The Napa County Animal Shelter and Adoption Center animal foster care programs enlist the open hearts and homes of their compassionate volunteers to fulfill their common goal of providing the best care possible for the shelter animals.

Working together, both the staff members and volunteers nurture the shelter animals while preparing them for a new life with their adoptive families. It is their ultimate goal and desired happy ending for every unwanted, neglected or abandoned animal to be adopted into a loving home.

Erika Gamez, Napa County Animal Shelter and Adoption Center manager and 19-year veteran of the animal care field, said, “Animal shelters have changed into a highly specialized industry requiring skilled, knowledgeable and compassionate personnel. Also, we’ve placed more emphasis on being an adoption center in addition to being a shelter.”

She added, “But we could not accomplish our mission without our volunteers because we’re a staff of only nine employees with, currently, 200 animals to care for.”

Kelly Tracey, a supervisor and 30-year employee, said, “While we’re able to take care of the animals’ essential needs, they benefit greatly from the enrichment of one-on-one contact with the volunteers who walk, play and socialize with them. We could not do it without our volunteers.”

The Napa center has 281 volunteers but their ranks are growing rapidly. Forty of those volunteers comprise a dependable core group who come into the shelter three to four times a week. “It’s like their job.” Tracey said, “We even have two volunteers who have each fostered about 40-50 animals.”

For those interested in becoming a volunteers, there are several options for activities and level of involvement, from walking dogs to helping with office work to once a week to once a month. A person wishing for a deep level of involvement and interaction with an animal might consider fostering, Gamez said. “We supply everything you need to foster the animal from food to wellness care.”

If full-time fostering is not an option, a volunteer can participate in the FAN, or foster at night, program and take a dog home for the evening and overnight or some times over long holiday weekends.” Tracey said, “It helps the animal learn how to interact with people and adjust to living in a home as well as enrich their lives with positive interactions.”

The center also has some animals needing special foster care. “If a stray is found on the street, they immediately go into foster care during the mandatory wait period that allows the pet owner to reclaim their pet and/or for us to contact them,” Tracey said.

“We also have long-term fostering for specific reasons, such as behavioral, obedience or medical issues. For example, if an animal has a broken leg set in a cast, a foster home would be a safer and more comfortable place for the animal to recuperate.”

Also animal cruelty cases can create the need for long-term foster care. “We had a dog and her eight puppies in our care,” Tracey said. “But we felt foster homes would be a better place for them during the six-month wait for the case to go to trial. Fortunately, the DA’s office agreed.” Following the guilty verdict, all the dogs were adopted either by the foster parents, their family members or friends.

The typical animal foster care requires less expertise and time commitment especially during “kitten season.” Generally occurring from March through October or November, the center population balloons primarily because of the influx of kittens.

For example, this summer there were around 270 animals at the shelter versus 118 during January and February 2017. While there was a mix of animals, the greatest majority of this population boom were kittens and some of their moms.

The primary source of these kittens are the local feral cat colonies. “We will always have kittens,” Tracey said. “But we need people to help moderate their exploding population by participating in the Trap, Neuter and Release (TNR) program.” To encourage this voluntary participation, the center has humane cat traps available for loan and will cover the costs of the spay-neuter procedures conducted at the Napa Humane clinic. Tracey said, “The TNR program allows the feral cats to continue to live out their lives in their colonies while doing their job of controlling the rodent populations. They help keep our community healthy.”

As for all those litters of puppies and kittens, fosters are needed, officials said. The typical fostering is a full-time commitment over a relatively short period of time. “Generally, it is two to six possibly eight weeks long. During that time the foster parents are required to bring the animal in every two weeks for wellness checks and possibly vaccines,” Gamez said. “At the end of the fostering, the parent fills out a report on the animal’s traits and behavior to assist in the adoption process.”

“Then when a kitten, for example, weighs over two pounds, the foster parent returns the kitten to us so it can be spayed or neutered. Shortly thereafter, the kitten is available for adoption. We require that all of our dogs and cats be spayed or neutered before adoption.”

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NCASAC pays for those procedures as well as for identification chips.

“The benefit of fostering is that the puppies and kittens come back to the shelter ready to be adopted because the foster parent has given them so much loving care, attention and socialization,” Tracey said. “These fostered animals are the ones at the front of the cages, ‘saying’ ‘Look at me, pick me, pick me!’ instead of the animal hiding behind its food bowl. The fostered animals get adopted just like that!”

An example of how the NCASAC foster care program provides a second chance for a better life for an abandoned animal is illustrated through the story of one little half-pound gray and white kitten named Kirby. His story of being rescued from a garbage can is a familiar one to the staff, but the staff, their foster program and a volunteer turned this all-too-frequent reality for unwanted animals into a happy ending and new beginning via his foster care and adoption. Although, his foster parent is considered a “foster failure” because she adopted Kirby instead of returning him to center for adoption. But most of the staff admit they have also been “foster failures,” at least once.

Recently, the now four-pound and three-month-old Kirby received and passed his complimentary wellness check conducted by Dr. Randy Lung of the California Pet Hospital in Napa. He explained why he, along with other local veterinarians, offer the free check-up to newly adopted animals. “I participate in this program to help get the pets off to a good start and support the work of the shelter. Also, it’s a continuation of what I’ve been doing to care for local pets for 30 years.”

He added, “I think the shelter does a great job. The entire staff gives their all to the animals in their care. For instance, during the fire, Kelly, Erika and many of the staff slept at the shelter to take care of those animals.”

With that emergency over as well as the quality care for the animals continuing, Gamez and Tracey are encouraging thoughtful adoptions. “Thoroughly research the breed and breeder before making that very important choice and decision,” Gamez said. “Be careful not to be influenced by the trend breeds created by the movies and media.”

“Some people want the latest ‘hot’ breed, such as ‘Labradoodles.’ Remember, they’re a mixed not pure breed. And, they are often products of ‘backyard breeders’ who don’t always know what they are doing. Consider checking out our animals for adoption. We have all of our animals on our Facebook page for you to see. Then come in and meet them.”

Gamez added, “We’re here to help you make your selection. In fact, our wonderful volunteer adoption counselors are very good at that kind of ‘match-making,’” and, helping a shelter animal find a home for the holidays and beyond.

The Napa County Animal Shelter and Adoption Center is located at 942 Hartle Court, Napa. They are open Monday-Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. To find out more about volunteering, fostering, adoptions and adoption fees, either call 707-253-4382 or visit their website at or facebook page