When Shannon and her family started fostering Reacher,
a retriever mix, earlier this year through Anderson Humane, they thought he would be with them only a matter of weeks. Little did they know then that he’d wind up staying for seven and a half months, undergoing a major medical procedure, and leaving an indelible mark on all their hearts.
It’s amazing that Shannon and her bustling Naperville household – including her husband, mother-in-law, three daughters ages 16 to 21, three rescue dogs, and one of her daughters’ rescue dog – found room for more. They looked into adopting another rescue from Anderson Humane, but the dog turned out not to be a good fit. In the process, they got on our email list, where they saw our need for fosters.
Adventures in Fostering
Soon Tuck, a five-month-old puppy, joined the family for a few weeks before an adoption event. “It was traumatically hard to give him back,” Shannon said. “He was such a cute boy.” Despite their sadness, Shannon said they liked the fostering experience – the way it impacted them and the chance it provided to help an animal in need.
Next, the family took in a litter of kittens. Shannon had had cats as a kid and had always wanted her daughters to experience them. Fostering provided that opportunity. The family was soon struck by how important the work was. Someone had found the litter and brought them to the shelter and someone else had bottle fed them in their first weeks.
“They wouldn’t have survived without all the people involved,” Shannon said. “This wasn’t just getting some cute kitten time in, this was serious stuff. It was a big lesson for our whole family.” When the kittens were all in their forever homes, the family looked in anticipation for their next fostering adventure. That’s when Reacher came into their lives.
A Sweet, Scared Boy
From their first meeting with Reacher at our South Elgin shelter, the family could see how much love and patience he needed. “He never came out from under the bench in the meeting room,” Shannon said. “He was so scared.” She wound up having to carry him out to her car, where he eventually curled into her daughter on the ride home.
Reacher connected with the family’s other dogs – Cooper, Hunter, and Scout – first. He only ate when other dogs were in the room and perked up to the idea of walks when the other dogs were along. “He liked everyone, but he was scared,” Shannon said, adding that she knew this personality well as their dog Hunter was very similar at first.
Shannon worked closely with our behavior and training team to address Reacher’s fear and teach him some basic skills, like walking on a leash and sitting in a known place. “As I learned to watch for signals of his fear I also noticed he was feeling pain,” Shannon said, adding she also noted a limp.
A Difficult Diagnosis
When Shannon brought Reacher to our clinic, he once again became immobilized by fear. “When it was clear things weren’t going well in the clinic, Dr. Rachel came out and examined him on the sidewalk,” Shannon said, adding that the staff went out of their way to help Reacher. Unfortunately, further tests showed degeneration in a joint of Reacher’s front right leg. It needed to be amputated. “It killed us,” Shannon said, tearing up.
Even through her tears, Shannon was quick to add, “This is the reason why he was here at our home.” It takes a while to see daily patterns, she said, to notice that something’s wrong. Though several people had expressed interest in adopting Reacher, all those possibilities fell through. “Reacher needed to stay at our house long enough that we could see this problem and figure it out.”
Julia, Shannon’s 16-year-old daughter, was “mommy” to Reacher, and she was the one who carried him back into their home after his surgery. Within days he was hobbling around with the other dogs. Shannon was amazed at how quickly he started to bounce back. Though some of his anxiety came back while he was recovering, the family worked with our behavior team throughout the process. “Anderson Humane was fabulous,” she said. “They were there for us from day one.”
A Forever Home
By the time our second Road Home Adoption Event at Brilliance Subaru of Elgin was approaching in October, the staff felt Reacher was ready to attend and meet potential adopters. Knowing he might freeze in fear at the new environment, Shannon brought his blanket, toys, and bowl and kept him in the parking lot by their car to meet visitors. “It’s like we were tailgating!” she said with a laugh.
The familiar comforts must have worked because Reacher was hamming it up with those who stopped by to meet him. “He blew us away,” Shannon said, noting it was another marker of how far he’d come both physically and emotionally. “We talked about it all the way home.” Soon they received the phone call they’d both anticipated and dreaded – a family was interested in adopting Reacher.
It was once again Julia who carried Reacher and placed him in his new family’s car. He watched her out the windows as they pulled away, a bittersweet moment for all. “We were thankful to be there for him and to get him to the place where he was ready for his forever home,” Shannon said.
Inspiration for All
“Reacher’s been inspiring, and not only to us,” Shannon said. All of Julia’s fellow cheerleaders followed Reacher’s story and one of the other girls’ dad told Shannon that their family was now looking into fostering.
Shannon loves the way fostering has impacted her own family. “We’ve had more conversations and more emotional connections through fostering,” she said, adding that’s no small thing for a family with teenagers.
As the family looks for their next Reacher, they wonder what the next animal will teach them. “It’s amazing to us that these animals never give up on life and people,” Shannon said. “We just want to give that hope and love back to them.”