A Publication of WTVP

Jennifer Brackney has changed more than 200 lives. These lives belong to a class that often gets overlooked or abandoned when life gets rough for their human owners. She opens her arms as a foster parent for homeless companion pets.

Brackney has been a foster pet mom for six years, working with shelters like Tazewell Animal Protective Society (TAPS) or the Great Pyrenees Rescue, as well as programs without physical shelters, such as Foster Pet Outreach. As a foster parent, Brackney temporarily takes in pets until they are adopted or until they are old enough or well enough to live at the shelter. Her interest was triggered by an Animal Planet special about working with and fostering homeless pets. Since then, Brackney and her husband have seen more than 200 dogs, cats, puppies and kittens make quick stops at their home before finding permanent homes and families.

Yet, as she claims, “When you foster, you tend to accumulate,” and the Brackney family has found a permanent place in their home for three of their fostered dogs. The first is a Great Pyrenees/Kuvasz mix named Noah, who has been with them since he and his siblings found residence there at four weeks old. They also have a poodle mix from Foster Pet Outreach named Hazelle. The third member of the family is Lillynn, a deaf and sight-compromised miniature Australian Shepherd that was fostered through TAPS.

Lillynn was a risky adoption for Brackney, since there are obvious hurdles with owning a physically impaired dog. At five- or six-months old, Lillynn was not socialized or housebroken and did not know how to play. But the family learned that it was not just Lillynn who needed to be trained, but themselves as well. “You have to find different ways to communicate with her,” said Brackney. Because of this, they used hand signs, and she now knows the words “come,” “sit,” “no” and “play.” Lillynn has learned to be a puppy, and Brackney is a proud and happy mom.

Being the owner of a special-needs pet and the foster mom to hundreds of other pets has been all the reward Brackney needs for her volunteering, and she admits to crying almost every time one of the pets is adopted. “I cry because I’ve become attached to them,” she said. “They are also tears of happiness because I’m happy they are going to a home that is going to be able to provide for them the one-on-one attention they need.”

Brackney urges other families to experience foster parenting and the reward that goes with it because there is a great need for foster families, especially for puppies and kittens. A shelter environment is never good for the first few weeks of life for these animals, as they are more susceptible to illness. A home environment also socializes the animals from an early age, making them more family-friendly and adoptable.

To become a foster pet parent, contact your local shelters or pet organizations as Brackney did. Tell them you are willing to be a foster parent, and they will begin the process. The shelters like to build a relationship with the family first, asking that they volunteer at the shelters or sponsored events. Then, after approving your home, they work with you to become a foster parent. The organizations also try to work with the families and give them the type of animal they want. For Brackney, it was pregnant mothers and litters of puppies and kittens that needed to be bottle-fed. Regardless of your type of volunteering, whether it be fostering, adopting or just donating, “There is always a need for volunteers in the animal world.” iBi