“I love working with the foster program. I feel like I’m really doing a service for DCHS and for the community,” says Karrie Frantz, Dane County Humane Society (DCHS) Foster Program Assistant.
After retiring from Oscar Mayer in early 2006, Karrie felt she needed to start volunteering somewhere. “I’ve always had a love for animals,” she says, adding she felt that becoming a DCHS volunteer foster parent would be the right fit for her.
She applied to become a volunteer foster parent in the fall of 2006. Her first foster assignment was a momma cat with a litter of five kittens. Karrie had never had a cat before, but thankfully, the friendly momma cat knew how to care for her kittens while staying in the safety of Karrie’s home. Karrie also knew she could reach out to the DCHS Foster Program administrator at any time if she needed help.
When the staff member running the foster program decided to leave her position, volunteers were asked to apply if they were interested in helping run the program. Karrie jumped at the opportunity and has been volunteering in this manner ever since.
Karrie has put in more than the two to three hours per week required of most DCHS volunteers. In fact, since becoming the Foster Program Assistant in 2009, Karrie has completed as many hours as someone working 40 hours per week at their job for nearly 10 years!
When asked why she volunteers so many hours per week, Karrie responds with a big smile: “I think the animals need me. Also, I have met so many wonderful people over the years. It’s really been a pleasure getting to know these families. I’ve learned a lot in this position and I think that’s part of the enjoyment.”
Karrie, who continues to foster animals too, adds, “Watching little kittens grow up, ready to go to their new home, is really gratifying.”
DCHS’s Foster Support System
The role of DCHS’s Foster Program is two-fold -- to get animals who need to be in foster care with a foster family and supporting those foster families in any way necessary.
Karrie starts each week, usually on Sunday, sending an email to each foster to see how things are going. In her email, Karrie asks if there are any current issues or concerns that the foster may need assistance with; if there were issues previously, she asks whether those been resolved since their last communication.
“I think the most important part for our foster families is supporting them,” Karrie says. “Starting out fostering myself, I found it so important to know I have a resource I can contact.” Just as important was knowing that she could get a fairly quick response.
In addition to providing support for foster families, Karrie and DCHS Foster Program Coordinator Eric Holsinger support DCHS veterinarians too. The two were trained to give vaccines and fluids as well as put together medications for animals in the foster program – all at the direction of DCHS veterinarians.
DCHS veterinarians perform checkups and necessary medical procedures for the animals in foster care. “They are doing so many important things,” says Karrie, adding that the veterinarians don’t need to be distracted or overwhelmed by these additional medical-related tasks if she and Eric can do them.
If the foster parent has never administered medication before, not only will they be trained, but Karrie and Eric will do whatever they can to make it as easy as possible, including giving premeasured syringes to ensure the dosage is correct.
But, Karrie adds, “Most of our fosters are pretty darn savvy.” If the animal needs to be given fluids or insulin, for example, there’s a good chance the foster family might have had experience giving their own companion animal fluids or insulin injections. If not, we’re always willing to teach them how to do that.
The key is we’re supporting these fosters so they’re having a good experience,” Karrie says. But that support doesn’t only come through email, by phone, or when the foster parent brings the animal to DCHS. Karrie has even gone to foster families’ homes to provide support.
One of the more challenging foster animals is an unweaned kitten. Fosters who take unweaned kittens know the chance of survival is uncertain and kittens can go downhill very quickly, according to Karrie. Unfortunately, not all of the animals survive, and in those situations, Karrie finds herself in a different supporting role – consoling fosters.
“It’s really hard to lose an animal … no matter if it’s your first or your 10th foster,” says Karrie, explaining that foster animals are still part of the family. Fortunately, most of the animals who have gone through our foster program have been adopted.
Her Foster Fail
One foster situation that sticks with Karrie is when she cared for four kittens in the fall of 2016. Apparently, the mother cat left them in a trailer. When the owners went to pick up their trailer, they found the kittens and brought them to DCHS.
Karrie took these roughly 3-week-old kittens into foster. “They were sweet little kittens – social and active,” she recalls. But they were slow to grow and couldn’t keep the milk replacement formula or subsequent canned food down.
Eventually, three of the kittens got better and were made available for adoption. The fourth continued having issues and was placed on a special diet, which helped.
“I became a foster failure,” Karrie says with a smile, referring to the common animal welfare term that refers to foster volunteers who end up adopting their charge. That little kitten has grown up and is Karrie’s own six-year-old cat Champ. “He’s a great cat, but he can really be demanding,” she says with a laugh.
Growing DCHS’s Foster Program
"I marvel at how far this place has come since I’ve been here,” she says, crediting that to DCHS leadership and staff. The organization has continued to transform itself to do better for the animals in our care. DCHS looks at the bigger picture of animal welfare by helping fellow shelters that are overcrowded, offering programs that connect with the community, and finding new ways to give animals a second chance.
Over the years, there have been more protocols put in place that Karrie believes benefit both staff and animals.
“The foster program is really good. We are expanding our foster program by including temporary custody animals and working more with feral kittens rather than outsourcing them,” she says. “We are always in need of foster families, particularly during kitten season.”
Kitten season is our busiest season and generally lasts from May to October. We are also looking for foster families for big dogs, homes that don’t have other pets that can take in a dog, as well as foster volunteers interested in helping neonatal kittens.
Karrie’s incredible dedication, expert staff, and welcoming foster families come together to provide foster care for hundreds of animals each year!
Read Chelsea's story of becoming a foster
Become a Foster
Foster families play a vital role in the life of an animal in need. A dog, cat, or critter may need a foster home for a variety of reasons: they need socialization, they need to de-stress from shelter life, they're recovering from an illness or injury, they're pregnant or new moms needing a quiet place to wean their litter, or they're too young for adoption. Foster families help fill these needs. Are you able to open your heart and home to a companion animal in need of temporary care outside of the shelter environment?