For the most part, foster parents can be broken up into two categories: those who foster once, fall in love, and adopt, and "serial fosters": those who foster again and again - taking in a dog or cat, loving them, helping them to become a well-adjusted pet, and then letting them go when the right person or family comes along. Serial fosters are a unique group. As difficult as it may be to give up a beloved foster dog to a new family, serial fosters rally on, with the sole goal of helping homeless animals and guiding them to their "forever" homes.
We sat down with Mighty Mutts serial foster Robert Herskovitz, foster dad to our very own Zach, to find out exactly why he does what he does. Robert has rescued dogs for many years, and his first Mighty Mutts foster dog was back in 2007.
My first rescue was a dog I named Uno (yup, that un-original). That was about 17 years ago. Uno was kind of unusual in how easy it was to rescue him. I was walking my dog (I only had one at the time) one cold winter's night and saw this thin shivering red-nosed pit mix. He had no collar or tags so he was obviously abandoned or just a long time street dog. I called him over and he actually followed me and my dog home! It's never that easy! I brought him out to Union Square a few times, and eventually he got a new home (and a much more normal name- Norman).
There were a good number of those over the years. My first actual foster was Cupid in 2007.
Why did you decide to become a foster?
I've rescued the occasional dog and cared for them until they got a home, but I only actively became a foster dad a few years ago. A couple of dogs got basically dumped with us at Union Square. Somebody was willing to foster one of the dogs but the other, a chihuahua, needed a home. I said I would do it. I had Cupid for a couple of months (he had 5 accepted applications before someone finally took him!).
Not long after Cupid got a home, John brought in Jack (aka One-eyed Jack because he was blind in one eye) to Union Square for the first time. He was nine months old, and such a sad, withdrawn dog that without anyone asking me, I said I wanted to take him in as a foster. My experience with Jack kind of transformed my life. Watching him flower, learn to love life and people is, to this day, the best foster experience I've ever had. That's when I decided that fostering was part of who I am.
Isn't it hard to give up your foster dogs when they get adopted?
It bothers me sometimes, but I always take them in with the goal of socializing them, giving them the love and structure they need, and preparing them for a permanent home. I always know the day will come when they will leave my little zoo. Also, if I kept one I would have to stop fostering (I can handle 3 dogs well enough but four? Even I'm not that crazy!). That is something I'm not ready to stop doing.
On the other hand, Rosie, the foster I had before Zach, was tough to give up. Of all the dogs I've had wandering through my apartment, Rosie was the one I felt most attached to. She is a very special dog. Plus, I had her for 18 months! The day before she went to her new home was rough. Lots of tears.
Do you find it difficult to have dogs in the city?
Heck no! Just so long as you give dogs enough exercise you can live in a shoebox and they won't care. Dogs are not that complex. When they get home after a walk they just want to lie down and are not that concerned about how big the living room is that holds their favorite sofa (or in my case massage chair- my dogs sit in it more than me).
Who makes up your dog family now?
I have two full-timers, both are former Mighty Mutts: an 8-year-old staffie mix named Mikey and a 6-year-old beagle named Shelly, and one foster dog, Zach of course. I always have a foster. Once one gets a home and we are sure he/she is not coming back I'll take in another.
What do your permanent pets think of your foster dogs?
Both Mikey and Shelly are very accepting of all the strangers that dad always brings home. Mikey has about 20 minutes of trying to show who's in charge and then spends the rest of the time trying to get the dog to play with him.
How do you introduce your pets to a new dog?
Depends. If the dog is mellow enough, I bring it right into my apartment. If the dog is more energetic, I bring mine down to the street for an opening group walk.
What type of home do envision for Zach, your current foster dog?
Zach will do best with people who appreciate a soulful dog who will spend more time sitting on your sofa (and you) than anywhere else. He really loves attention, people, and other dogs. He may look big and tough but he is the gentlest giant around. Just keep an eye out for your bags before he snatches something!
What advice would you give to anyone considering fostering?
DO IT! It is one of the most rewarding things you can do. Not only for the dog but for yourself. You are literally giving the dog a chance at a better life.