His name is Door Dash — Dash for short — and he will greet you, cuddle you, maybe nip your skirt and otherwise make you feel at home during your stay.
“Oh, it’s a cute one!” exclaimed an older male guest exiting the Angad Arts Hotel in St. Louis. He leaned over as Dash leaped up at the end of his leash, held by general manager Stacy Howlett. “No jumping and no biting!” the guest said cheerfully. Dash wriggled at the man’s feet and happily accepted pats.
“He’s only 3 months. He’s not quite there yet,” explained Howlett. “He is from Stray Rescue, and he is looking for a home. They’re sharp baby teeth bites for sure.”
Dash is the hotel’s foster dog, who lived there for a couple of weeks in May. He took turns going home with different staffers (“He’s a cuddler,” offers assistant general manager John Schuler), but he otherwise spent time hanging with the bellman, greeting guests at the front desk and snoozing in the office through Zoom calls.
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The unusual arrangement between the rescue agency and Angad Arts — just a 25-minute dog walk away — is just one creative way animal groups are trying to recruit foster families.
Foster families are ideal for animals that may need a little extra attention: those who are anxious and don’t handle the stress of a shelter, those who are pregnant and need a quiet place to give birth and care for their litter, or those recovering from surgery or are undergoing treatment. Foster families also help relieve workers at shelters, which are often bursting to the seams with animals. The agencies provide food and supplies to families.
Like many rescue agencies, the Humane Society of Missouri saw an increase in families willing to foster animals during the pandemic. Sometimes, families foster and then choose to adopt the animal — jokingly referred to in the rescue community as a “foster fail.”
The Humane Society has more than 250 foster families, and it has an office foster program for animals that need extra attention — they will hang out in the society’s offices for a few days.
Some families take part in a “foster to adopt” program, where they take in a dog being treated for heartworm with the intention of adopting.
“We sort of had this moment where we said, wouldn’t be great for us to beat the middleman and that foster can be their adoptive family?” said Sarah Schimmele, the volunteer manager at the Humane Society. “It’s sort of intentionally foster failing.”
Anne Schmidt, executive director of the Metro East Humane Society, saw its list of foster families increase by 75% during the pandemic, mostly by the need to reduce the number of workers in the buildings.
Now that more volunteers can come, they are starting a “Dog Venture” program where volunteers take dogs on a field trip, like for a dog-friendly treat at Starbucks or nature walk.
“Just time outside a kennel does wonders,” she said.
Volunteers learn how animals handle a car or leash, how they interact with the public and how they are with children — valuable information for potential forever families.
The APA of Missouri places about 4,500 pets each year. About 2,000 of them go through fostering. The agency recruits foster families through the usual methods of social media and email. Recently, it hosted a Big Dogs, Big Love happy hour, designed to get families to foster large dogs, which can be more difficult to place.
In their Senior Saviors program, foster animals are placed in a senior care facility for staff and residents to look after. The animals get socialization, and the residents enjoy loving on them and following them around, which helps with mobility.
“Particularly for those seniors who are in those facilities for memory care issues, it provides a way for families to have positive experiences with their loved one over a pet,” said Sarah Javier, president and CEO. “It creates some happy memories. It’s providing health benefits to the person and the pet, which is really incredible.”
Most of the animals from Gateway Pet Guardians in East St. Louis live in foster homes. As of earlier this week, they had 206 animals in the shelter or foster homes, with 28 in the building.
The shelter runs a Unicorn Foster program, for animals that might be harder to place because they’re reactive to strangers, other dogs or have other needs. Unicorn Foster parents get in-home training, access to a Facebook page where they can seek advice from other foster parents, free daycare and perks such as T-shirts and shelter photo shoots.
Gateway Pet Guardians also has a Slumber Pawty program where families can take an animal home for a long weekend. Usually, about half of the “pawty animals” turn into permanent fosters until they are adopted, adoption and foster manager Amanda Loellke said.
While more families fostered during the pandemic, the shelter is seeing a bit of a dip in interest as people go back to the office or on vacation. Now she can recruit at in-person events, which weren’t as common during the height of the pandemic.
“We don’t want to burn out people who continuously come back,” she said. “We could not do it without them.”
As for Stray Rescue of St. Louis and the hotel, their relationship started a couple of years ago during a snowstorm prediction. The rescue asked the hotel if its workers could stay at the hotel if needed. The hotel said sure, but the storm passed and nobody needed a room.
The conversation continued, and Angad Arts offered to let a volunteer stay at the hotel one night a month with a dog of their choice. It’s a perk for volunteers and pets, especially if the animal needs surgery the next day, a day to chill out from life in the shelter.
Recently, general manager Howlett saw Stray Rescue’s plea on social media for foster families, and she called Natalie Thomson, director of marketing for Stray Rescue.
“What would you think if we fostered a dog and we had him here as a little Stray Rescue ambassador?” asked Howlett.
“Absolutely,” said Thomson. “We have the perfect puppy for you. Come over immediately.”
That’s how Dash came to win the hearts of hotel workers and guests. Not a difficult task considering the hotel is dog-friendly anyway: Its chef makes homemade treats for guest dogs, it provides food and water bowls, and it offers tennis balls to match the room colors (Angad Arts is known for its bright blue, yellow, red or green rooms).
One day, Kim Heck with the Lawrence Group, the hotel’s ownership company, came to the hotel for the company’s annual retreat. Howlett came around the corner with Dash, who ran right up to Heck.
“I was like, oh my gosh, we have to have him,” she said.
So now, Dash lives with the Heck family in Pevely, which includes an older brother dog, Paxton, who is super-relaxed and tolerant, and a cat, Gemini, who is not such a fan. But Dash now has a big yard to play in and is getting the hang of potty training. The hotel hopes to get another foster dog soon.
“I happened to be at the right place at the right time,” said Heck. “That’s a great way to get him adopted.”