By Becky Wiese
“Happiness is a warm puppy” is a simple statement made, ironically, by the perpetually crabby Lucy of the Peanuts comic strip. The truth of it is basic enough: Dogs can make anyone happy.
Scientific studies have shown that pets, in general, provide many health benefits to their owners—physically, mentally, emotionally and, some would argue, even spiritually. They provide opportunities to exercise, get outside, and socialize. Pets become our companions, helping us feel less lonely or depressed. They make us laugh; they care when we cry. They make us believe in ourselves and, by extension, in the goodness of others.
Pet owners, in short, tend to be happier and healthier people.
The folks at Wish Bone Canine Rescue, a non-profit rescue shelter for dogs, agree wholeheartedly. Their perspective, however, tends to come from the pets’ point of view. “Our goal,” explains Alex Knightwright, Wish Bone’s manager, “is for the dog to be in a good situation.”
How Wish Bone Operates
To that end, Wish Bone follows the Nathan Winograd No Kill Philosophy that all healthy and treatable animals deserve a chance to live. Wish Bone’s purpose is to rescue, provide care for, and rehome the dogs that come to their facility, currently at 2020 S. Bunn Street in Bloomington. During the 11 years that the organization has been in existence, they have successfully placed over 6,000 dogs into adoptive homes.
Wish Bone receives dogs from a variety of sources, including McLean County Animal Control, the community (people returning adopted dogs, an unwanted litter), and other partner rescue centers, both in Illinois and out of state. “Animal Control is great about working with shelters,” says Knightwright, debunking the myth of the mean-spirited “dog-catcher.”
Not every dog is coming from an abusive situation. “‘Not the right fit’ is probably the most common reason we get a dog,” says Knightwright.
All dogs that arrive as Wish Bone are checked by staff (in addition to Knightwright, Valerie Wellin serves as Rescue Services Coordinator, plus four additional staff members who provide daily care) upon intake. All animals see the vet before they can be adopted. Any dog up for adoption will be spayed/neutered, microchipped, and current on rabies, distemper, and bordetella vaccines as well as heartworm prevention.
In an average month, there are 30-40 dogs in the shelter or foster program, and it’s not uncommon for there to be about the same number of adoptions in the same time period.
If a dog was adopted from Wish Bone and the family finds, for whatever reason, they cannot keep the dog, Wish Bone will always take it back, no questions asked.
Fostering: A Different Strategy for Sheltering
Yvette Borchers has been fostering dogs for more than three years through Wish Bone—109 dogs to date. “Most of our fosters are puppies that are too young to be at the shelter, so without people to foster, we [Wish Bone] wouldn’t be able to take them in,” she says. Even though they are super cute, “puppies are easier to let go because they will forget us by the end of the day. The older dogs are a lot harder to let go because they become attached to you and do not forget about you as fast. Knowing that the dogs are getting a good home makes it a lot easier.”
Katie Leary, who also fosters, agrees. “When I got into fostering, I had no idea letting go would be so hard. It does get easier, and I find it easier with puppies—especially when you meet the family and know they are going to a loving home.”
The benefits of a foster situation start with a home environment for the dog. They can feel loved and cared for in a “normal” setting instead of living in a cage among many other (often noisy) dogs and get more focused attention and care with the family, not just when there’s a volunteer or staff member around to give it.
“There is only so much you can learn about a dog while in the shelter,” says Borchers. “Taking them home not only lets them get used to living in a home, as some have never lived in a home before, but it also helps us determine the best home for them, like do they have a lot of exercise needs, need a fenced yard, have separation anxiety, or seem best in a home without children.”
Fostering provides as much benefit to the “fosterer” as to the dog. There’s a huge emotional benefit—knowing you’re helping a living creature, caring for something other than yourself, earning loyalty and love, exercising, and even feeling less lonely yourself—from doing good for a helpless animal.
Wish Bone currently has about 75 foster homes on their roster, and about 20 dogs being cared for, several of which are in potential adoptive homes. About 1 in 3 of the dogs is cared for in a foster situation, although that number was closer to 2 of 3 during the shelter-in-place in 2020.
