NU Declassified: Fostering Frenzy

Emily Sakai and Victoria Benefield

In the midst of the pandemic, Northwestern students have found comfort in fostering cats and dogs. Many foster pet-parents have gotten their animals at the Evanston Animal Shelter, which runs a robust foster program.

KELSEY-ANN LESLIE: You want to meet Rambo?

VICTORIA BENEFIELD: Oh my God, I would love to!

KELSEY-ANN LESLIE: Let me grab her real quick.

VICTORIA BENEFIELD: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Victoria Benefield. 

EMILY SAKAI: And I’m Emily Sakai.

VICTORIA BENEFIELD: This is NU Declassified, a podcast about how Wildcats thrive and survive on Northwestern’s campus. Now that students are back on campus, a lot of us are missing our pets back home. I know I miss spending time with my dogs, Scout and Magenta. Emily, do you have any pets?

EMILY SAKAI: I have one dog at home, Dudley. Some of my roommates were also missing their pets. Since we have a lot more time at home with online classes, we decided to foster a dog here in Evanston. Her name is Sweetie, and she’s an adorable pitbull mix. Sweetie, say hi!

EMILY SAKAI: Do you have a tennis ball? 

VICTORIA BENEFIELD: She sounds so cute! Some other students have also started fostering animals recently. We spoke with Weinberg senior Abby Bridgemohan, who began fostering a dog named Ilsa when she returned to Evanston last fall.

ABBY BRIDGEMOHAN: She’s 10 years old, but she is very active. Just because we live in an apartment building, I really wanted to foster an older dog that would be already trained and wouldn’t need to be trained to do business outside because we live on the 16th floor, so it takes a little bit of time to get downstairs and I didn’t want them to be peeing in the elevator, so I wanted a dog that wasn’t going to need really, really long walks. One of my close friends who’s fostering a younger, much more active dog takes him on a couple hour-long walks per day. And that just seemed like a little bit too much of a time commitment for outside, when it gets cold in the winter, for me. 

EMILY SAKAI: But not everyone’s a dog person. McCormick senior Kelsey-Ann Leslie started fostering cats her junior year after spending time with one of her friend’s foster cats. 

KELSEY-ANN LESLIE: I had one foster cat, actually, Rambo, go kind of viral. He got an article on Yahoo News UK because I posted a video of him to Reddit. He’s about eight, nine years old. So he has this like grumpy, old man kind of personality. And he would like to sprawl across my computer. And when I would try to type something, he would attack my hand. Like “no, don’t touch it.” And I recorded that and someone was like, “Hey, we want to post your video to this site.” And he went a little viral.

VICTORIA BENEFIELD: Kelsey fostered through the Evanston Animal Shelter, which takes in all cats and dogs, even those with behavioral and physical issues. Emily talked to Tanya Ohanian, the canine director at the shelter. 

EMILY SAKAI: Tanya said Northwestern students are an important part of their foster program. 

TANYA OHANIAN: A lot of our greatest fosters are with Northwestern students. They’re willing to take the big burly dogs and the medical dogs and the dogs that really need a lot of attention.

EMILY SAKAI: I interviewed Tanya in the shelter’s adoption shed, where Peppa, a 120 pound pitbull with three legs, was staying. 

EMILY SAKAI: Peppa is one of eight dogs that the Evanston Animal Shelter currently keeps on site. Tanya said the shelter usually keeps no more than that, and they prefer to place dogs in foster homes. 

TANYA OHANIAN: The kennel is a very tough place for dogs to be. They’re in the kennel most of the day, they’re around a bunch of other dogs. Craving attention, all that stuff. So these are all things that we can’t get them onsite, as much as we love them. So when they go into foster homes, they get home experience, which is great for us because then we know how to better place them. Whether they can’t be around kids, (or) don’t get along with other animals, it’s really good for us to know that information so that they don’t get returned and people are happy when they take their pets home.

VICTORIA BENEFIELD: And fostering isn’t only good for the animals. Studies have found that having a pet can encourage people to get outside and exercise, as well as decrease feelings of stress and loneliness. For McCormick freshman Anna Grejtak, her cat, Pumpkin, not only helps her deal with stress from engineering homework, but also helps fellow residents of Slivka Hall cope with not being able to see their own pets they left back home. 

