Finding a Forever Home

Animals and pet owners have been a part of society for thousands of years. Anyone who has ever had a pet, either as a child growing up or an adult later in life, knows how a pet can enrich your life in many ways. Eighteenth century poet and novelist George Eliot (who was actually a woman using a pen name) once said about pets, “Animals are such agreeable friends — they ask no questions; they pass no criticisms.”

Never is this truer in today’s hectic, fast-paced and sometime turbulent society. Life moves at a breakneck speed. We work hard, raise kids, have little time for ourselves and most of us are more than a little stressed. Yet, at the end of a long day, to walk into your home to the joyful eyes and wagging tail of a dog or to the coy, aloof shyness of a cat can make even the hardest day’s work a little easier to process. Let’s face it, the other benefit of pets is that they ask us for nothing, never complain and they do not talk back. All they ask for in return is our love and attention and things that are even beneficial to our health, like long walks, hikes, playtime and lots of cuddling.

The health benefits of pet ownership have been scientifically proven. For more than 25 years, medical research has shown that pets can help us live longer, happier lives. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) have both conducted heart-related studies on people who have pets. The findings showed that pet owners exhibit decreased blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which can ultimately minimize their risk for having a heart attack down the road. Pets help both adults and children with anxiety and depression. Both cuddling and petting a dog or cat and walking or running with a dog can help boost levels of feel-good hormones in the brain, like serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin.

Just ask Lavanya Viswanathan, who has been volunteering at Operation Kindness in Carrollton, a nonprofit animal-welfare organization that cares for homeless or unwanted cats and dogs in a no-kill environment. After a few weeks of volunteering at the shelter, Ms. Viswanathan and her children, Tarushi and Tarun, decided to adopt a cat named “Socks” who was at the shelter for more than a year and skittish and shy around people. The family bonded with Socks and never looked back. Volunteering, and ultimately adopting, was a major decision for the family that forever changed their lives. “I work in a Wall Street firm and have worked there for nearly 13 years, in a high-stress job that often requires long periods of 100-or-more-hour work weeks. About a year and a half back, my doctor told me I had to drastically reduce the stress in my life. So, in many ways, fostering cats and dogs has saved my life.”

Operation Kindness was founded in 1976 and it is the largest no-kill shelter in North Texas. Its mission is to care for homeless cats and dogs in a no-kill environment until each is adopted into a responsible home and to advocate humane values and behavior. This year, Operation Kindness is celebrating its 40th anniversary and the achievement of saving more than 85,000 animals since its inception. The shelter assists more than 5,000 dogs and cats each year, caring for an average of 300 animals daily with another 100-150 animals in foster homes.

Recent estimates show there are about 13,000 community animal shelters nationwide. Most shelters are kill shelters, which means animals stay in the shelters for 72 hours before the shelter has the option to euthanize or kill the animal. Each year, more than two million animals are euthanized. Many shelters follow a 10-day wait period before euthanizing. Since so many animals are brought in as stray or lost, many shelters choose to leave sufficient time for their owners to find them. No-kill shelters will keep animals indefinitely, as long as their health is good.

Operation Kindness is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and receives no government funding. All of its income comes from donations from individuals and businesses, adoption fees and fundraising events. In addition to taking in animals who are found as lost or stray, the shelter accepts animals from owners who surrender them. The two most common reasons owners surrender their pets is because they are moving and their new home does not allow pets or because they are unable to support a pet financially. Operation Kindness works with more than 50 rescue partners, including municipal shelters and other rescue groups.Foster families care for a homeless animal in their home — most often a pregnant or recently-delivered mom with her puppies or puppies without a mom. Operation Kindness provides the supplies and support needed to have a rewarding foster experience, including food, pens and medical support. There is no out-of-pocket expense required from fosters. The commitment can be as short as one day, a weekend or up to nine weeks. The foster volunteer chooses the timeframe that suits their schedule.

A local North Texas family knows the joys of fostering animals so well. Shelley Kaufhold, her husband Paul Wilson and their children, Claire, Elise and Adam, have been part of the Operation Kindness foster program and experienced the benefits firsthand in their family. They have been fostering since July, 2013, and to date have taken in more than 120 animals. “Our first foster was a Pitbull mix named ‘Lolabel.’ We started out intending to foster cats, but she needed a place to stay and the kids and I were eager to start fostering, so we took her in. She only stayed with us for about three nights before she went back to Operation Kindness for spay surgery and adoption, but she changed our lives completely because we discovered that we could foster both dogs and cats. Our office became our foster room, and there have not been too many days since that time that we have not had fosters,” says Ms. Kaufhold.

For many foster families, the reward of caring for a pet is knowing the animal will eventually be adopted into a loving home, but that does not mean saying goodbye is easy. “We get attached to every animal that comes into our house. Our job is to love them as much as we can, and the hard part of the job is that we also have to let them go to their forever homes. I cry every time. I have learned never to wear mascara on the mornings that I return fosters to Operation Kindness and to always have plenty of tissues in the car. Every foster takes a piece of my heart, but the amazing thing is that fostering is such a rewarding and enriching experience. I always seem to have some heart to spare! We have never kept a foster. We began fostering to save lives, and the only way to continue saving lives is to let our fosters go to their forever homes and make room in our home for the next fosters. There is indeed a degree of personal suffering, but we do it because we believe that our pain is worth it for the sake of the animals. My kids always remind me when I am upset that there will be more fosters who need us,” says Ms. Kaufhold.

Could your family’s home be the perfect place for foster animals in their transition to forever homes? For many, this is the perfect time of year to take in a new furry friend. Learn more about Operation Kindness and foster and volunteer opportunities at operationkindness.org.

Lisa Dawson is a full-time working mom of three, a freelance writer and a Frisco resident.