Thanksgiving is all about spending time with family and friends, and no one should have to be alone on this holiday. But for shelter pets who don't yet have families of their own, Thanksgiving is just another day. They don't receive special meals, don't get to enjoy the love of a family and don't get to spend time lying on the couch or in front of the fireplace in a warm house.
Christie Chipps Peters, director of Richmond (Va.) Animal Care & Control, wanted to change how the shelter pets experienced Thanksgiving. She knew that shelter animals would never even know the holiday was a special day, but she decided that it was time to change that.
The thought of the dogs being alone in the shelter on Thanksgiving bothered Peters, and she started to fantasize about the fun the dogs would have if people invited them to their homes for Thanksgiving.
Peters decided to give the idea a try and reached out to the community. It wasn't long before 35 shelter pets had invitations to foster family homes for the holiday. The pets enjoyed dinner, tons of attention from the guests and companionship as they napped after the big meal.
Some of the families who reached out to the shelter had never fostered pets before but were enthused by the idea of giving a shelter pet a special holiday. Even better, more than half of the animals were adopted by either the foster family or by someone who met the pet through the foster family.
Given the success of that initial holiday program, Peters has continued the idea. Now in its fourth year, the holiday foster program has tripled in size, meaning more pets get to enjoy a special Thanksgiving.
The holiday foster idea puts a twist on traditional pet fostering. It's a short-term stay, with pets coming back to the shelter the Wednesday after Thanksgiving. Peters does everything possible to make the foster experience easy for families, and pets come with food, medication and a crate. All they need to add is love. In many cases, the pets never actually come back to the shelter, as they find their forever homes while they're being fostered.
If a foster family decides to adopt the pet, the shelter even waives the adoption fee.
This holiday foster option can be particularly valuable for senior animals, who often have a more difficult time finding a forever home.
One such senior pet is Elton, a 9-year-old pit bull. Another is Taco, a senior cat who was feral when he arrived at the shelter. With a bit of time, though, Taco came around and decided that he was ready to be a pet.
The shelter interviews foster families prior to the holiday. Then the family is matched with a pet that they can bring home for the week-long foster period.
The program has become so popular that people from all over Virginia have reached out to foster a pet. But the animals aren't the only ones who benefit from the holiday foster program.
Peters receives emails from people all over the state in many different situations. Some people are in the state because of work and are living a distance from family. Having a foster pet gives them someone to cook for. Other families have recently lost pets and would like to have an animal in their home again for the holiday.
If you would like to participate in the Richmond Animal Care & Control's holiday foster program, email Christie Chipps Peters at Christie.Peters@richmondgov.com.