Writing & Photography by KT Merry
My love for animals runs deep and I’ve been dedicating my free time to them for as long as I remember. Upon moving to Miami some ten years ago, I craved a way to help make a difference with the overrun shelter and unwanted dog and cat populations that the city struggles to manage. There are many shelters in South Florida; from county run kill shelters, to non profit no kill shelters to individual rescues. They all have the same goal – to save as many animals as possible.
I found my niche volunteering with the Humane Society of Greater Miami in North Miami Beach. At first my husband and I started as dog walkers, declaring Mondays ‘Volunteer Dog Days’ as a way to take a Monday off after working hard at weddings over the weekend. Eventually we offered our photography services to the shelter and did portraits of all the available dogs. We all know how a great photo can help create a connection between an animal and potential adopter.
Later, as our destination wedding photography business grew we ended up with fewer and fewer free Mondays as we were often traveling or needing to be in the office. At that time we meet then Foster Care Coordinator, Bernard Lima- Chavez (who now has a fantastic blog on working with deaf dogs) who wonderfully introduced us to the world of fostering. We started with a dog we had connected with during walks, a puppy named Frankie, that was growing quickly in the shelter and for some reason being overlooked by adopters. We took him home and socialized him with our own dog Axl and everywhere we went he proudly sported an ‘Adopt Me’ vest to help garner some attention. After Frankie was adopted we got a bit braver and started taking young puppies (often as young as 3-4 weeks) that were too young/little/sick to be spayed and vaccinated and needed somewhere comfortable to grow stronger before being put up for adoption.
While at the shelter these puppies are kept in metal crates, subject to the often loud and busy environment and exposed to many dangerous viruses and diseases. The shelters have found that getting them out of that environment and into a foster home as soon as possible is crucial for their well being and survival… and so it began! We would receive a call from Bernard that they have new puppies (often left at their door) and we would pick them up and set up a puppy den in our guest bathroom. They would be crated together at night and have a bigger enclosure to explore (and make a mess of!) during the day. At this age they eat often and find great comfort in each other – which is why we have come to prefer having multiples of puppies versus a single pup who are often lonely and require a bit more attention. We also found a wonderful stuffed animal that has a vibrating heartbeat to replicate a mother dog. With lots of toys, soft blankets and food we find that the puppies gain weight and overcome their illnesses rapidly. Once they are deemed healthy, vaccinated and weigh enough they will schedule their spay or neuter and be placed for adoption the next day. They are usually adopted quickly at this age as they are pretty irresistible and while it’s hard to see them go we know that we must make space for the future foster puppies that will follow them.
Through the years we’ve taken great satisfaction in watching our fosters morph from sick weanlings into strong, healthy family puppies in just a matter of weeks. Through the family environment, being socialized with our dog, learning crate and puppy pad training these dogs become healthier, well adjusted and calmer – and thus more likely to become forever pets for their future families. Additionally, while under our care the shelter has more space to accommodate other puppies/dogs and helps to unburden their limited resources. While it’s hard to say goodbye we take great honor in our role in their lives; showing them love and giving them a good start to be great forever pets for their future families.