No matter how much you love dogs or cats, there can be barriers to having a fur baby of your own.
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It might be the terms of your apartment lease, or a partner with allergies, or a demanding work schedule that keeps you away from home.
Luckily, there are lots of novel ways to get some snuggles in without going down the path of full-time ownership. Here, the Free Press rounds up five ways you can spend time with some very good girls and boys when you're unable to adopt.
Staycations can be restorative for body and mind. Turns out, that's true for dogs, too.
The Winnipeg Humane Society's Dog Staycation Program is a short-term foster initiative which allows people to check out a medium or large breed dog for the weekend (Friday to Sunday). Since it was launched last year, the program has become a hit.
"We've gotten lots of wonderful feedback," says WHS spokesperson Lenore Hume. "It's an excellent opportunity for Winnipeggers to spend time with animals without the commitment of full-time adoption."
And it's not just humans who benefit from some time spent with a new four-legged friend. Staycations are a chance for stressed dogs to get a break from life at the shelter. As Hume points out, the average dog sleeps for 20 hours a day, snoozing in sunbeams or curled up in a favourite spot on the couch. "That's what life is like at home," she says. "In the shelter, they get 10 to 12 hours (of sleep). It's like being in a hospital for them."
Moreover, staycations can help dogs find forever homes. The WHS encourages stay-cay fosters to document their adventures on social media with the hashtag #WHSstaycation to show prospective adoptive dog parents what life is like with their staycationing pup. Staycation fosters can also do multiple weekends if they wish. Visit winnipeghumanesociety.ca/staycation to fill out an application form and get matched with a dog. Six spots are available each weekend, and successful applicants will be contacted no later than 4 p.m. on the Thursday before.
#adoptdontshop: Have you met Aqua? This 9 mth old Shep. mix went on a #WHSStaycation and had a blast! She is playful and affectionate, and loves to walk, play fetch, and then just chill with the humans around her. For more info on #WHSStaycation, visit: https://t.co/TCqPQYXh6l pic.twitter.com/LPDVdeUxZR— Winnipeg Humane Society (@WinnipegHumane) April 8, 2019
Animal Services' Doggie Dates program allows people to take out an adoptable dog for a day, a weekend or, if you're feeling really ambitious, a whole week. The idea is similar to the WHS Dog Staycation Program: build skills and confidence caring for a dog and help them find a family at the same time.
Dogs dress to impress for their dates, kitted out with a sparkling license and an "adopt me" vest. A credit-card deposit is required for the first Doggie Date and is fully refunded upon the return of the dog.
Animal Services posts date recaps on social media and, frankly, they'll make your heart explode. "We had Juliet spend the night with us after a long walk at the Forks," reads one Facebook post. "The people she met fell in love with her, she was more than happy to give them kisses."
To schedule a Doggie Date, contact 311 or visit Animal Services at 1057 Logan Ave., where you can also visit the dogs.
If you're more of the cats-rule type, all sorts of volunteer opportunities exist at Craig Street Cats.
"Everything from scooping poop to doing laundry, trimming nails, everything," says executive director Lynne Scott. "Office work, fundraising, all of those things are valuable. We have a need for every kind of animal care." Regular volunteer orientation sessions are held every Sunday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at 16-1421 St. James St.
Craig Street Cats is also one of a handful of centres that operates a Neo-natal Kitten Nursery for orphaned kittens, so long as there are litters in need. Generally, the nursery operates from April to October. CSC often needs volunteers for bottle feeders, as orphaned kittens initially need to eat every two hours.
To be clear, this volunteer position requires serious training. It's not something you can come and do with the kids on a Sunday. But it can a tremendously rewarding experience.
"It's incredibly difficult to find foster homes who are willing to give up four to six weeks of sleep," Scott says. "It's very labour intensive. You need to be able to be with them all the time, or take them to work. The more inexperienced people who handle them, the more likely it is they'll get sick or die."
Prospective neo-natal unit volunteers must fill out an application form, and complete an afternoon or evening seminar, before they job-shadow the experienced feeders — a core group of "six bottle baby mamas" who make themselves available.
This position also requires a specific personality type.
"The person who gets incredibly emotional and gushes is likely not to be an appropriate volunteer; it's very emotionally draining," Scott says. "People who are feeding bottle babies need to understand that every day they are alive with us is a day they wouldn't be alive if they weren't with us. Because they are so fragile, there will be losses."
For more information, visit craigstreetcats.ca.
If you have a flexible schedule and are looking to add more puppy snugs to your life, this may be the volunteer gig of your dreams.
The Pawsh Dog, a luxury facility which offers a host of services — including daycare, grooming, lodging, and training — is often looking for puppy cuddlers to help out at its three daycamp locations in the city. Literally, that's the job: cuddling and playing with other people's precious children — er, dogs — in a group setting, and assisting daycare attendants as necessary.
Interested volunteers can stop by the Pawsh Dog at 10-1580 Taylor Ave. to fill out an application. Visit thepawshdog.com for more information.
Offering to dog or cat-sit for friends and family is an excellent, low-barrier introduction to (or substitute for) pet ownership, especially since you're probably already familiar with the dog or cat (or bird or turtle) you'll be caring for. Regular pet sitting allows you to establish your own personal bond.
Another arrangement to consider is part-time pet parenthood.
Winnipegger Elizabeth Shearer and her partner co-own their dog — the excellently named Joni Mitchell — with her friend, Lauren. Lauren had co-owned Joni with someone while she was living in Egypt, and was looking to land a similar arrangement when she moved back to Winnipeg.
"I was 10,000 per cent interested the second I saw (the call out on Facebook) but my partner and I have really busy lives, travel a lot and couldn't imagine having a dog full time," Shearer says. "I had never heard of co-parenting a dog before."
After a trial run, Shearer and her partner were 10,000 per cent in.
"We totally fell in love with Joni and the whole situation. We're able to have a dog and maintain our busy lives. Also, you get to see your dog on social media while you don't have her. She has a very healthy social life in Winnipeg."
Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.
Updated on Tuesday, July 16, 2019 at 11:27 AM CDT: Typo fixed.