x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Dubai group hunts for foster homes for abandoned dogs

Finding permanent homes for abandoned pets is tough, but many are willing to foster

Caroline Tapken, Timothy Tapken and Lucilla Schoenauer with pets Pippa and Cabella.  Satish Kumar / The National
Caroline Tapken, Timothy Tapken and Lucilla Schoenauer with pets Pippa and Cabella. Satish Kumar / The National

DUBAI // An animal charity is trying a new approach in an effort to find homes for abandoned and stray dogs – fostering.

K9 Friends and its 40 regular volunteers do their best to find full-time adoptive families for the animals, many of which have been abandoned by expatriate families leaving for home.

It can be a challenge, but securing temporary homes for the dogs is giving them fresh hope.

"Fostering is a great way for our dogs to get a break from the kennels and to experience life outside the kennel walls," said Jackie Ratcliffe, chairwoman of K9 Friends.

"But it's really hard getting people to foster as many people have a very specific idea of what they want.

"Most of the calls we get are from people wanting small fluffy dogs but we don't get many of those."

K9 Friends cares for animals until new homes can be found. They provide shelter, food and veterinary care, train dogs and teach them to socialise, and educate the public on pet responsibility.

The group usually puts dogs up for fostering when it does not know whether they are house-trained, or how well they can adapt to living outside the shelter.

Fostering can also act as a bridge towards a family adopting.

"That's why our foster homes are so invaluable," Ms Ratcliffe said. "They are people who are willing to give a dog a chance without the background info that some of our other dogs have.

"It tends to be experienced dog owners who are willing to do it and of course that's better for the dog too, as they are handled correctly."

Caroline Tapken, who runs a public relations company from home, began fostering this summer  after her son had hip surgery and could not travel. The family already have  a four-year-old Jack Russell, Pippa.

"We took a beautiful desert dog called Cabella, which we've shortened to Bella," she said. "When we first brought her home, she didn't make a noise for weeks and I had to carry her from the car to our house.

"She was moulting, too, she was clearly stressed. But she's losing a lot less fur already and is making a lot more noise. My friends call her a velcro dog because she sticks to me like velcro."

Ms Tapken said her family had almost finished house-training the dog and had coaxed her into a better routine, sleeping at night and eating slowly rather than wolfing down meals at odd times.

She said the family would probably keep Cabella, as they would feel "terrible knowing she has made so much progress, only to lose it if she wasn't going to a good family".

"It's good for the dogs to have a home, even if it's for a short period," Ms Tapken said. "And a family needs to see if the dog will get on well with small children or, if they have any dogs, if they can get along with the dog they already have.

"K9 Friends do an excellent job of taking care of their dogs but they're all volunteers. And in the summer their need for free spaces goes up, because a lot of people leave the country and abandon their dogs.

"But that isn't an issue specific to Dubai, it's an international one."

And it's not just the dogs who benefit from fostering. "Taking in a dog doesn't just help the dog and K9 Friends, it changes your family dynamic in a good way," Ms Tapken said. "It's a huge responsibility but if you're prepared, it's a rewarding experience to help a dog get a break from being cooped up in a stressful environment."

halbustani@thenational.ae