In college, some people start clubs or take up running, and others start a lifetime of saving animals from shelters by fostering. For Julia Riechert, a volunteer and serial foster parent with Rocket Dog Rescue in the San Francisco Bay Area, a small ad in her college paper started a passion that has saved the lives of 90 foster dogs — so far!
When she was in college, she answered an advertisement in the UCLA Daily Bruin seeking rabbit foster homes and became involved in a house rabbit rescue organization, volunteering at events and fostering rabbits (who lived cage-free in her apartment). From there, she began volunteering at a Los Angeles city shelter.
After moving to San Francisco for law school, Julia bumped up her commitment to fostering. “I adopted my own rescue dog, Joey, from a Pomeranian rescue organization and began volunteering at San Francisco Animal Care and Control,” she recalls. “I randomly attended a Rocket Dog Rescue event and quickly became involved in the group and starting fostering.”
Rocket Dog Rescue has been a Bay Area institution since its founding in 2001, winning numerous awards including Best Nonprofit in San Francisco in 2011 and 2012 and Best Local Animal Rescue in 2013 by the San Francisco Bay Guardian. Pali Boucher, Rocket Dog’s founder, started the organization after her dog, Leadbelly, passed away. Leadbelly had anchored Boucher through a tumultuous life—one in and out of jail, on and off the streets, and over the hurdles of illness and addiction. Already a foster parent for dogs with various rescue groups around the Bay Area, Boucher then decided to start her own organization.
Rocket Dog’s focus is to take dogs from shelters who are scheduled to be euthanized that day, and since 2001, the group has adopted out more than 6,000 dogs. Boucher is constantly on the move, running all over the Bay Area to shelters where she picks up dogs shortly before their scheduled deaths. The nonprofit is completely volunteer-run, and in addition to the fostering program, Rocket Dog runs “mobile adoptions” at local pet supply stores.
Julia found the information for the event she attended on Craigslist (a perfectly San Francisco story), and was immediately blown away by Boucher’s energy and verve and felt a camaraderie with the other volunteers. “Pali, the founder, is incredibly inspirational,” she says. “I also loved connecting with other people who love dogs and are committed to saving homeless dogs from euthanasia. The group has a laid back feel and I felt welcome right away.”
Julia started volunteering with Rocket Dog in 2006, and since then she’s taken in 90 foster dogs who would have otherwise been put down. “When I was in law school, my average foster time was a week. Now that I work full-time, my average is one to two months.”
Of course, some rules have to bend when an extra-special dog comes into the picture. Julia couldn’t part ways with the sixth pup who came her way from Rocket Dog. “My husband and I have two dogs — one a Rocket Dog foster dog, and the other from a Pomeranian rescue. We are lucky our dogs are very welcoming of foster dogs.” Many foster parents share Julia’s story: A special foster comes in, and ends up becoming a permanent part of the family.
It might seem easy to gloss over the details of each dog having housed so many, but Julie remembers one in particular—and not just because he came through her door twice. “I fostered and adopted Sparky out twice. He was born without eyes, but never let his disability get him down. Sparky learned his way around my house with ease. When he knew you were in the room, he would stand up on his hind paws and walk toward you. I tear up when I think about him.”
Getting attached to the dogs in their care comes with the territory of fostering, but Julie insists that it’s well worth the risk. “I often cry when I place my foster dog in his or her new home. But I remind myself that by placing them with someone else, I can rescue another dog from being put to sleep. I have had the privilege of taking care of such a wonderful variety of foster dogs.”
The impact that foster dogs have on their temporary guardians, before moving on to their forever homes, is undeniable. In saving so many dogs from overcrowded shelters and the very real prospect of euthanasia, Julia knows that countless lives will be bettered: hers, the dogs’ (of course), and the families who end up with their ideal companions.
This post was sponsored by new Life is good® coffee, makers of UTZ certified organic coffee which promotes sustainable farming. 10% of all their profits go to helping children in need. They will be donating a generous $1000 to Rocket Dog Rescue, and their coffee is available near a grocery store near you.
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