It all started six years ago on Fat Tuesday.
Julie Bolster, a mom of four, had helped plan some after-school enrichment programs at her kids’ school. One of the sessions involved two puppies, who quickly won Julie’s heart. The woman who brought the puppies, an Anderson Humane employee, mentioned that Julie should consider fostering dogs. Little did Julie know the amazing journey that suggestion would start for her family.
That night, she asked her kids – who then ranged in age from 5 to 14 – if giving up sweets and candy for Lent, which started the next day, made them feel more Christlike. (A family of deep Christian faith, they believe Lent is designed to inspire more godly attitudes and behaviors.) Her kids answered an honest no. “When I asked if they would like to do a new project that would be more of a sacrifice of their time and love – fostering puppies – they all answered a resounding yes.”
“There’s a term in our neighborhood now. When someone adopts a dog, others ask if they got Bolstered.”
“Our goal was to see how many we could save before Easter,” Julie said of that Lent season. As she, her husband, Tom, and their kids cared for the puppies they were fostering with Anderson Humane – sacrificing time and sleep to feed, walk, and instruct them – she appreciated that they weren’t just doing a service project for a couple hours. “We were living it,” Julie said. “Fostering made service part of our life on a daily basis.”
Julie noticed the lessons of fostering immediately. “The fact that the kids have puppies screaming to be fed while they want their own breakfast teaches empathy,” Julie said, adding that each family member has a specific job related to the dogs. When that first Easter arrived, they had saved 16 dogs – and found a new long-term family project. Now, six years later, they will save their 300th dog by this Easter.
The most dogs they’ve ever had at once is 20. It was a Christmas season and the family already had a mom and nine puppies at home when they learned that another mom with a litter of nine desperately needed a home. “We joked that this second mama was like Mary and we needed to make room for her,” Julie said. That mom got adopted right out of their home – and was named Mary.
The best part of fostering, Julie said, is handing the dogs over to their new adoptive families, many of whom seem divinely chosen for the dogs. She still remembers their foster dogs who had been rescued from the hurricanes in Texas. Julie brought the mom and her litter to an adoption event, and when all eight pups had been adopted, a veteran approached and asked the mom dog’s story. Julie explained where the dog, and her pups, had come from and said, “She’s just waiting her turn to find a home.”
“Well, she has a home now,” he responded. Julie realized he was crying, and was delighted to connect him to the Anderson Humane team who arranged the adoption, connecting these two survivors as family.
Can’t Let Go
Some of the foster dogs have found a way into the Bolster family’s hearts and home permanently. There’s Zion the Pyrenees, their 80th foster and first adoption. “He was wagging his tail and giving dolphin-like smiles right off the transport truck,” Julie said. When she and her husband found Zion asleep with their daughter Cienna, then 5, one night, they knew he was home. “I cried and vowed, ‘I’m never letting anything bad happen to you again.’”
Piper was a frostbitten mama dog they had for 14 months before she was healthy enough for adoption. “We could barely touch her, she was so scared,” Julie said, adding it was months before they could reach for her without her bolting. “We knew with her extensive medical issues and the time it took to build her trust that it was in her best interest to stay with us where she already knew our love.”
Sarafina, a rat terrier mix they had fostered, became lost soon after getting adopted – and after coming home from surgery to remove a tumor. As Julie and many others searched for the still-recovering dog in 101-degree heat, she knew the situation was dire. Julie was the one who eventually found Sarafina, and just in the nick of time. The dog was passed out on live railroad tracks. When Sarafina became available for adoption again soon after, Julie gladly welcomed her back into their family – permanently.
The Bolster family has become known in their neighborhood for always having their foster dogs in tow, drawing attention from animal-lovers and potential adoptive families. “Many of the dogs don’t even make it to the website as adoptable,” Julie said, explaining that many have been adopted by friends and neighbors. “There’s a term in our neighborhood now. When someone adopts a dog, others ask if they got Bolstered.”
Because of Julie’s nursing degree, the family has received many medically fragile dogs, including several moms with their litters or puppies requiring surgery. They have received dogs with behavior issues from time to time, many caused by past mistreatment. “Those are the ones I just love hard and hope that heals them enough to create a new attitude toward learning and life,” Julie said. “Love is the answer. It’s the only way we know to do it. We love them until they feel open enough to accept others.”
Looking back at their six years of fostering, Julie loves what her family has gained in return. “You can’t teach the kind of empathy and compassion that comes from consoling and feeding a pup who just lost its mom, or sleeping on the floor next to an amputee in pain, or teaching pups their beginning manners, and the kindness that comes with just knowing that by fostering one you leave shelter room to save another.”