‘They have big hearts’: Boise cou­ple has helped find homes for nearly 200 fos­ter an­i­mals

The Idaho Statesman - - Front Page - BY KATY MOELLER [email protected]­hostates­man.com

On the first Fri­day night of the new year, Brit­tany Sun­dell wel­comed guests into her home — but not for a party.

For three kitty and puppy meet-and-greets.

One cou­ple stopped by to see Muf­fin, a cat liv­ing at Sun­dell’s Boise home for more than eight months. The cat scam­pered play­fully around the house, tail in the air, as her prospec­tive adopters ad­mired her sparkling per­son­al­ity, brown-and-gray tabby mark­ings and white paws.

“She likes to rub her face on the back of peo­ple’s heads,” Sun­dell told the cou­ple, then demon­strated that Muf­fin is a “smooshy cat” who en­joys hearty hugs and kisses, or at least isn’t both­ered by ag­gres­sive af­fec­tion. Muf­fin is a 2year-old mama cat who raised her own kit­tens, as well as some or­phaned kit­tens; all the kit­tens were adopted but she wasn’t.

In the past four years, the Sun­dells es­ti­mate that they’ve fos­tered about 150 cats — 90 per­cent of which were kit­tens — and 40 dogs for four dif­fer­ent lo­cal res­cue groups. The amount of time per stay var­ied, but most were adopted within a few days to a few months.

“They have big hearts and are will­ing to give pretty much any an­i­mal a shot,” said Boisean Amy Mitchell, who started Fuzzy Pawz Res­cue in 2010. Fuzzy Pawz spe­cial­izes in find­ing homes for harder-to-adopt pets, in­clud­ing se­niors (8 or older), those with med­i­cal is­sues and/or those suf­fer­ing ken­nel stress.

The Idaho Hu­mane So­ci­ety placed more than 1,000 an­i­mals in fos­ter care last year, ac­cord­ing to Kristine Schell­haas, a spokes­woman for the shel­ter. Kit­ten sea­son in the

spring is the busiest time of year for the IHS fos­ter pro­gram. Fos­ter­ing frees up space in lo­cal shel­ters and can help calm stressed-out strays, but there are many other ben­e­fits.

“Many of our fos­ter an­i­mals need help with so­cial­iza­tion, some aren’t old enough to adopt out, some need a lit­tle TLC af­ter med­i­cal care, and more,” Schel­haas said. “Once an in­di­vid­ual be­comes a fos­ter par­ent, they’ll be­gin to re­ceive de­scrip­tions of an­i­mals that are in need, and they can let our staff know if they think they’d be a good match.”

Many an­i­mal wel­fare or­ga­ni­za­tions that have a fos­ter pro­gram cover the cost of food, vet­eri­nary vis­its, toys and what­ever fos­ter fam­i­lies need to care for the pets, but that’s one of the ques­tions you should ask if you’re con­sid­er­ing tak­ing in a fos­ter pet.

“The fuzzier they are, the faster they go,” Mitchell said. “If it’s a poo­dle, we’ll get 100 ap­pli­ca­tions in 48 hours. If they are fuzzy and lit­tle, they go very, very quickly.”

A floppy-eared lab-Vizsla mix puppy named Rue was adopted the first week of the new year, af­ter two months with the Sun­dells. They were fos­ter­ing Rue for Fuzzy Pawz, af­ter the dog went into car­diac ar­rest dur­ing her spay surgery. The 4-month-old went blind tem­po­rar­ily and suf­fered some cog­ni­tive prob­lems that the Sun­dells helped her work through.

Fuzzy Pawz places pets into 15 to 20 fos­ter homes, and the Sun­dells are among eight who pro­vide “con­tin­ual care.” That means they ac­cept new pets af­ter the ones they are car­ing for get adopted, Mitchell said.

The group found new homes for 243 an­i­mals last year.

FAM­ILY EX­PANDS AF­TER ‘FOS­TER FAILS’

The Jan. 4 vis­i­tors to the Sun­dells’ house were focused on Muf­fin, but it was im­pos­si­ble for them to ig­nore a half-dozen cats and dogs that were curled up asleep or loung­ing with eyes half-shut, on a nest of fur­ni­ture or the liv­ing room floor. It was a re­mark­ably serene co-min­gling of an­i­mals, half of them fos­ters.

“It’s nice to adopt [a pet] from some­one who has been liv­ing with them and can talk about them,” one vis­i­tor told Sun­dell, whose black-and­white kit­ten, Pip­squeak, snug­gled up on her shoul­der when she sat down on the couch.

Pip­squeak, or “Pip,” is one of the Sun­dells’ “fos­ter fails” — the 4-month-old was not adopted and is now a per­ma­nent part of their furry-and-feath­ered fam­ily, which in­cludes birds, too. Evan Sun­dell nursed Pip day and night to keep her alive; two of her sib­lings died af­ter a week of care.

“She was the only one left,” he said. “I got pretty in­vested in mak­ing sure that one sur­vived.”

They also en­joy help­ing older an­i­mals with med­i­cal con­di­tions, a type of fos­ter care they call “fos­pice” be­cause some don’t have much time left. They have a 12year-old long-haired Chi­huahua named Lady­Bug who has a heart con­di­tion and had to have both of her eyes re­moved due to an in­fec­tion.

