Foster carers are many dogs' best friends
JUDY and Carl Kuhn have been RSPCA animal foster parents for more than 10 years.
In that time the couple have fostered hundreds of dogs, from newborns upwards, until their "forever home" was found.
But there was one dog they simply couldn't give up.
Yogi, a kelpie-cross, came to the couple to foster not once but twice, when his first re-homing didn't work out.
The second time, he stayed, and now plays dad to the younger foster dogs.
The couple's involvement in fostering began dramatically, with a litter of puppies dumped at a tip outside Toowoomba on burning day.
Judy was helping out at the RSPCA shelter, and she and Carl took three home to care for.
When the pups found homes, the couple put up their hands for the next dogs that needed their care.
"It's very rewarding," Judy said. "Every dog's different and every one is lovely.
"I love it when I take a dog back and I know it's going to a good home."
Seeing a neglected dog transform to a healthy, happy animal with a shiny coat, she said was "reward in itself; you feel you've really achieved something".
While she admits it is hard at times to say goodbye, Judy said "they're not our dogs and you just have to think you're helping them, especially the puppies, to get a good start".
Judy said she particularly felt for the dogs she nursed back from sickness and neglect.
"If you can't care for the animal - if you don't have the money or your situation's changed, it takes nothing to take it to the shelter, there's no disgrace in that, but it makes me angry when a dog is just left to suffer from neglect," Judy said.
She urged other retirees to give fostering a try, and see how much joy it brought, something RSCPA foster care co-ordinator Megan McKinnon was keen to encourage.
"We have 123 animals at the moment, and 60 of them are in foster care," Megan said.
She said Toowoomba RSPCA was one of the busiest regional centres in Queensland.
Dogs, cats, rats, mice and guinea pigs can all be fostered, with periods usually ranging from a week to a few months, depending on the animal's needs.
All the animals are vet and behaviour checked before being fostered and each is carefully suited to the right foster parent to ensure the placement is successful for both.
Some animals are fostered because they aren't coping in the high-arousal shelter environment, others need care for illness or injury, some are pregnant, while others are orphans or have behavioural issues.
"If an animal is going to be fostered on a behavioural issue, we make sure it is something that particular foster carer can handle," Megan said.
"A lot of the time an animal is surrendered because it is out of the cute puppy stage - about five months or older - and if the owners haven't put in any training, they can be hard to manage in a shelter.
"With consistent work in a foster placement, where someone works with them every day, it can make a real difference, and then they are ready for a new home."
Megan said the centre had a number of retiree foster parents who had "a lot of time to dedicate to the foster animals and tend to really enjoy it".
"You're not committing to adopting, but the animals are good company and there's a lot of satisfaction from knowing that animals will be rehomed to their forever home and you've helped them get there," Megan said.
However, she did warn that, as in Judy and Carl's case, "sometimes an animal comes into your life and you just want to keep it".
Potential animal foster parents can express interest at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 46341304, with a training session and property check all that is necessary.
The RSPCA provides food, medical and vet treatments, bedding, a litter tray and whatever else may be required, and is always just a phone call away.