Baloo + Sam and Eric
For Sam and Eric, fostering dogs isn't just a hobby; it's a way of life. Together with their two rambunctious adopted dogs (PigPen and LooseSeal), they open their Long Island City home to a rotating cast of foster dogs from various NYC-area rescue organizations. Whether it's a 4 pound chihuahua or an 80 pound mutt, a well-adjusted lap dog or a shy stray just learning how to be a pet dog, an energetic puppy looking for trouble or a mellow senior looking for a cozy place to snooze...Sam and Eric welcome each foster dog with open arms (and lots of peanut butter), an abundance of patience, and the kind of expertise that only comes from fostering over 75 rescue dogs. This is the story of foster dog #81: Baloo.
For the inaugural story of the Why We Foster documentary series, I visited Sam to learn how her foster journey was kickstarted by a new boyfriend’s attempt to impress her, to discuss why fostering is such an important part of animal rescue, and of course, to meet Baloo and capture some new photos for his adoption profile and promotions. You can follow along with Sam, Eric, Baloo, Penny, Loosey, and all of their future foster dogs on Instagram at @pigpenthepittie.
Why Sam and Eric Foster Dogs
Why do you foster dogs?
I just love dogs! Once I learned about fostering, I knew there was no way I could not try it. Once you do it a few times and you see how much you can literally save and change a life, it's hard to not keep doing it over and over. There are so many dogs in need and it requires so little of us, especially now that we have dogs of our own, that it seems like a no-brainer.
Why is fostering important?
On the micro level, it's saving that dog's life. It also saves the life of a dog who takes that open space in the shelter. It gives that dog a much happier place to wait for an adopter, and helps the adopter find the perfect dog because you can give much better information about how that dog is living in a home than if the dog were at the shelter.
On the macro level, the rate of euthanasia of dogs and cats in this country has gone way down. There are a lot of factors to that including increased spay and neuter, increased popularity of adoption, and the increase in private rescue groups. Those rescue groups rely on foster homes, so this movement has really changed the landscape of animal sheltering in general.
Why not just keep dogs in a shelter or boarding facility?
First of all, there simply isn't enough space in shelters for dogs, so getting them out into foster homes is critical. Another reason is that a home is a lot less stressful than the shelter for the dog. Finally, you can get a much better sense of that dog's behavior and personality in a home, and make a better match for the dog and the adopter.
The same things apply to boarding. Dogs who live in isolation or in boarding facilities long term–where they don't get adequate access to things they need like exercise, stimulation, socialization, and attention–are, in my opinion, worse off than dogs who are euthanized in shelters. There are plenty of great boarding facilities and sanctuaries out there, but they are limited in number, and unfortunately they're not all created equal. That's why foster homes are so important; the more that exist, the fewer dogs end up in boarding with nowhere else to go.
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in becoming a foster?
I would ask if they've ever babysat a friend's dog, or volunteered at a shelter, or walked dogs, etc. If you know what to expect from living with dogs in general, fostering should be easy. If not, I'd suggest asking a friend with a dog if you can babysit next time they need it.
There are some rescues that need short term fosters, and I'd suggest starting with that. There are TONS of resources, and I cannot suggest enough reading articles and blogs online, all of which you can find for free. There are also lots of people who want to help. Never feel embarrassed for reaching out to the foster coordinator at the rescue with a question! That's what they're there for. Just take everything slow, and remember you're doing something amazing.
Fostering a Relationship
How did you get started as a foster?
I started looking at dogs on Petfinder for my then new boyfriend to adopt because he told me he was looking. After a while, it became obvious he just said that to get me to go out with him, but I had discovered how many dogs were in foster homes and rescues around the city. Before that, I didn't know it existed. I thought there were just shelters like North Shore Animal League (I grew up on Long Island).
I started reading about all these dogs in foster homes and I got excited about one day doing that. So in the end, it's all that boyfriend's fault. I started volunteering at Animal Haven in 2013 or early 2014, and started fostering when I went back to school and had more time in the fall of 2014.
How many dogs have you fostered?
Have you fallen in love with any you couldn't give up?
I believe that as of now we have fostered 81 dogs, including just overnight fosters. One of my favorites was a sassy 10-year-old toothless chihuahua named Parsnip who weighed 4 pounds and became best friends with my pit bull Penny. Another favorite was a puppy who looked just like Penny who we named Penny Jr. (or PJ). She was adopted by a friend of mine from high school and now lives in LA, but we get to see her all grown up on Instagram. There were also a few really shy Satos (Puerto Rican street dogs) who we helped come out of their shells and learn how to live as pets. Watching that transformation is always absolutely incredible and so rewarding.