ANNA GREJTAK: So Pumpkin is a female orange tabby cat. She has short fur and big orange eyes — which is why I named her Pumpkin, because her eyes are just like globes of orange. I live on the third floor, so she gets to look out the window. She loves seeing all the people. And sometimes people will just knock on my door and be like, ‘Hey, can I pet your cat, can I play with your cat?’ And it’s really nice, because I know a lot of people here are missing their own pets at home. And they can just come in and really play with her, see her, whenever they want. I want her to be as much help for everyone as she is just being here with me. 

EMILY SAKAI: Anna adopted Pumpkin, so she is not a foster cat. But Anna plans on fostering in the future. 

ANNA GREJTAK: As soon as I get a place of my own, not on campus, I am looking to foster animals as well. There are so many animals out there, especially in the Chicago area, who are just looking for homes, just looking for someone to give them attention, take care of them. And also I would say that fostering is just as good as adopting because fostering helps animals get ready to be adopted to their forever home. It helps them get acclimated to different living situations, living spaces. 

VICTORIA BENEFIELD: Fostering is not without difficulties. Some foster pets have medical problems, such as Abby’s dog Ilsa. 

ABBY BRIDGEMOHAN: The most challenging part of fostering her is managing all of the medication she’s on. But in terms of being a medical foster dog, there are a lot of dogs that are rear paralyzed, so that means they can’t go to the bathroom themselves, you basically have to use pressure to do it for them. Some dogs need, you know, like, frequent eye treatments. Some dogs have seizure conditions. So hers, just taking pills and having to go to the bathroom a little bit more frequently, really isn’t that bad. 

EMILY SAKAI: And occasionally, foster pets experience medical conditions that are life-threatening. This was the case for Kelsey’s first foster cat. 

KELSEY-ANN LESLIE: The foster cat that completely stole my heart was Isaac. He was a little baby when I got him and we really bonded. He would lay on my chest and fall asleep. Unfortunately he passed away from FIV, which is a disease that’s (has) a very high mortality rate. Like if a cat has it, the cat is probably going to pass away. So that was rough, but the benefit is that after that I’ve been a lot better at fostering other cats. I don’t get as attached.

VICTORIA BENEFIELD: But even with challenges, Tanya said shelters, including the Evanston Animal Shelter, are there to support those fostering. 

TANYA OHANIAN: Even if you’re nervous, even if you’re scared, the really reputable rescues in the area, they will be with you every step of the way. They’ll provide everything you could need: counseling, training, vet care, you have literally nothing to lose. And so if you need an easier dog for your first time, they’ll find one. There are just so many dogs with so many different needs that it’s pretty easy to find a dog that’s going to fit your lifestyle, so just do it.

EMILY SAKAI: For students like Abby, fostering is the perfect option for their stage of life. 

ABBY BRIDGEMOHAN: I would really recommend college students fostering instead of adopting. Fostering is so flexible, and the shelter pays for all of their food and all of their veterinary care, and the crate, their bed and jacket if they need it and all of the supplies. So it really can be a really feasible option financially. And it’s so great to help dogs who’ve been given up. And most of them don’t have behavior issues, actually, they’ve just (been) given up for one reason or another. 

EMILY SAKAI: At the Evanston Animal Shelter, they’re glad that they can provide a home for pets and a source of comfort for humans in a dark year. 

TANYA OHANIAN: We’ve gotten so much feedback about how people couldn’t get through the year without them. They provided a lot of emotional support for the humans, especially this past year. But it’s also great, because, you know, we get a lot of college students that can’t necessarily adopt a dog, but they’re great with fostering. And so it’s a win-win for everybody.

EMILY SAKAI: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Emily Sakai.

VICTORIA BENEFIELD: And I’m Victoria Benefield. Thanks for listening to another episode of NU Declassified. This episode was reported and produced by Emily Sakai and me, Victoria Benefield. The audio editor of The Daily Northwestern is Madison Smith, the digital managing editor is Haley Fuller, and the editor in chief is Sneha Dey. 

Email: [email protected], [email protected] 

Twitter: em_sakai 


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