Maureen Flaherty lowered herself on the blanket where her two new Chihuahua puppies gnawed on the toes of some of her friends.
Her friends had stopped by Flaherty’s Summerfield home for an impromptu social hour and the two puppies, who are being fostered by Flaherty until they find a new home, were getting all the attention.
After just one full day at Flaherty’s home, and with significant snuggling, the pups were eager to explore and interact with strangers.
“Socialization is huge,” said Flaherty, who has fostered puppies for local rescue groups for the last eight years. “Our dogs are always adopted quickly because of it.”
Flaherty’s newest foster pups — Howie and Harry — arrived just as she released a book on fostering dogs before they are placed into adoptive homes. It’s called “Foster: Saving the World One Pooch at a Time.” The 156-page, full-color book has the look and feel of a magazine with its interactive design.
Its pages contain Flaherty’s own story of becoming a foster mom to dogs along with instructions for prospective foster parents.
“It takes all the excuses away,” Flaherty said. “Anything you want to do, there’s a way to help.”
There’s even a chapter on collaboration. For example, a retired person who doesn’t want a full-time dog could share fostering responsibilities with neighbors or friends.
Flaherty’s own book is an example of collaboration, with chapters written by Lakewood Ranch Dog Park President Clif Kaplan, poodle rescuer Joani Kautz Ellis and animal ambulance transport owner Cheryl Brady, among others.
Flaherty’s aid is non-discriminatory. She chooses to foster pups from the Humane Society of Manatee County, the Humane Society at Lakewood Ranch, Nate’s Honor Animal Rescue, Safe Haven Animal Rescue and Last Chance Animal Rescue. Pups stay with her anywhere from two weeks to several months, depending on their size and other needs.
Flaherty’s journey started eight years ago, when she stopped by Nate’s Honor Animal Rescue to deliver copy for a magazine article she had written for the organization. There, she saw six puppies the size of Hostess Twinkies lined up beside their mother, some nursing and some sleeping.
The volunteer who greeted her said the pups needed a foster home, and Flaherty spouted “I’ll do it,” before she had even fully thought the idea through. Once home with her new crew, she used a baby gate to contain the mom and pups. When the pups turned six weeks old, they could be held by others, and before long, Flaherty became a neighborhood icon for foster puppies, hosting “Yappy Hours” at which neighbors could pet and play with the pups in her care.
Lakewood Ranch High School senior Tristan Youdal regularly comes to play with the pups Flaherty raises, and has been for years, although now he receives community service hours for it.
“I like coming here and playing with them,” said Tristan, who adopted a dog, Sweet Pea, from Flaherty about three years ago. “It’s so cool to see them get bigger and learn.”
The pups’ immune systems often aren’t yet ready to battle diseases they can catch simply from walking in the grass.
Friend and photographer Jennifer Weghorst snapped a few photos to commemorate the afternoon. Her pictures are featured in Flaherty’s book.
Weghorst adopted three of her dogs from an animal shelter (Milo, Hilo and Kona) and one that was fostered by Flaherty. The latter pup, now 3, is named Yeti.
“Having a puppy fostered makes a huge difference,” said Weghorst, who photographs Flaherty’s foster pups and whose work is featured in the book. “Yeti already liked people. There was no fear of people. The dogs adopted straight from the shelter took longer to assimilate.”
Flaherty has lost count of how many animals she has fostered. It reached 200 in year five, and that was three years ago. But no matter how many pieces of furniture or shoes have been chewed up or household items “anointed,” Flaherty has no regrets. Raising them and sending them off has been an amazing experience, she said.
“I’ve gained way more love from fostering than I lost,” Flaherty said.