“She’s re­ally cute,” said Brit­tany Sun­dell, who takes an­ti­his­tamines to cope with her al­ler­gies to an­i­mals. “Could you say no to that?”

A BUSY HOUSE

The city of Boise caps the num­ber of dogs and cats that may live in a house­hold to a to­tal of four (could be all dogs, all cats, or a mix). There is no spec­i­fied limit in the code on the num­ber of fos­ters that may stay tem­po­rar­ily in a home. At times, the Sun­dells’ “pack” of cats and dogs, in­clud­ing pets and fos­ters, swells to as high as a dozen.

The Sun­dells, both in their late 20s and busy with full­time jobs, said they saw the need for pet fos­ter homes when they were vol­un­teer­ing for the Idaho Hu­mane So­ci­ety and Boise Bully Breed four years ago. They started with one dog who needed a home while re­cov­er­ing from a leg am­pu­ta­tion, and then took in an­other, and it slowly grew into a full-time pas­time that’s a lot of work — but also very grat­i­fy­ing.

“I have a lot of good mem­o­ries from fos­ter­ing,” Brit­tany Sun­dell said. “One of my fa­vorite dogs was a boxer who just had his leg am­pu­tated. He was a hot mess, was on drugs the whole time and was su­per out of it. He ended up be­ing the coolest dog. I liked the cou­ple who adopted him.”

A 3-year-old pit bull-Great Dane named Flash was the most dif­fi­cult fos­ter they’ve had. He had col­lar sen­si­tiv­ity, didn’t know how to walk on a leash and had ter­ri­ble sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety.

“Flash is eas­ily the most dif­fi­cult fos­ter I’ve had, and my fa­vorite fos­ter,” Brit­tany said. “I love him.”

The Sun­dells be­came good friends with the peo­ple who adopted him, and they see Flash a cou­ple of times a week.

SNUG­GLES, CLEAN­ING AND IN­STA­GRAM

Brit­tany Sun­dell, who works as an aca­demic ad­viser for Boise State Univer­sity’s School of Pub­lic Ser­vice, uses her per­sonal so­cial me­dia ac­counts, in­clud­ing Face­book and In­sta­gram (@tricer­a­boss), to share pho­tos and videos of the fos­ter pets — hop­ing to reach folks look­ing to adopt.

The im­ages of­fer a glimpse into the lives of these an­i­mal lovers, in­clud­ing hik­ing trips, dog washes and cud­dling with Santa.

At home there’s a lot of snug­gling and snooz­ing, and a lit­tle mis­chief. In one video, Brit­tany strums a gui­tar and sings “You Are My Sun­shine” to a group of dogs on a bed, with Muf­fin the cat chim­ing in with a loud “meow” at the end of each verse.

One room in their twofloor, four-bed­room house is a ded­i­cated “cat room,” fea­tur­ing climb­ing trees and wall-mounted shelv­ing the fe­lines can play or sleep on. An­other room is pri­mar­ily for one fos­ter cat, Char­lotte, a mama whose kit­tens were adopted; she prefers stay­ing in the room. An el­derly pair of fos­ter dogs named Jack and Mario — Bor­der Col­lieblack Labrador Re­triever mixes with white faces nick­named “The Old Men” — have their own room, too. It has a couch and some toys.

The cou­ple ded­i­cate a lot of their free time to keep­ing their an­i­mals fed, up on med­i­ca­tions and ex­er­cised. They have a rou­tine: Evan han­dles the morn­ing feed­ing, Brit­tany does the night feed­ing, and they share dog-walk­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. They mop the floors with bleach at least once a day, often twice.

“Feed­ing is not the hard­est part,” Evan said. “I would say that it’s clean­ing up af­ter ev­ery­body, mul­ti­ple times per day, and hav­ing the sup­plies.”

Brit­tany talks about car­ing for sick and/or griev­ing an­i­mals in some of her In­sta­gram posts.

“I know that grief af­fects all be­ings but I’ve never seen it hit a dog so hard,” she wrote of a dog named Jack, who lost one owner to death and the other to a ter­mi­nal ill­ness. “Some­times, he’s fine, some­times he’s not but he is surely miss­ing his per­son. His whim­per­ing and howl­ing breaks my heart.”

The Sun­dells have enough room in their hearts and their house for a few other pets, too — cock­atiels, chick­ens, Rus­sian tor­toises and leop­ard geckos. They dream of one day buy­ing a ru­ral piece of land, pos­si­bly in Oregon or Ver­mont, and cre­at­ing a farm sanc­tu­ary for an­i­mals.

“Some day, if we ever start a res­cue, we’re go­ing to call it Feath­ers & Fluff,” Brit­tany said.

A vis­i­tor to Brit­tany Sun­dell’s house in early Jan­uary came to see one of her fos­ter cats, Muf­fin, on the chair in back­ground. But a fos­ter puppy, Rue, play­fully de­manded at­ten­tion.

Pro­vided by Brit­tany Sun­dell

Leo, a 42-pound bull­dog-Stafford­shire Ter­rier, is one of the Sun­dells’ ”fos­ter fails,” and now a per­ma­nent part of the fam­ily. “He’s def­i­nitely the snug­gle king of the house,” Brit­tany Sun­dell said.

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