Cuddling canines during COVID

How fostering helps dogs--and people--not feel alone

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Jessica Leving and her boyfriend, Dustin Siegel, pose for a porch portrait with their new foster pooch, Zira. Photo credit: Lori Sapio.

For many people, including Jewish Chicagoans, dog fostering has become a way to weather the coronavirus crisis and breathe new life into a stale routine at home.

For some, this new life is literal--like for Adrianne Burgher, whose foster dog Emori, a Beagle/Rottweiler mix, is pregnant. Emori came to the family from a kill shelter in Georgia, organized by the Paws N' Effect program from the TPAN organization.

The Burghers, who live in Skokie, are a first-time foster family who never considered fostering before the quarantine. "My kids have always wanted a dog and we couldn't get one since my husband and I work out of the house, so we thought now would be a great opportunity," she said.

The foster program is providing Emori a special pregnancy diet and a baby pool where she will deliver her puppies. Burgher, her husband, and their three sons, ages 10, 8, and 4, are adding plenty of love and support, and have watched Emori blossom from a skittish dog to a playful, happy companion.

While the Burghers prepare for puppies, Karen Berman and her youngest son have fostered two pairs of puppies and are helping them find permanent homes. Currently, they're watching over 3-month-old German Shepherd/Labrador puppies brought from Oklahoma by Mission Compassion Paw, and they previously fostered 7-week-old puppies from the Fetching Tails Foundation.

After the sudden death of their cockapoo, Otis, this winter, Northbrook residents Berman and her son--who is currently home from college--had a hard time in a home without a dog. "I was wondering what we could do that would help bring joy to our house and help keep us busy," and fostering provided an ideal solution, she said.

Reflecting on life with the puppies, she said, "They're filling our days with incredible joy. They greet us like we're the best thing in the world, and they help us stay on a schedule. For some people, owning a pet is too expensive, but fostering creates a viable option to have a companion, save an animal, and give them a good life."

Some people, like Chicagoans Jessica Leving and her boyfriend, Dustin Siegel, are adopting dogs during the quarantine. They recently brought home Zira, a German Shepherd/Great Pyrenees mix, from the Animal Rescue Foundation in Wheaton.

"We had been talking about getting a dog for the last year, but we couldn't find a good time," Leving said. "But then with the stay-at-home order, we realized it would be the perfect time to bond with and train a dog."

Leving previously adopted two cats from the Anti-Cruelty Society, and it took a few tries to find a dog who would be okay sharing its home with cats. Now, she's settling into life with Zira, socializing her, finding pet supply stores with curbside pickup, and taking plenty of photos for the puppy's new Instagram account.

"I'm so grateful for the distraction, it's nice to have something positive to focus on," she said. "It's definitely a good time for pets. You need something to cuddle and find something cute among the chaos."

Similar sentiment has led to foster applications soaring in Chicago and around the country. "The rescue organizations said they called it 'teacher syndrome,' Berman said. "Normally, they see this influx of adoption of puppies in the summer when teachers are off, but because of COVID-19, people are doing it earlier."

Pet fostering is therapy for the pets--and the people. "There's such a strong bond between pets and their people," Burgher said. "People feel good about helping animals, but there is so much we get therapeutically from them. Just cuddling with them and petting them helps make the situation so much more pleasant."

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