Danielle Cook can’t remember the last time she slept uninterrupted through the night. She has lots of mouths to feed — newborn kittens and puppies, depending on her for survival.
Cook, 30, is one of a cadre of 50 foster caregivers that regularly assist the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria shelter with animals needing special care. “We have a foster-on- deck program, volunteers ready to pick them up and take them home within 24 hours,” says Dalia Salah, the League’s foster coordinator. Besides newborns, typical animals in need of foster care are those recovering from surgery, long-term shelter residents awaiting adoption, and pets who were victims of neglect and need safe housing as their legal cases run their course.
In the first six months of this year, the League fostered 267 animals, an 80 percent increase over the same period last year; the League provides all supplies and medical care for the animals in foster care. Three local businesses — WOOFS! Dog Training Center, Whole Dogz Inc. and Dogtopia of Alexandria — are assisting the League with foster services.
Summer can mean an explosion of animals coming into the shelter. On a recent day the League took in a fresh litter of five Yorkshire terrier puppies whose mother had died while delivering them. Such animals need round-the-clock feeding and care, something the League is not equipped to do. “We put out an urgent request to our foster caregivers, and the puppies went into foster within 45 minutes,” Salah says.
Responding to that call was Danielle Cook, who specializes in newborn animals, whose eyes and ears are still closed and cannot make it without a foster “mom.” Cook placed the baby Yorkies —little, brown-furred balls that fit in the palm of her hand — in a special heated bin in her house, bottle-feeding them every few hours. “Each animal I get is different,” Cook says. “Some like to be fed on their backs, others want to be held close. It’s soothing for them to hear my heartbeat.”
When it’s time to go to work, Cook scoops up her tiny charges and takes them to her job as a veterinary technician, often carrying a puppy or kitten around in her pocket all day. She says she tries to emulate the animals’ mother, until the day she must say good-bye. Around the age of eight weeks, the animals journey to the shelter to join others in search of permanent homes.