It’s a cold, sunny Saturday morning as Amanda Pavone and her sister Daniela take Prince, a young German Shepard mix to a dog park for the first time. He gets excited over seeing other dogs and playing on top of the snow while his two-legged friends are sinking in it… silly humans. The sisters have only had Prince for two days and he’s already as cuddly and loving as if they’ve been best buds for years. But chances are, they will only be together for a few weeks.
Pavone, 22, recently graduated from Algonquin College and is a foster volunteer for Freedom Dog Rescue, a non-profit charity based in Ottawa. It was founded in 2015 and has rescued over 650 dogs to date, like Prince.
David Harding is co-founder of the charity and a member of the board of directors. He says what sets the organization apart from other dog rescues, is that they are foster based which means the dogs they rescue are not put in kennels or shelters. “It gives us an opportunity to really assess the dogs and their behaviour in a home environment as opposed to a kennel,” Harding says.
They work with local animal shelters and other fostering organizations like Sit With Me Dog Rescue to find suitable foster homes. These organizations rely on people like Amanda Pavone and her sister who volunteer their homes to take in dogs and they are always accepting new foster family volunteers.
“Our fosters are from all sorts of backgrounds, so they may have children, they may have other dogs, they may have cats,” Harding says. In fact, he encourages different living situations because it allows them to assess their rescue dogs in different environments, including student living.
Many students who can’t commit to pets long-term, take up pet fostering as an alternative. This includes University of Ottawa student, Michele Leger. Now completing teacher’s college, Leger pet fostered four dogs throughout her undergraduate degree when she moved away from home.
“I’ve loved dogs ever since I was little,” Leger says. “But we were never able to have one growing up just because my Dad is allergic.” As a student, she saw the value of fostering a dog because it allowed her to get out of the house and be active with a furry friend. It also taught her to be responsible for someone other than herself.
Harding agrees that fostering works with a student lifestyle because of the flexibility of a foster program. Ashley Ladouceur is a member of the board of directors for Sit With Me and she says student living is often a good fit for their dogs because many students live with roommates which means dogs are rarely home alone. The organizations also cover supplies including food, treats, toys and medical bills with any medication the dogs require. Foster families aren’t expected to pay for any of it.
Recently, Sit With Me has run into some issues because of the amount of money required to fund their dogs. “We’re a large rescue, we typically have about 130 dogs in care,” says Ladouceur. Many of the dogs at the time had medical emergencies that needed immediate attention. With the lack of donations at the end of last year’s holiday season, they have stopped taking in foster dogs to be able to catch up on expenses.
READ THEIR STATEMENT HERE.
But through community efforts, donations have been coming in and the organization is hoping to open their doors in the next month with a more financially stable plan.
Pet fostering seems to be an ideal situation for students but there are requirements and conditions with the opportunity. Not everyone can be a foster, you must fill out an application that includes reference checks and a home visit to ensure the home is pet-friendly. If you are accepted, there are some duties you are expected to perform as a foster parent. Apart from walking the dogs, taking them to network events and their vet appointments, foster families become a large part of the adoption process.
If pet fostering doesn’t seem to be the right fit for you, you can still be involved in dog rescuing in Ottawa. Ladouceur offers up some alternatives that are also gratifying, including helping to expand their social media presence and website branding.
Recently, she has been approached by someone looking to do a promotional video for the organization. “That kind of stuff we love because we don’t have the resources to do it personally,” Ladouceur says. There are also pet store events and annual fundraising events that they are always accepting volunteers to help with.
“If you’re someone new to the city or you’re at university and this is something you want to be a part of, I think we have a really supportive community so it might be a good avenue to meet people and work with dogs,” Ladouceur says.