Puppy love: Arlington Heights couple fosters more than 50 dogs during pandemic
John and Carolyn Roberts of Arlington Heights found an uplifting way to ride out the pandemic: fostering puppies.
That's right. At last count, they've fostered more than 50 puppies over the last year, and they're not done yet. They welcomed their latest batch -- 7-week-old Labrador Australian shepherd mixed pups -- last week.
"When COVID hit, we needed something happy to do," says Carolyn, who formerly served as co-president of the Palatine Area League of Women Voters.
"There's lots to do," John adds. "For retired people, it keeps you busy."
Their day starts early. The pups stay in a large pen in their family room. At 5:30 a.m. every morning, they begin squealing to get up, the couple says. At that point, they rise to let the puppies out in their fenced-in yard.
"One of us cleans up the pen while the other one watches them out in the yard," Carolyn says. "After they get fed, they play like crazy and then take naps. This same cycle goes on throughout the day."
The couple leave open the door from their family room to the backyard, so the puppies can go in and out, but inside they are confined to the area around their pen. Often, when the pups want to take a nap, they wander back into the pen, they say.
The couple works with the rescue group Fortunate Pooches and Lab Rescue, founded in 2003 by Ileana Cucoc of Palatine. The group is an all-volunteer organization dedicated to saving dogs that are abandoned in shelters and animal control facilities, and providing them with a second chance to be adopted into loving families.
The Robertses are among more than 40 foster families spread out across the Northwest suburbs, but the rescue group always needs more volunteers to keep up with the steady stream of dogs that come mainly from the rescue organization Pet Rescue Arkansas.
Over the last four months, their numbers of transported dogs from Arkansas have grown exponentially. Last year, Fortunate Pooches rescued more than 1,200 dogs, and currently they average rescuing 120 per month, Cucoc says.
"I think what is happening is that the world is opening up," Cucoc says. "People are going back to work, they're traveling.
"People aren't lonely anymore, so the dogs are not necessarily fitting into their lifestyles," she adds, "and they are returning them (to shelters) instead of trying to make adjustments to keep their dog."
Cucoc adds that most of the dogs transported to their group are well-behaved, purebred dogs, though the strays often have illnesses and may not be suitable for adoption.
"If they are active at the time of the adoption -- playing, eating and drinking like a normal dog -- then they should go into a home," Cucoc says.
The Palatine rescue group especially likes to rescue pregnant dogs, so that foster families can care for the mother and bring her back to health before she delivers.
"Knowing the nutrition of the mother leads to healthier babies," John says.
John and Carolyn Roberts started fostering shortly after their own dog died. Though the couple love dogs, they didn't think they could go through all the emotions of raising a pet and then losing it. Consequently, they started by fostering slightly older dogs.
Within a year, they took the plunge and began taking puppies, usually just weaned from their mothers.
"As a foster parent, we work to socialize the puppies and make sure there are no underlying health issues that haven't been checked out," Carolyn adds.
Even seeing the puppies leave doesn't trigger the emotional attachment they feared, she adds.
"We love it," Carolyn says, "because they're going to loving families."
For more information about Fortunate Pooches and Lab Rescue, including about adopting and fostering dogs, as well as how to donate, visit fortunatelabrescue.org.