"It's a very, very rewarding, fulfilling thing. It's extremely difficult — it's like nothing I've ever experienced before," said Port resident Connie Borchardt.
Borchardt is referring to her time as a volunteer foster "parent" for adoptable dogs through the Saukville-based program Tailwaggers 911. The program operates without a shelter to provide homes for misplaced and abused animals. Borchardt has been fostering dogs for five years.
Borchardt has three dogs of her own — Sadie, Shadow and Mocha — who all started as foster dogs that the couple eventually adopted. Though many foster families in the program do not end up adopting, Borchardt said it can be very difficult to let them go.
"You grow so attached to (the dogs) because they're in your home, they're in your beds, they're in your life. I've shed quite a few tears. (My husband's) heart has been broke a few times," she said.
Dawn Boeselager founded Tailwaggers out of her Saukville home in 2007. Borchardt learned of the program when her son became one of the first adopters through the program. Since it's inception, the program has found homes for more than 1,200 dogs.
The group is celebrating it's 5-year anniversary with a ". Puppies and dogs available for adoption will be at the event, as well as other activities.
Life as a foster
Fostering dogs involves both a time and an emotional committment, Borchardt said.
"A lot of these dogs haven't been in a home before: they don't know what toys are, they don't know how to play — they don't know how to walk on a leash," she said, adding that even older dogs will require basic training often only associated with having a puppy.
"They learn real quick how to steal your heart, though," she said.
Tailwaggers pays for all medical expenses the foster dog incurs, as well as provides food while the dog is in the volunteers' care. Fosters are also required to be available for meet-and-greet events held in the community from time to time — as that is a great place for them to find homes, Borchardt said.
The organizer has also recently started a foster-to-adopt program, which allows adopters to choose a dog from the website before a transport and "foster" the animal for five days before deciding whether or not to keep the animal. Borchardt said most foster-to-adopt cases have decided to adopt; when they decide not to, that family often fosters the animal until another adopter is available — though that wouldn't be required.
People interested in becoming a foster family go through a process that is similar to what an adopter would go through, Borchardt said. Potential fosters must fill out an application and then a background check is performed. The organization will also do a vet check if the potential foster parent has a dog of their own, to see how well taken care of the animal is.
"We basically want to make sure it's a safe environment," she said.
Tailwaggers works strictly with an animal shelter in Haberscham County, GA, for all of its animal transfers.
"If you are wondering why we rescue dogs from the southern states, I can sum it up pretty quickly ... there is an overabundance of dogs in the south that need rescuing," the website says.
Tailwaggers' trips to the south to pick up the new dogs depends on the fluctuation of adoptions. When numbers of available dogs are low, the group arranges to pick up those in need of a home.
That's when the organization will post dogs available for foster on the website, Borchardt said. Fosters can then choose a few dogs they would be interested in fostering based on pictures and descriptions on the website, and the dogs are placed on a first-come, first-served basis.
If a dog isn't selected by a foster family, it's unfortunately left behind.
"Whoever doesn't have a foster, or a permanent home to go to — doesn't come up," Borchardt said.
The organization currently has about 50 active foster families, but is always looking for more, Borchardt said. People can also volunteer their time by helping with house visits, administrative tasks, planning and staffing events and more. Contact the organization by visiting its website.
Though Borchardt said she and her husband have wondered whether they should continue fostering — she's having a hard time coming to terms with stopping.
"I think — outside of having kids — this really is what I'm most proud of," Borchardt said.