NORMAN — When Lara McLellan was younger, she sometimes got confused.
“I’m pretty sure I thought I was a dog before I thought I was a human,” McLellan said.
McLellan, a 21-year-old senior at the University of Oklahoma, is an only child who grew up with dogs.
“When I was born, there were already two dogs in the house,” McLellan said. “They took me in as their own.”
McLellan said family albums are full of pictures of her in the doghouse and chewing on dog bones.
“My mom said she was pushing me around in a stroller in the airport, and I started barking at the guy in front of us,” McLellan said. “I literally knew how to bark before I knew how to talk.”
McLellan is a long way from her hometown, Clemson, S.C., and she’s not sure where she’ll be once she graduates. What’s a dog lover to do when her future plans are unclear? For McLellan, dog fostering is the answer.
She volunteers as a temporary home for dogs through Second Chance Animal Sanctuary, an animal shelter in Norman. In the last year, she has taken in four dogs for as long as two months or as briefly as two weeks.
Fostering is a good alternative to ownership for McLellan, who wants a dog around the house but will graduate and move in May.
“I would love to adopt a dog of my own, but I don’t know where I’m going to be next year,” McLellan said. “I don’t know where I’m going to be six months from now.”
Second Chance is a no-kill animal shelter, which means it doesn’t euthanize animals. However, that means space in the shelter is limited, and it fills up quickly. Fostering a dog from Second Chance not only gives one dog a temporary home but also allows the shelter to take in another dog in its place.
“The more we get into foster homes, the more animals we can pull from the city shelters before they’re euthanized,” Second Chance volunteer Dianna Kapaun said.
Fostering isn’t an easy task, though, and it isn’t for everyone.
“Fostering is more forgiving (than adoption) since it usually isn’t long term,” Kapaun said. “But you still have to keep in mind that most of these animals are going to need house training, behavior training and careful monitoring while outside.”
McLellan said the emotional connection forged with a pet can make it difficult, too.
“It can be kind of hard to get attached to this dog who lives in your home for a month or more, and then just have it leave,” McLellan said. “It’s definitely consolation to know it’s going to a good home and it will be happy there, but it’s hard. I think that scares people away from it.”
McLellan came close to adopting one of the dogs she fostered, she said.
“Cookie was super sweet, and she loved everybody,” McLellan said. “She was still here when I got back from (studying abroad in) Tanzania, and I came really close to adopting her.”
Cookie, a pit-bull mix who lived with McLellan last spring, was adopted by a family in August.
Having a foster home helps a dog’s chance of being adopted, McLellan said.
“It helps Second Chance be able to tell prospective owners what this dog is like in a home,” McLellan said.
The dog McLellan most recently fostered, Arwyn, has been with her for just a few weeks, and McLellan is optimistic about her adoption potential. She thinks Arwyn has been in the shelter for so long because her personality doesn’t come through while she’s in a crate.
“Whenever she gets into the crate, basically she gets lethargic and lays there. So at the adoption events, that’s all people see,” McLellan said. “Because I’m fostering her … I can say, ‘She really doesn’t like this; she likes playing and cuddling.’”
McLellan and her roommate, Lauren Schechter, are happy to provide a home, but there’s one thing they can’t give Arwyn: a backyard.
“It’s really stressful being in an apartment and not having a backyard for her to play in,” Schechter said. “I hope she gets adopted by a family soon.”
Schechter said she enjoys tagging along on McLellan’s fostering adventures. This is the second dog she and McLellan have fostered while living together.
A foster home doesn’t just benefit the future owners of the pet. It’s also an ideal situation for the dog, Kapaun said.
“Some animals do not do well with the stress of shelter life, so fostering gives them a safe, quiet environment where they will not be as stressed,” Kapaun said in an email.
Animals who are more vulnerable to illness, such as mothers and babies, also do better in a home environment, Kapaun said.
“They have a lower risk of catching diseases from other animals brought in from city shelters, and also it’s less stressful for the momma,” Kapaun said.
This attention to individual animals’ needs is one reason McLellan keeps going back to Second Chance.
For more information, visit secondchancenorman.com, call 321-1915 or visit 4500 24th Ave. NW.