This couple fostered 31 dogs in 33 months. Fosters critical to clearing shelters

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Erin and Steven Van Landingham didn’t expect to always have a foster dog in their home, but that’s been the Austin couple’s reality for close to three years.

Over the course of 33 months, starting after Thanksgiving in 2016, the couple has fostered and adopted out 30 dogs. Their 31st foster, Baxter, is about 6 months old and is available through Austin Dog Rescue.

“We’ve continued to do it because once we dipped our toe in the water, we saw how much fostering is needed,” Erin Van Landingham said.

Shelter leaders agree. Without robust foster programs, the city of Austin would have a much harder time keeping its no-kill status.

The Austin Animal Center last year opened an expansion wing of its facility, but filled it up almost immediately with animals. Shelters have realized they can’t build their way out of a capacity issue.

“We’ve learned that as long as we have the space, we’re going to fill it,” Jennifer Olohan, communications and media manager for AAC, told KXAN earlier this year.

Foster families are critical to keeping shelter populations low enough to provide the right kind of care to all animals. That’s the need the Van Landinghams saw in 2016 on a long drive home from Phoenix.

“We saw a post, I think on Austin Animal Center’s Facebook page, that said that they needed emergency fosters because the shelter was so full,” Erin said.

One dog led to another, and the couple keeps finding new foster pups to join their four full-time dogs.

Generally, they like to foster older dogs, many with health complications, through the senior dog advocacy group Classic Canines. They seek out those dogs because they need the most help.

“It’s a rough life in a shelter,” Steven Van Landingham said. “It’s very stressful because maybe they’re used to being in a home with other people, and so then they’re kind of isolated with a whole bunch of other dogs.”

“You nurse them back to health and give them confidence and get them adapted to a really good family,” Erin added. “It’s a pretty cool feeling.”

Shelters like Austin Animal Center provide any medications an animal might need, and can often provide food and other supplies to foster families.

Anyone interested in fostering can choose the duration that feels right — whether it’s just for a weekend or for as long as it takes for the pup to get adopted.

The Van Landinghams choose the latter, and will keep a foster dog until his or her forever family arrives. The couple is very good at promoting their fosters through Facebook and in dog-friendly spots around Austin.

It’s not always easy to keep up with yet another dog, but the two have the time, space and love to give, and they want to help any way they can.

“Once you become familiar with how many dogs are in need,” Erin said, “it’s really hard to turn your back on them.”

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