More than a year after making a concerted effort to increase its foster network, the Elmbrook Humane Society is pleased to report that the mission has been accomplished.

But that doesn’t mean the mission is finished.

In the lead-up to the humane society’s 2016 Spring Gala, the shelter decided that it wanted to put extra funds earned from that event into helping more of its animals thrive and succeed outside of kennels and cages. The shelter set out investing thousands of dollars into the foster program.

“We have right now 25 foster homes that I would consider ready to help when we have the right match,” EBHS Executive Director Heather Gehrke said. “We have added five new homes in the last year.”

Foster network

Gehrke noted that the shelter has an extended network that includes a number of other potential homes that are currently active but could still be of assistance in the future.

“Certainly we have added to our volunteer foster base,” Gehrke said. “But certainly we don’t ever have enough fosters. At least we haven’t reached that point yet.”

EBHS utilizes its foster homes — which are widespread around the region as far west as Lake Country and as far east as Milwaukee County — to assist animals with special needs such as elderly animals, newborn kittens and puppies and animals with medical needs.

“I don’t ever want to make it sound like a shelter is a horrible place, because it’s not; however, in a home an animal will get a quieter environment, a consistent environment,” Gehrke said. “It’s always active (in a shelter). There’s always dogs barking, there’s people coming and going, but we’re only here for X amount of hours per day. So if medicine is needed, sometimes we’re not able to give it exactly how the vet is prescribing. A foster home can do that.”

Foster stars

Two of Elmbrook’s most devoted foster homes are those of Kelly Graeve and Judy Carlson.

Graeve, a New Berlin resident, has been fostering animals for 15 years and she and her husband even remodeled their basement in order to have a room capable of housing a number of animals. She is currently fostering four kittens — Clover and a set of triplets named Sedna, Selkie and Triton — from EBHS and also has another, older guest in her upstairs office.

“We do take animals in that have approached elderly age,” Gehrke said. "They’re still at a place where their quality of life is good."

One of those animals is Madeline, a 20-year-old surrender.

“She’s 20 and her owner died,” Graeve said of her office pal. “I think it’s better that she gets to be here instead of having to be in the shelter.”

Both Graeve and Carlson have a couple of what they call “foster failures,” or animals that they fostered but decided to keep permanently.

Carlson’s include Dotty, a diabetic rat terrier, and a cat, Sprinter. The Carlsons have fostered over 15 animals in the last 5 years, many of whom have had medical needs such as the two they held on to.

“Sprinter had pneumonia, she had bronchitis, she was underweight and she had four kittens. She couldn’t breathe, she was just laying there, she delivered her kittens and the kittens unfortunately did not survive,” Carlson said. "She did. She did well, got spayed and went back to Elmbrook and after one day I missed her so much that we went back and adopted her."

Dotty, who also has cataracts in both eyes, first arrived at the Carlson home in Hartland in January 2016 and her extended foster stay lasted until December.

“She had a couple of potential adopters but they just weren’t very comfortable with the diabetes and the insulin. And then we decided around Christmastime that we would adopt her,” Carlson said. “She’s used to her insulin routine now. All I have to say is, ‘It’s insulin time’ and she hops up on the chair and gets a little teaser treat, gets her insulin and she’s good to go.”

Rewarding experience

Carlson, who is currently fostering another cat from EBHS, Morgan, suggests that anyone with extra space in their home consider fostering.

“It doesn’t take much — a closet or a bathroom even,” Carlson said. “It’s so rewarding.”

One thing about fostering animals that all parties seem to agree on is that it can be difficult due to the inevitability of developing attachment to the new furry friends.

“It is very hard. You invest in that animal and they become a part of your life,” Gehrke said. "You do have to look within yourself to figure out if you could find reward and comfort in knowing that you gave that animal what it needed at that point in time. There's great reward in that.

“There’s also absolutely nothing wrong with keeping the animal you’re fostering, but you can’t do that with every animal. If it wasn’t at least a little bit hard to say goodbye, I would have to question why you’re fostering in the first place.”

Right now, Gehrke said EBHS is most in need of foster homes that have experience with cats and have perhaps managed challenges like animals being fearful or shy.

“It’s so that they can help socialize the animals not necessarily change their behavior but help them get a little more comfortable around people to improve their adoption chances,” Gehrke said.

That said, the shelter is of course not about to turn away someone interested in fostering other animals.

Gehrke said the humane society’s foster network consists of people in all walks of life, including single people, married couples and families.

For more information on the Elmbrook Humane Society or its foster program go to www.ebhs.org.

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