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Dog Fostering Is Up As San Diegans Look For Quarantine Company

Melanie Murnane's foster dog Charlie Boy appears in this undated photo.

Credit: Melanie Murnane

Above: Melanie Murnane's foster dog Charlie Boy appears in this undated photo.

Like most other places right now, the pandemic has forced local animal shelters to shut their doors to the public. That means shelter dogs aren't getting as much attention.

But many in the community are stepping up to help by volunteering to foster homeless dogs.

Melanie Murnane has long worked with a dog rescue organization that takes dogs from local shelters and puts them in foster homes. That includes her home, which currently includes her dog Petunia and two foster dogs, Charlie Boy and Baby Girl.

One morning last week, Murnane sat on the floor while the dogs — all of them on the bigger side — climbed all over her.

"You're giving me kisses aren't you," Murnane said as Baby Girl licked her face.

The organization she works with, Wagging Dog Rescue, takes dogs from shelters and works to get them adopted.

"We promote them on social media, either find a home for them, find a long term foster or or if nothing is found, they go back to the shelter but with all sorts of notes on how great they are in a home and whether they can live with a cat or a dog or children," Murnane said.

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, she's had a lot of company — many people are wanting to foster dogs. The San Diego Humane Society recently asked for foster volunteers and got more than 400 applications in the first 24 hours. They aren't taking more foster volunteers right now, but still want people to sign up because they expect to need more in the future.

Photo credit: Melanie Murnane

Melanie Murnane's foster dog Charlie Boy cuddles with her other dog Petunia in this undated photo.

About half the animals in local shelters are now in foster homes. On March 11, before the stay at home orders, 156 of the San Diego Humane Society animals were in foster homes. Now there are 342.

Mary McAndrew is one of those new foster volunteers. She said she and her husband are both over 65 and so they are staying home at all times. She usually volunteers at a shelter, so, given the circumstances, decided to try fostering.

"There was a dog that I had interacted with briefly when I was volunteering at the shelter and he was available," she said. "And so he was just a perfect match for me to take home."

The dog, a German Shepard named Maverick, has made this time in isolation much better. He’s gotten them out on walks, where they met neighbors and others out walking their dogs.

"Especially for seniors like me, they can't see the grandkids, can't go to yoga classes, there's so many things that we can't do," she said. "But just spending time with the dogs is just really fun and stimulating."

Then, Maverick was adopted. McAndrew said she and her husband are already looking for another foster dog to bring home.

Shelters run by San Diego County's Department of Animal Services have now suspended adoptions and fostering.

"While we still strive to give our animals the best chance for success in a home, our priority needs be to protect the public and our staff at this time. We plan to get back to those services after this risk is reduced," said a spokeswoman for the county in a statement.

"We have relatively low animal inventory at both shelter locations, and those animals that remain in the shelter may have special medical or behavioral needs that our trained staff are best equipped to provide."

Photo by Kris Arciaga

Dogs play in the yard at the San Diego Humane Society, April 13, 2017.

But animal lovers can still adopt through rescue organizations or the Humane Society. Spokeswoman Nina Thompson said their shelters aren't open to visitors, but are doing virtual adoptions.

"You would give us a call and you would have a really in-depth consultation about the pet that you're interested in before you ever even come down," she said.

People can look at animals across the humane society's three campuses — San Diego, Oceanside and Escondido — at sdhumane.org.

Although people can't visit animals in person at the shelters, adoptions haven't lagged significantly, she said.

Back at Melanie Murnane's house, she's working to get foster dogs Charlie Boy and Baby Girl ready for forever homes.

"She's 85 pounds, overweight by at least 20 pounds," Murnane said of Baby Girl. "So we're taking her for a short walk each day working on her weight loss."

Listen to this story by Claire Trageser.

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Photo of Claire Trageser

Claire Trageser
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs a member of the KPBS investigative team, my job is to hold the powerful in San Diego County accountable. I've done in-depth investigations on political campaigns, police officer misconduct and neighborhood quality of life issues.

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