Foster first

With shelters full, rescues depend heavily on foster homes to buy time for animals

Posted 11/1/23

Surely Hillary Gillinder holds the record for fostering, not that anyone has an official count. She has personally fostered 225 “kids.”

Hillary doesn’t have any children of her …

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Foster first

With shelters full, rescues depend heavily on foster homes to buy time for animals


Surely Hillary Gillinder holds the record for fostering, not that anyone has an official count. She has personally fostered 225 “kids.”

Hillary doesn’t have any children of her own, but has played mother to 225 dogs in the past six years.

“My dogs are my kids,” she said Saturday while visiting Dogtopia on Jefferson Boulevard for a dog adoption day sponsored by Rhode Home Rescue. She was wearing a papoose in which a fury canine – his name is Cooper – surveyed a parking lot of canine confusion. Cooper was quite content from his position, although inquisitive dogs were anxious to get a sniff.

“He likes being held,” Hillary explained.

Rhode Island is in dire need of more canine fosters like Hillary, Lisa Kirshenbaum, and Cameron Kadek who were among fosters who brought dogs to the adoption event, says Karen Kalunian, founder of an online newsletter and video aimed at dog and cat adoptions called “Animal Talk.”

Animal Talk is featured weekly in these papers. Dog adoptions have dropped dramatically since the pandemic. Meanwhile, many of those who adopted during the pandemic find they no longer have the time for their pets and are returning them to animal shelters and rescues where they got them. The flow of unwanted southern kill shelters is ongoing. On Friday 32 dogs arrived by van at Rhode Home Rescue from the south where fosters picked them up and brought them home.

So called “kill shelters” where euthanasia is practiced when overcrowding becomes a problem are not the only sources for rescue operations of which there are dozen in the state according to Kalunian. Registered breeding kennels likewise turn to the rescue community when they have dogs that don’t sell or age out of being desirable candidates. A pen full of wriggling, anxious to meet and lick you golden retriever puppies was a star attraction at Saturday’s event.

Kalunian didn’t have a count on fosters, although she said without them shelters couldn’t operate. The biggest need at this time are fosters who don’t own pets. Fosters who don’t have pets have more time to focus on the rescue and helping to prepare them for adoption. Also, the newcomers sometimes don’t get along with pets already living in the home.

She said fostering, even for a short period such as a week or two, gets an animal out of a cage and into an environment and condition whether they become adoptable.

“We need help right now,” she said. “Even if it’s a couple of weeks. They (cats and dogs) are not in a cage and fostering is great option for people thinking for adoption.”

Hillary grew up in a dog family in Pennsylvania — “I have had dogs growing up my whole life” — and came to Rhode Island as a student at Johnson & Wales and “never left.” Her first dog, a Scottish terrier adoptee named Hardy, was 12 years ago.

“He’s a senior,” she says. She has adopted three other dogs. She introduces fosters one at a time so as not to overpower the temporary new comer. A photographer, Hillary posts photos of her and other fosters on social media. She estimated Rhode Home Rescue has between 60 and 100 foster families.

Lisa Kirshenbaum of Cranston fosters. As she puts it she has fostered a “bonded pair of four pounds of a whole lot of trouble” for the last year. While that is not a good sales pitch for adoption, Lisa says, “I’m for full disclosure.” It’s a practice she exercises in seeking adoptees. She has fostered 125 dogs over seven years since her family moved here from South Africa – their dog came, too.

“You either love animals or you don’t,” she said.

What does she gain from fostering?

“There is a huge therapeutic part of having an animal. I have seen the impact of a companion,” she said describing a woman with cancer in her 70s who seeming lost purpose to life. Adopting a dog had a profound effect. She believes relationships with pet animals have “global effects.”

, Cameron Kadek who works for the Warwick School Department  had her foster “Jack,” an alert mixed breed , ready to greet people with her. A couple, Matt Sabourine and Carlin Weirick, who had learned of Jack on the web had driven from Middletown for the event to meet him and talk with Cameron. While they did Jack displayed his best manners, sitting next to Matt and acknowledging the attention bestowed him. Having been pre-approved for adoption, Jack made the trip to his new home with Matt and Carlin as soon as they were ready to go.

Rhode Home Rescue that recently acquired the former garden shop at 1014 West Shore Road in Conimicut does not house rescues but relies on their network of volunteer fosters to care and house them until adopted. The West Shore Road facility is used for the storage of a transport van and supplies. A “pawsome night” celebration, fundraiser and introduction to the new facility is planned for Friday, Nov. 17 from 7 to 9 p.m. Tickets are $25.

Kalunian is building a data based of fosters and those thinking of fostering. She said those interested should
fill out an application on PetApprove or email her at


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