For Sonni Standefer, the best part of fostering is seeing that she is saving the lives of the cats and dogs in her care. While she typically fosters cats and kittens, she bravely took in her first pregnant dog, Gypsy, this winter.
Gypsy was surrendered to an overcrowded shelter, along with her 4 brothers. They had lived outside in a backyard their whole lives before being taken to the shelter Sonni works at and fosters for.
“Gypsy was so scared and intimidated when she came into the shelter, so I wanted to work with her,” Sonni said.
Bringing Gypsy Home
Sonni and her husband prepared their spare room for Gypsy. She had about a week and a half to acclimate to Sonni’s home before going into labor on New Year’s Eve.
“We were sitting on the couch,” Sonni said, “and I could hear her make some noise in her room — I thought she was having some firework anxiety because our own dog, Yari, was too.”
Sonni checked on Gypsy and discovered that she was in labor and had already given birth to 1 puppy. She sat with her through the night as Gypsy proceeded to deliver 8 more. “At first, I forgot all of the research I had done,” Sonni said. “But she did pretty well and had them pretty consistently through the night.”
One of Gypsy’s puppies seemed to have a harder time breathing and latching to nurse than the others. He made it through the night, but when Sonni was changing the bedding the next day, she discovered that he had died.
“When we found him — and maybe I’m anthropomorphizing — Gypsy acted like she thought she had done something wrong. She jumped and ran into her kennel,” Sonni said. “It was kind of traumatizing for me. As a vet tech, I’ve seen my fair share of death, but seeing a little puppy like that made me shed some tears.”
The 8 surviving puppies were healthy and continued to grow. They opened their eyes early and began to play with each other and develop individual personalities. “At first, they were like drunk little potatoes with arms. Then one day I walk in their room and they were out of the nest,” Sonni said. “They would mouth each other and make tiny little puppy growls.”
In the meantime, Gypsy began to trust Sonni and her husband. She was comfortable allowing Sonni to handle the puppies and would wag her tail when they entered the room. Despite her progress, however, her puppies had to be removed from the home when they were 4–5 weeks old.
“[Gypsy] really likes toys, and I felt like she might have not ever had toys before,” Sonni said. “She would resource guard her toys and food once the puppies started moving around. She would get really snappy with them, so we started moving them in pairs to other foster homes.”
In a matter of days, all of the puppies and Gypsy had transitioned into new foster homes. Sonni had planned to keep Gypsy, but a foster who had the resources to work with her fear and socialization issues was available to take over.
The puppies and Gypsy were spayed or neutered and placed up for adoption. At this time, 4 of the puppies have been adopted and so has Gypsy. She was adopted before any of her puppies were, which is considered rare in many shelters.
“A family and their dog drove an hour to meet her after seeing her online,” Sonni said. “The meet-and-greet worked out. The family sends me updates — she apparently is doing really well and even sleeps in the bed with them at night. I was hoping she would find a home with another dog to show her that everything is OK.”
The Bittersweet Experience of Fostering
Sonni expects that the remaining puppies will be adopted out within the next month. Though she’ll miss them, she’s happy to be able to clean out the puppy room and return to her routine with Yari.
“I guess the hardest thing about fostering is you get so attached,” she said. “You just hope they are going somewhere [where] you know they are being taken good care of. You wonder where they’ll be in 10 years — hopefully not back in a shelter. But you just have to trust that people are being honest and will treat these animals like a family member.”
Sonni said that all of the long hours and bittersweet moments of fostering are worth it because she knows she is directly saving the life of every pet she fosters.