A mama. 8 pups. And the wonderful family who fostered them all.
What makes a cat lover open her home and heart to a Mama dog and 8 puppies? Read this wonderful interview with Foster Mom Sheri Whitehead . It’s filled with insights about the rich experience you and your own family could have opening your home to foster one of the Humane Society of Union County’s beautiful animals.
Was this your first fostering experience?
With a dog, yes. Before we moved to Waxhaw in 2016, we lived near Tampa and fostered many cats and kittens, and mama cats with their litters for a local rescue group. Our three kids were between five and ten years old when we started fostering, so they learned how to gently handle and care for cats, even sick ones. As a result, they are all very compassionate animal lovers.
How did your family feel about taking on the responsibility of a dog?
Our kids were very excited to foster a mama dog and eventually her puppies. Dylan (18) Bryson, (16) and Sofiya (13). Everyone in the family had to commit to the task since this would be a group effort. My kids walked Penny before school and after school, and my husband Dave walked her at night. Everyone helped feed, watched and even assisted with the birth, and helped clean the whelping box and crates. I was not experienced with dogs, so I learned from the Human Society and I researched a lot on my own. We had never been through a birth before, so that was quite the experience for my family and something my teens will remember for the rest of their lives.
What was it like when Penny went into labor?
Penny gave birth about a week before her expected due date at 8:30 PM and my son was the only one home when she went into labor, so that was a surprise call I received in the car. I’m so glad I had read about canine births beforehand because I walked my son through it over the phone and he helped deliver Penny’s first puppy before I was able to get home. Kim Siewert, the Intake Coordinator from the Humane Society, rushed over and assisted until the last puppy was born. Because they arrived early, we didn’t have a whelping box yet and had to figure out how to quickly contain the new family the first night. We learned as we went, and the Humane Society was with us every step of the way. They supplied everything we needed from food, to blankets to crates to dog toys and they were always available if we had any questions or needed help. On October 5, Penny had eight puppies and they were named: Bailey, Taterbug, Oreo, Domino, Ramzi, Darby, Finnigan and Lilou.
What was the most challenging part of fostering for you?
The hardest part of fostering Penny and her puppies was when the puppies were outsmarting us! They were gaining weight so quickly and their brains were developing so fast; when one learned how to jump out of the whelping box or their outside pen, others learned almost immediately. As one learned how to take the squeaker out of a toy, that became the new game – no squeaker toy was safe! Anticipating the challenges as the pups grew so fast was probably the hardest part, but that’s just experience and doing anything the first time is always the hardest.
What was the best part about fostering?
The best part of fostering Penny and her puppies was to go downstairs and say good morning to them each day. Penny would greet me with her happy smile and wagging tail and all eight little puppies would be sitting up in a bunch staring at me and when I opened my mouth and said, “GOOD MORNINNNNNGGGGG!” they knew my voice and would immediately get excited and start running around, wiggling and jumping for attention. I can tell you, my kids and cats never greet me like that!
Also, feeling the unborn puppies moving inside of Penny’s tummy for three weeks and then experiencing the birth, watching them grow everyday into adorable, beautiful, magnificent puppies and then to see the happiness that their adoptive families had every time they came to visit them was exciting and heartwarming. And, to think this all happened in a matter of only three months. Penny and her puppies have touched so many lives and it was such a pleasure to have helped facilitate that.
Tell us about your idea for a puppy adoption party!
Penny had her puppies on October 5, so eight weeks later when the puppies were available for adoption it was perfect timing for a potluck adoption holiday party. On Friday, December 1st, the families and the Humane Society came over and they did all the adoptions together that evening. We took photos of each family and their new family member(s). Penny and Oreo were adopted by the same family and live in the neighborhood. The party was a huge success and we had a ton of food and an adoption cake! Everyone took home a puppy, a frame, a gift bag and some great memories.
Where are Penny and the puppies’ forever homes?
Five of the puppies and Penny went to families in the Lawson neighborhood of Waxhaw. Two puppies went to two other families in nearby neighborhoods and one family flew down from New York, adopted Ramzi and drove him back. Ramzi may be far away, but his family is good friends with another adoptive family and they get together for visits and vacations. On February 18th we had a 4-month birthday reunion in Waxhaw and seven of the families were there. The puppies have their own Facebook page, too, where the families post pictures and share information with each other, so we all get to watch these puppies grow up and see all the fun they are having.
Would you like to foster again?
Yes, we will foster again. However, probably just kittens or cats because our backyard is not fenced in and we found it a bit challenging to foster dogs without a fenced in yard.
What would you tell someone who is thinking of fostering?
Fostering is a great way to give back to your community and to help animals who cannot help themselves. It’s also a creative way to experience animals without the long term commitment of adopting one. Children learn by example, so I encourage families to foster because it teaches children how to care for and respect animals and hopefully they will continue to foster when they’re adults. You can foster even if you’re on a budget because through the Humane Society everything is provided for. I have always been a cat person and didn’t know very much about fostering a mama dog and puppies before we fostered Penny, however, I learned a great deal and it opened my world to a whole new experience.
What didn’t you anticipate about being a foster Mom?
I didn’t anticipate how attached I would become to Penny and her puppies. Since I’m a cat person, I thought I was safe and could distance my heart from attaching to dogs, but not so. My heart still broke when I had to say good-bye to them. For a few weeks I would have my little teary-eyed private moments when I missed them so much, but having the Facebook page to turn to where I could see their cute little faces and antics helped me get through it, so yes, your heart will probably break a little when you have to say good-bye, but it is so worth it because the good feeling you get and the fun of fostering is greater than the tears.
Did you have a favorite pup?
My favorite has always been Penny because she is such a sweet dog, but I loved all the puppies and still do. However, Taterbug was my favorite. She was the first born, the runt of the litter, and was very small compared to the rest of them. In fact, the last puppy was born at 1:00 AM and after everyone cleared out, I slept on the couch near them because I was afraid Taterbug wouldn’t make it through the night. We had the heater cranked up to 90 degrees so they would stay warm and I set my phone alarm every hour, so I could wake up and make sure Taterbug was still breathing. However, by mid-morning I was convinced she was probably the most assertive pup of them all! Even though she was the tiniest, she was the mightiest! She would climb and fight her way past all of them like super puppy to get to food. Nothing was going to stop her! As Taterbug grew so did her personality as well as her ability to chew things. Being the clever puppy, she is, her and Bailey, the biggest pup, worked in tandem to break out of the whelping box. She would chew off the duct tape that was holding the door closed and Bailey would lean on it, push it open and allow the rest to break out. It took me several days to figure out how they were escaping, and I caught both red handed one morning.