BALTIMORE — Mr. and Mrs. Paws were left in a box on a recent Wednesday night outside Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter. The black-and-white kittens, just 6 weeks old, aren't ready to be adopted — but through a new program, someone can give the squirmy pair a home for the holidays.
For the first time, the city's largest shelter has joined Foster a Lonely Pet for the Holidays, a national program through which people can open their homes to needy dogs and cats during a time of year when they're often forgotten. Since the Silver Spring, Md.-based Petfinder.com launched the program three years ago, about 1,500 shelters across the country have participated.
"I've heard from people who did it that it was the nicest spirit of giving thing they did all year," said Betsy Banks Saul, Petfinder's co-founder, who was inspired to launch the open-ended program after seeing a 2009 TV movie called "A Dog for Christmas." "It brings the holiday spirit in the house and can really help to make a pet more adoptable."
BARCS tried something similar during Hurricane Irene. When the storm loomed in August, shelter officials, afraid of flooding, called on people to take in as many animals as they could, just for the weekend. A few of the people didn't have the heart to bring the animals back.
"We found a lot of people ended up adopting," said BARCS program director Debra Rahl. "Any way we can get animals out of here and into homes. They just do better."
BARCS is now at capacity. There are between 80 to 90 dogs available for fostering or adoption, and about 120 cats.
They include Matilda and Tinkerbell, sedate, older Chihuahuas who reportedly love to cuddle on the sofa. And Cash, a 6-year-old gray-and-white cat who can't resist a scratch under the chin. Both have spent the last month in the shelter.
To encourage end-of-year adoptions, BARCS has also launched a program called "Gift of Life," where all adoptions are free through the end of December.
Kittens and puppies, too young to be adopted and susceptible to shelter-borne viruses, are ideal fostering candidates, Rahl said. Also good are older animals and those who've been at the shelter waiting for a home for a long time.
Some animals are perfect to bring home for a couple of weeks. Others would do better if people could keep them longer.
"We will guide people toward the animals that we think need fostering," Rahl said. "We don't want animals to go home with someone and miss out on an opportunity to be adopted."
"There is probably an animal that would fit anyone's idea of a foster," Rahl said.
To be eligible to foster a pet, people must fill out an application and be prepared with character references. If they live in an apartment, they must furnish proof that their building allows pets.
The shelter will send the pet home with a bit of starter food, but potential foster parents should be prepared to buy more — and other things a pet might need, like litter for cats and leashes for dogs, and toys for both. Any money spent on a foster animal is tax-deductible, Rahl said.