Photo by Arizona Humane Society

Each year in Maricopa County, tens of thousands of animals are euthanized. The shelters fill up, the programs that aid animals with medical and behavioral problems can only take so many cases, and, unfortunately, the whole system can only care for so many.

But there is another program that significantly expands the capacity of local shelters. Volunteer fostering allows for thousands of animals to be cared for in short-time increments until they can be placed for adoption.

The Arizona Humane Society’s program, called “Foster Heroes,” allows for volunteers to shelter an animal for different lengths of time, depending on the needs of the particular animal and the preferences of the volunteer. Most often at this time of year, those most in need are kittens, which need to be kept for a few weeks until they reach the proper age/weight for spaying or neutering.

In 2013, the program sent just over 4,000 animals to foster homes, and currently some 520 animals are being fostered, 398 of which are cats. Another 248 animals await foster care.

“The great thing about fostering is it can be anywhere from two weeks to two months and foster families can base it on their level of comfort,” said Bretta Nelson, public relations manager for the Arizona Humane Society. “You can start out with something simple and move on to more complicated cases.”

The society has operated since the 1950s out of its West Valley Sunnyslope Campus, but more recently opened its “Campus for Compassion” in the South Mountain area, creating more convenient opportunities for volunteers in the East Valley.

Melissa Gable, public information officer for Maricopa County Animal Care and Control, said that kitten season, April through November in the warm climate or Arizona, is a hectic time for local shelters.

“We’re getting litters every day that come to us,” said Gable. “We just don’t have the space at the shelter to keep them for that additional four weeks until they can be spayed or neutered, and so that’s why we have the foster program.”

There are currently 224 kittens in the organization’s foster system compared to only 37 puppies.

“Whether or not you foster for us or for a different agency, the bottom line is that we are all here to help the animals,” said Gable.

Judith Gardner, president and chief executive officer of the Arizona Animal Welfare League, said that her shelter’s “no-kill” policy makes expanding availability with foster care that much more necessary.

“We couldn’t do what we do without our fosters and our volunteers,” said Gardner.

She went on to point out people often don’t understand how short-term the commitment is when fostering. Most cases only need a few weeks of care.

On a smaller scale, Nancy Babos of Furever Friends Rescue said her six foster volunteers are currently housing about 40 kittens, waiting to be put up for adoption at the organization’s location in the Petco on Stapley Drive and Baseline Road.

The organizations all have orientations once or twice monthly, usually on weeknights and Saturdays. For more information on each program, visit:

Contact writer: (480) 898-6581 or

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