My "one who got away" was a giant black three-legged flat coated retriever named Cannon. He now lives on the Upper East Side and goes summering upstate. There are a lot it's hard to give up, but you know when it's right. We have officially "foster failed" 3 times: once on Pigpen (#6), once on LooseSeal (#66, who was Penny's choice of sibling), and once on Gert (#74), our hospice adoption, who was the best dog ever.
What is it like when your foster gets adopted?
It's the best feeling. Especially if you get to meet the adopters and talk to them, and you get a sense of how much they will love that dog. It feels like giving a dog back to its owners after a long time babysitting; you miss the dog, but you know it wasn't really your dog to begin with. There's also a bit of a sense of relief, because that extra responsibility is gone.
The first one is really hard, the second one is hard, the third one is a little easier. Once you have a lot, it becomes almost easy most of the time. There will still be times that it's hard to say goodbye–you might even cry–and that's ok. I think that all the best things in life take some level of sacrifice and being sad for a few days is totally worth it to me.
Early on when a particularly difficult goodbye happened, Eric and I took a tequila shot in the dog's honor. That became our new ritual. Now when a dog gets adopted, we do a toast and a shot to that dog. It's sort of silly, but it reminds us that a dog being adopted is a celebration, even if we're sad about it.
How has fostering affected your home, your life, and your relationship?
I think it's made us more patient for sure. Our home is built around the dogs; we moved to Queens to have a yard for our dogs and fosters. We have crates set up in every room while we're fostering. Our entire storage unit and half our apartment is dog stuff. But we wouldn't trade it for anything because they just make us so happy. We feel like we found a way to volunteer and give back and make the world a better place, just by hanging out with dogs in our living room.
And I'm marrying that boyfriend who told me he wanted a dog in 2013. 😁
Adopt (or Foster!) Baloo
What is Baloo's story?
We don't know much honestly. He was labeled a stray at the shelter (Animal Care Centers of NYC) and they estimated he is 7-9 years old. He was loved by everyone on staff and he did really well in playgroups with other dogs. They told us he was "everyone's boyfriend" and he even won Staff Pick of the Week. Foster Dogs Inc. pulled him from the shelter in the middle of February 2019. He spent a night with us, but he had a cold, so he went to a foster without other dogs for 2 weeks. Then he went to a training camp to work on leash walking and basic manners. He had a temporary foster for a few days, and then he came back to our home.
Why did you step up to foster Baloo?
There wasn't really an option. He needed to move from his temporary foster home (he was barking when alone) in a day, and even though we were putting out a plea for fosters everywhere we could think of, we didn't get any hits. Eric and I were supposed to take in another foster over the coming weekend, but obviously Baloo was extremely urgent; so to keep him out of boarding, we volunteered. Because of that, the other rescue had to scramble to find a place for their dog. It wasn't ideal, but we felt a responsibility to step up for him.
That's something people don't talk about with fostering often: there can be a sense of responsibility that if you don't take the dog, who will? We've taken on bad fits because of this. But Baloo is a really good boy and we are glad we can be here for him. We hope that it shows people that it's ok to take things slowly and do slow dog introductions. Some dogs (like Penny) may not be good "right away" dogs, but that doesn't mean you can't be a foster, especially temporarily!
What has Baloo been working on with you?
How does he get along with your dogs?
He's honestly already such a good dog. We're working on some basic obedience like "stay" (he wants to follow us everywhere) and keeping up his crate training (he now goes in there on his own to nap). The biggest obstacle for Baloo is that he has some separation anxiety. He gets really nervous about being alone so he cries and barks. But he has been getting more confident and comfortable everyday, and we're so proud of him! Otherwise he's really been a perfect houseguest.
We haven't done full introductions with Penny and LooseSeal yet because we like to take things slow. So far he has been very polite to them through the crate, even though they are crazy. We are hopeful we can do some on-leash and then off-leash intros in the coming week or two!
How can others help support Baloo?
Share him! Share posts about him on social media and share his Foster Dogs page (bit.ly/adoptbaloo) or his Petfinder profile. The more people see him, the greater chance his family will find him. His rescue, Foster Dogs, is also taking donations for his food, training, and supplies. You can even become a Foster Champion to help Baloo and many other foster dogs all year round.
His ideal home would have someone around most of the time, or have the ability to work with him on his separation anxiety/not mind if he barks when alone for a little while as he gets used to it and realizes his person will always come home. Separation anxiety is tough, but it's absolutely something that can be worked on and improves with time and stability. He just loves his people so much and he is sad without them, but he'll learn that they'll always return to him.
About Why We Foster
Why We Foster is a multimedia documentary series by NYC Pet Photographer Stacey Axelrod. The mission is to bring more awareness to fostering and to encourage more people to get involved in animal rescue by sharing stories of adoptable pets and the people who foster them.
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