Seattle's Child

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Fostering animals benefits kids

Chris Korol and daughter Josie Lauckhart with dogs Daffy (right), Cookie (middle), and Chloe (left), and Banana the bunny. Photo by Joshua Huston

Fostering compassion for animals has big benefits

A growing body of research indicates that caring for pets has long-term benefits for kids. Caring for an animal in childhood may lead to more secure human relationships throughout life, better quality of life, healthier well-being, and reduced aggression. And children who care for an animal are more likely to have compassion for all animals and treat them humanely.

But what if your family is not yet ready for permanent pet ownership or is unable to make that kind of long-term and financial commitment? Or you already have a pet but your kids want more animals in their lives?

Thankfully, there’s another – much-needed – option for connecting kids with the ethics and benefits of animal care: fostering shelter animals. 

Fostering comes with responsibility but also with flexibility. Homeless animals have a variety of needs – small space or larger, short-term or longer, on their own or with other foster animals. Have resident pets? That can work well, too, though some foster animals will require a private or protected space in your home. 

Kitty Love

The Manning family of Shoreline has fostered felines for PAWS (Progressive Animal Welfare Society) for five years. The family of five includes “master fosterers” Katie Manning and her 11-year-old daughters Eliana and Ava.

The three Mannings agree that the first few times they fostered, they felt a bit nervous, even though they had completed foster training at PAWS. 

 “We quickly learned we weren’t really on our own,” says Manning. “The PAWS Foster staff is wonderfully supportive.”

During years of fostering, they have become accustomed to returning beloved animals to the shelter to find their “forever homes.”

Ava remembers that returning the first couple groups of kittens was hard. “But then the family talked about it, and we just said, ‘Let’s do it again,” because the fun is much more than the sadness.”

The art of parting

Still, parting can be sweet sorrow. “It can be tough, especially at first,” says Manning. “I get a little teary when I drive up to the foster office.” But, she says, three things make that drive easier:

  • “We can’t keep them all.” The family has several permanent pets.
  • “When we return a current foster to the shelter, we make room in our home and hearts to take another one.”
  • The family has total trust in PAWS to vet potential adopters and ensure each feline finds a loving home. 

The twins are heavily involved in the care of the fosters, including kittens. “We get to see the kittens being born,” Eliana says. “One time, I put it on Zoom so my friend could watch, too.” 

“It was a mini biology lesson,” adds Manning.

Newborn kittens require special attention, although the mama cat is wired to provide most of the care. “We weigh them every day,” Ava says. “Sometimes we need to bottle- or syringe-feed them, so we’ve learned to make up the formula. We pass the kittens around and everyone helps.”

Even visitors. When people come to visit the Mannings, they help socialize the felines to living with humans. Sometimes, they fall in love and decide to adopt one or two. All potential adopters are interviewed and approved by PAWS staff to ensure the cats’ “forever homes” are happy homes.

Caring for Canines

Chris Korol and her daughter Jo Lauckhart, 12, haven’t kept a list, but they estimate they’ve fostered close to 200 dogs since they began in Berkeley, CA, when Jo was 5. 

“When we returned to Seattle,” says Korol, “one of the first things we did was to look into local animal rescue organizations. PAWS is one of the oldest and largest and has a great reputation, so we signed up.” 

Fostering is definitely a family affair, says Korol, although Jo’s dad and 15-year-old brother have less hands-on responsibility. Jo takes on extra responsibility by fostering small animals like rabbits and mice through Seattle Animal Shelter.

A foster  fails mean love

Sometimes, there’s a “foster fail” – an animal the family just can’t part with. The curly ball of fur bouncing on Jo’s lap is a recent example. According to Jo, “She’s got so much personality. Plus, her sibling didn’t make it, and her mom got adopted, and I didn’t want to let her go.” 

Korol enjoys fostering and says it has taught her kids responsibility and how to care for animals. “It’s temporary, so if the kids don’t pull their weight, a family just doesn’t foster again. Or they wait until the child matures and asks to try it again.”

For this family, one of the most rewarding parts of fostering has been welcoming mama dogs, who then have their puppies in the home. 

“The kids have been able to watch the process, experience what that’s like, and then care for the newborn pups,” says Korol. Of course, the births don’t always go well, and that’s difficult. But, she says, “it’s also a learning opportunity, that’s a part of life. . . And the PAWS Foster staff is a big help when things don’t go as we had hoped.”

Now in Middle School, Jo continues to feel great about taking in foster dogs and other animals. How would she advise a friend whose family is considering fostering? She would give an unqualified thumbs-up.

“It’s a lot of work sometimes,” she says. “But it’s really worth it. You feel good about helping, and the animals are just lots of fun!”

Read more:

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About the Author

Rose Williamson