Gateway Pet Guardians has always been a foster-based rescue but we have had a brick and mortar shelter since 2012. Our philosophy on animal sheltering is that it should be a temporary holding place for a pet until the pet can be placed in a foster home. We took this philosophy to a new level when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. We made the decision to send dogs and cats straight to foster care as soon as they had their initial vet exam and vaccinations at time of intake. After submitting a foster recruitment press release that got picked up by MSN.com, we received over 350 foster applications in March alone and now have about 1,000 people on our foster home list. 

While we were thrilled with being able to keep pets out of the shelter, we had to figure out how we could support foster parents without risking the safety of them and our staff. GPG believes in putting zero barriers in place for foster families and supplies everything they could need for their foster pet including toys, crates, litter boxes, treats, food (thanks to Nestle Purina), blankets, etc. at no charge to the foster parent.  We put together a process to deliver the items and foster pet curbside to the foster at time of foster placement so that the foster parent does not have to interact with the staff member or enter the building. 

Then our next hurdle was trying to figure out how to hand out monthly supplies. Around the 15th of every month, foster parents usually stop by our shelter to pick up that month’s supply of food, heartworm preventatives, flea/tick preventatives and anything else they need..That’s when the locker system was born! Our Business Manager, Deb, just happened to have a bunch of lockers (think old school high school lockers!) laying around. Deb wanted to get rid of them and we needed a safe place to store supplies, win-win! We developed a system where the foster submits their request online, including what supplies they need, and chooses the pickup date. Our animal care staff then split up days so that we were never in the building together and placed that day’s item in the locker. We then email the gate code and the lock code to the foster and then the foster stops by the locker to pick up supplies! We also left hand sanitizer and disposable gloves by the lockers to further prevent any potential virus transmission.

The second piece of foster support is answering questions, giving advice and keeping fosters engaged. In addition to a team of staff and volunteers who are ready and willing to answer any adoption, foster care or medical questions, we also have a very active private Facebook group for fosters to share photos, questions and success stories. This group has been a huge hit with keeping everyone connected and engaged. It feels like you know all of the dogs and cats personally even though you may have never met them! To further the support, we utilized the Best Friends Animal Society Vet Access App, which they have generously provided for free to rescues in their network. This app gives our foster parents 24/7 access to video chatting or texting with a vet to help determine if a foster pet needs medical treatment. To help with behavior and training of dogs, our team launched the “From Naughty to Nice” online training program to provide a multiple of training and enrichment exercises.

It’s been incredible to see the pet lovers of the STL metro area jump in to help pets in their biggest time of need. While the virus may keep us apart in physical distance, the GPG foster family is closer than ever in spirit! 

Alisha Vianello
Program Director
Gateway Pet Guardians