program isn’t exclusive to hurricanes. At any given time, two-thirds of its animals are living outside the shelter with foster homes, Baumann said. These volunteers take pets into their homes temporarily until the animals are adopted, while the shelter provides supplies and medical care. 

“It's fantastic in a college town because we have a lot of college students who miss having their pets at home,” Baumann said. “We're able to help fill that gap for them while they're here.”

While increasing the total number of fostered pets from two-thirds to all of the shelter’s animals in the span of five days proved challenging, Baumann viewed the occasion as a win for the shelter.

“Any time we can get animals in a foster home, it’s always positive,” Baumann said.

Many fosterers go on to adopt the animals they take in — an instance known as a “foster fail.” Foster fails are common for hurricane pets — so much so that the Humane Society waives adoption fees for anyone who adopts their hurricane foster. 

When Hurricane Ian hit Florida September 2022, the storm led several dogs to their “forever homes” through storm fostering, Baumann said. 

“We had a dog … found tied to a pole in one of the skate parks,” Baumann said. “We sent him out with a hurricane foster … and they kept him and brought him to every adoption event all the way from September until December before deciding that they really loved him and he was going to be a permanent part of their family.”

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Skye Barkley, 35, works as foster coordinator for Alachua County Animal Resources — a public shelter that provides services like housing, vaccinations and microchips for homeless animals.

Like Baumann, Barkley emphasized the surprising bright side of hurricane fostering. Even if volunteers don't adopt their foster animals, they can still discover aspects of their personalities — like whether they get along with children or other dogs — that shelters can use later, Barkley said.

“It can be a little stressful to get them out, but it’s completely worth it,” Barkley said. “Even if it’s for a few days, we will get some pretty good notes [on the dog] … so that we can advertise them on our end to find the best adopter possible for them.”

ACAR holds 70 to 80 adoptable animals at a time. While it usually fosters out about three animals per week, 12 dogs went out to foster homes during the storm — 10 of which were taken in by people who had never fostered before but were inspired to help by the emergency situation, Barkley said.

“These were big, big numbers for us,” Barkley said. “Some of our old dog fosterers were like ‘Hey, we’re back in the market, we can help out.’ But the majority of them were new.”

One of those dogs, one-year-old Jake from State Farm, waited out Idalia with Brandi Ormerod, who owns the cage-free doggy daycare and boarding facility Camp Run-a-Mutt in Gainesville. 

Camp Run-a-Mutt has worked closely with ACAR for the past two years and runs a “Dog Day Out” program where shelter volunteers bring rescue animals to visit the camp for the day to socialize. 

When Ormerod saw ACAR’s plea for hurricane fosterers on Facebook, she drove to the shelter immediately.

“What’s beautiful about it is you’re getting the dogs out of the shelter for the storm. But you’re also spending a lot of time with these pups and getting notes that the shelter staff wouldn’t necessarily be able to get,” Ormerod said.

Ormerod discovered that Jake loves baths, swimming and getting his nails done. She also took pictures of him to advertise on social media, and her efforts paid off Sept. 1 when two Santa Fe College students saw her posts and came to adopt him.

“Everyone’s stepping up to help out for the hurricane,” Oremerod said. “It’s a really good, wonderful thing.”

Another ACAR hurricane fosterer, Susan Ducheneau, a 39-year-old business analyst and two-year Gainesville resident, has fostered eight dogs with her family since December 2022. Like Ormerod, Ducheneau was inspired by ACAR’s Facebook post.

“We decided to go see if there was [a dog] we could bring home just to  … get them out of the shelter from the scary situation,” Ducheneau said. 

The family’s hurricane foster Bullseye plays well with the “foster fail” they adopted earlier this year, Baumann added.

Olivia Warner is no stranger to fostering failures. When the 20-year-old UF animal sciences junior took in her first foster cat in Fall 2022, the cat ended up giving birth in her apartment and Warner kept one of her three kittens. 

Warner loves fostering with the Humane Society, but the influx of community aid didn’t leave her the chance to take in another foster during Hurricane Idalia.

“The Humane Society was reaching out to people for the storm … they ended up all getting fosters before I saw the post,” Warner said. “But if they hadn’t been, I would definitely have taken one and I definitely will in the future.”

Both Humane Society and ACAR are continuing to foster out dogs and cats to interested volunteers, who can stop by either shelter to get matched with an animal and receive information and supplies.

Contact Zoey at zthomas@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @zoeythomas39

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Zoey Thomas

Zoey Thomas is a second-year media production major and the university administration reporter for The Alligator. She previously wrote for the metro desk. Other than reporter, Zoey's titles include espresso connoisseur, long-distance runner and Wes Anderson appreciator. 


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