Kristin Heinrich had been interested in fostering dogs since she was young, but seriously considered it after she adopted a pitbull puppy named Gus from a rescue in Detroit in 2017.

“After I adopted my dog, I wanted to help other dogs, not necessarily keep them for myself. I wanted to help dogs decompress and be adopted out to other families,” said Heinrich, a transfer recruiting coordinator for LSA.

“I know that my dog has made a big difference in my life and I think that pets can really make a difference in other people’s lives too.”

After she applied through Last Day Dog Rescue in Livonia, the process was straightforward. She attended an orientation, had a home visit, and contacted the veterinarian to ensure Gus’ vaccinations were up-to-date. She was also paired with a mentor to share advice and answer any questions.

Kristin Heinrich, a transfer recruiting coordinator for LSA, recently welcomed a foster dog into her home and life. She said despite the challenges of acquainting the foster dog with her own dog, she would consider doing it again to help another dog find a home.
Kristin Heinrich, a transfer recruiting coordinator for LSA, recently welcomed a foster dog into her home and life. She said despite the challenges of acquainting the foster dog with her own dog, she would consider doing it again to help another dog find a home. (Photo by Daryl Marshke, Michigan Photography)

Because of her current dog, she set her preference for female dogs smaller than 50 pounds, and then waited for one to become available. She was placed with her first foster dog four weeks ago.

“Her name is Merida and she’s a little spitfire,” Heinrich joked. “She is a shelter special. We’re not quite sure what she is but she may be part small terrier, shepherd and hound.”

When Merida first arrived, she required intense care and attention. She was emaciated and had mange, parasites, worms, kennel cough and pneumonia. Luckily, the organization pays for the medical bills through fundraising and donations.

“It’s definitely been an adjustment. It’s been challenging and exhausting, but I know once she gets placed into a home it’ll be well worth it.”

Heinrich had to make several changes to her daily routine, including administering antibiotics, scheduling extra feedings throughout the day, and taking each dog out separately. She created a separate space for Merida in the dining room because she didn’t want Gus to get sick.

Merida, top, and Gus lounge on the couch together in the home of Kristin Heinrich.
Merida, top, and Gus lounge on the couch together in the home of Kristin Heinrich. (Photo courtesy of Kristin Heinrich)

She said it was difficult to balance her time between the two until Merida healed because Gus could be a bit protective and jealous at times.

Heinrich’s position at LSA could have complicated matters, since she travels across the country for recruitment events and oversees the LSA Transfer Student Ambassadors, a team of LSA transfer students that offer peer advice to prospective or current transfer students. But her office provided flexibility to work from home, which helped during what she described as a long and tough process to socialize the dogs.

“It was hard figuring out how to get them socialized with each other in a safe way that they both felt comfortable,” she said. “I didn’t want to rush anything.”

Since their slow introduction, Gus and Merida have become fast friends.

“Now, all she wants to do is be around Gus and play together,” Heinrich said. “It’s hard to keep them apart.”

As Merida healed, she became more confident and playful. Her fur has grown back and she has put on a healthy amount of weight.

“It’s been great to see her confidence. She’s just so spunky and goofy. She hops everywhere and she loves to pick up pinecones and wood chips when we go on walks. She has so many little quirks.”

Heinrich discovered that fostering was a great option for her. It provided a way for her to help without the long-term commitment of adopting another dog.

“The primary goal is to get the dogs out of the shelters and adopted into new homes. At our foster orientation, we’re encouraged not to adopt our first foster. We become attached, but at the same time, you’re helping another family find their dog.”

Heinrich, who graduated from Aquinas College in 2013 with a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration and communication, and earned her master’s degree from Michigan State University in higher, adult and lifelong education in 2019, is working with her mentor to navigate the adoption process and review applicants. She said that most dogs are adopted after 4 to 6 weeks of living in a foster home.

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Similar to the process for foster applicants, adoption applicants are required to have a home visit and a vet check. If the applicant has other pets, the organization would set up an introduction between the foster dog and the applicant’s pets to make sure they would be compatible.

Heinrich hopes that Merida will be adopted within the next few weeks.

“It’ll be hard letting her go, but at the end of the day, she’ll go to a family that will love her and that means I can foster another dog in the future and do the same thing,” she said.

Despite its challenges, she found this experience rewarding and plans to foster another dog at some point.

“I’ve learned even more patience. I’d like to think that I’m a patient person in general. Bringing a dog in and realizing that things aren’t going to happen right away,” she said. “It’s also taught me that I can be flexible and adjust. It’s definitely made me even more compassionate because I recognize what my love and care has done for this dog. And knowing that a new family gets to have this amazing dog.”

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