A foster family must go through a similar application and vetting process as an adoptive family to ensure that the dogs in their home will be safe and loved. Additionally, the foster can choose which dogs they would want to have (a specific size or breed, for example), as well as how often they foster.
Veterinary care, food, and other expenses are covered by Wish Bone, so the foster does not have significant out-of-pocket expenses. The foster family commits to bringing the dog to all Wish Bone adoption events, being available for adoption meetings, working on basic training behaviors, and providing a safe, loving home while the dog awaits its forever home.
How Do I Adopt?
The adoption process is just that: a process. “There’s no such thing as a ‘same-day’ -adoption here,” says Knightwright. “It’s just better for everyone in the long run.” For most dogs, adoption is at least a 2–3 day process, beginning with the potential adopter browsing through the pictures and bios of the dogs on the Wish Bone website. Next step is filling out the application—which is no cost, no obligation. Two very important parts of the application are the vet reference (either the vet you see or have seen for other pets, or the one you plan to see for this pet) and personal references.
“We take both of the reference sections seriously,” explains Knightwright. “We want to know that you’ve at least thought ahead to your pet’s care, as well as whether the people who know you think you would be a good pet owner.” Next comes a phone interview that will cover a variety of questions such as how many people live in the home, their ages, and the type of residence (house or apartment? fenced backyard? type of fence?).
Then there is an in-person meeting with the dog—including all the members of the household (including other pets)—at the Wish Bone facility’s indoor playroom, foster family’s home or yard, or local parks or trails. This meeting, or several meetings, allows for interactions with everyone involved to make sure the situation will be a good fit.
Once a dog has been adopted, Wish Bone doesn’t just cross it off their list. A volunteer or staff member will follow up about a month later, then again 3–6 months later. “Feedback is important, and we like to hear from our ‘alumni.’ We are also happy to help owners figure out any issues they may have, such as barking or bathroom training or basic manners,” says Knightwright. They aren’t trainers or vets, but they have lots of suggestions from experience.
Helping a dog in the shelter and then seeing it adopted into a good family is very satisfying. “Getting to know the older rescue dogs at the shelter is always a pleasure,” says Leary. “These dogs are typically happy to make a new friend and they are eager for love and attention. You also have your super scared pups that will break your heart as they lay in the back of their run with the saddest eyes you’ve ever seen. When the happy dogs get adopted, you celebrate with them as they jump in the car to head off to their new life and family. When the scared dogs are adopted, you celebrate that they were brave enough to give it a try, and you cry tears of joy when you get an update showing that they are thriving.”
How Can I Help?
In addition to fostering, there are two other significant ways to help Wish Bone care for dogs. You can apply to be a volunteer, helping with social media or paperwork in the office. Currently there’s a limited number of in-person volunteer opportunities at the shelter, but there’s always a need for volunteers at adoption events and fundraising events.
Another huge way to help is to donate either financially or by purchasing items on their Wish List. Wish List items include dog food, office supplies, and cleaning products, so if you have extra or are buying these products for yourself, it’s likely that they could use the same kind of thing. Check out the list on their website for specifics.
Although there are adoption fees for each dog (which pay for medical supplies and veterinary fees), as a non-profit, Wish Bone depends on financial and in-kind support of donors and partners to operate.
In Need of a New Facility
Wish Bone is currently seeking a new facility to call home. “We are looking for a forever home that is accessible, adaptable, and meets zoning requirements,” Explains Knightwright.
The “dream” shelter would have up to 10,000 square feet that could be subdivided into smaller rooms for quieter dogs, plus space for indoor/outdoor runs, yards, and play areas. Either an existing facility or property on which they could build would be great. “If anyone has options to share, definitely let us know!” Knightwright says.
Although Lucy’s psychological expertise may only be worth the five cents she charges, she does have one thing right: a dog can bring a lot of happiness into your life. “I feel very blessed to be part of Wish Bone’s foster family and a part of volunteering with Wish Bone,” says Yvette Borchers. “Nothing feels better than helping a rescue dog find his forever home.”
Wish Bone Canine Rescue is located at 2020 S. Bunn Street in Bloomington. For more information about fostering, adopting, or volunteering, contact them at 309.808.4477 or wishbonecaninerescue.org.
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