By Maria Poulos
When we hear the phrase, “fostering saves lives,” many of us think of the cat or dog that is now on its way to a forever home. But it’s not just our four-legged friends that benefit. The American Heart Association has linked the ownership of pets, especially dogs, with a reduced risk for heart disease and greater longevity. Just playing with a dog or cat can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which can calm and relax. For many rescues, linking a homeless pet with the future owner isn’t possible without foster parents.
Michelle Hinds is one of the beneficiaries of a selfless foster parent. Michelle suffers from lupus, a chronic inflammatory disease that occurs when your body's immune system attacks your own tissues and organs. She also has partial facial paralysis from jaw reconstruction surgery, is mourning the loss of five family members within the past decade, including both parents, and is recently divorced. Suffice to say, the once happy, smiling Michelle was down and out.
“I really feel like I was a person whose spirit and will to push on was mentally beaten out of me,” Michelle said. “I was someone who no longer smiled but would sit huddled in a corner with an ice pack on my face.”
Dipping white blood cell counts that left her ill most days, so her doctor recommended getting a dog, ideally a breed with a keen sense of smell who could detect these low counts, like a Yorkie. Eager for companionship and care, Michelle submitted an application with Odie’s Place.
Elsewhere, Terri, a foster mom in the Odie’s Place network, was caring for an 8-year-old Yorkie named Chloe. She was dumped in a high-kill shelter in New York City, with fur so overgrown her baseball-sized tumor went undetected until she came to Odie’s Place. Now cancer-free, but suffering from separation anxiety, she waited patiently for her forever home.
Michelle’s condition makes her sensitive to germs, so Brian from Odie’s Place conducted his home and yard visit via Skype. Between her powerful nose and need for around-the-clock companionship, Brian knew Chloe was the perfect match for the homebound Michelle. Michelle sent her friend Judy to pick up Chloe and it’s been a match made in heaven. “She saved my life,” Michelle said. “That one dog saved my life.”
Chloe has been trained to detect the copper scent that is emitted when Michelle’s white blood count drops, as well as the scent release from rising cortisol when she has a panic attack. And it’s working. The first time Chloe saved Michelle, Michelle was feeling faint. Chloe hopped up softly, sniffed Michelle and gently sat and put her paw on her. At the doctor’s office the next day, Michelle told him what happened and he sent her for blood tests.
“The doctor called me last night and my [white blood count] was 2300!” Michelle said. “Half of the low end of the range. Chloe was right. The doctor says if Chloe thinks I need to go back to just give him a call!”
While Chloe’s protective nature prevents her from being officially certified as a service dog just yet, she is well on her way and brining joy in the meantime. “You have a huge success story here,” Michelle said. “She makes me happy. She makes people smile.”
“She couldn’t give those smiles from a shelter,” Brian said.
All of this wouldn’t have been possible without the Odie’s Place network of foster parents. Having a safe, healthy home while pets wait is essential. Aside from a potentially terminal fate, the dogs and cats who are lucky to survive high-kill shelters don’t leave unscathed. “They smell death in the air,” Brian said. “It really changes them.”
“I hope this story motivates those who are thinking about submitting an application to adopt or foster to just do it,” Brian said. “Do it to make you feel better. Do it to make someone else feel better. Depression and anxiety cripples people. Fostering saves lives.”
If you are interested in becoming part of Odie’s Place fostering network, click here.
If you’d like to adopt, please fill out the application here.
To donate to Odie’s Place, which covers costs including medical, you can do so here.