Humane Society hoping to place foster dogs

If you’ve ever thought about raising a furry, four-legged friend but weren’t sure you were cut out for parenthood, the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society is offering a trial run.

The North Side shelter is looking to place 19 dogs in private foster care for four to six weeks. The dogs have the potential to develop canine distemper, a serious and contagious illness.

Anyone wishing to apply to be a foster parent must have a dog-free home, though cats are fine because canine distemper cannot cross over to felines. It can infect ferrets.

“It’s a great opportunity. If you’re not sure about adopting a dog, it’s kind of a test drive, and you’re helping us out,” David Janusek, the shelter’s executive director, said Friday.

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At the end of the foster period it will be clear whether the dogs have developed distemper. If healthy, the canines will be placed up for adoption at the shelter unless “you fall so madly in love with it and you can’t even think about giving it back,” said Kristen Lane, the humane society spokeswoman.

That hoped-for scenario even has a name: a “failed foster.”

Trying to place the at-risk dogs in foster care is an unusual step.

While making its decision, the society weighed the animals' physical well-being with their mental and emotional health. Dogs in quarantine at a shelter are not able to socialize and can become aggressive, lethargic or undergo personality changes, Ms. Lane said.

“We spent a lot of time discussing this,” she said. “We were talking about how dogs can deteriorate mentally when he or she is in a quarantine situation because the dog is basically isolated. He doesn't get any stimulation. He doesn't get any enrichment.”

Foster family applications will be reviewed, and shelter employees will make a site visit before deciding on whether to place an animal, Ms. Lane said.

Those families that are selected will receive special instructions and have access to shelter veterinarians if the dog becomes ill.

“This is work,” Ms. Lane said. “You have to be a dedicated animal lover and be willing to provide care for an animal who started out with a disadvantage.”

Recently, the shelter suspended dog adoptions and stopped bringing in new dogs after an adoptee tested positive for canine distemper.

Cat and small-animal adoptions and intake are operating as usual.

Information about the fostering process can be found at http://​ or call 412-321-4625, ext. 268.

The shelter’s 19 foster dogs are adults and various breeds; some are mutts.

A bunch have cold symptoms such as runny noses and thick discharge from the eyes. That could be indicative of nothing more than kennel cough, although the possibility exists that the symptoms presage distemper, Mr. Janusek said.

In addition to the foster dogs, the shelter has 21 dogs whose test results indicate they have a low chance of developing distemper and are eligible for adoption. The shelter plans to post photographs online of all the dogs.

Mr. Janusek hopes to have the dogs placed in homes in short order.

“The sooner the better,” he said.

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First Published June 13, 2014 4:03 PM

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