CHICO — Bunny, a young brown terrier-mix with a stout nose and folded ears, arrived at Shelly and Eric Rogers’ house from the Chico Animal Shelter as a frightened, scared and defensive dog.
For four months, Shelly and Eric slowly rehabilitated Bunny into a trusting dog, brave enough to approach people again, or perhaps even his first time.
The Rogers have been fostering at-risk dogs from Chico Animal Shelter for the last 10 years and this month, they fostered their 100th dog, Bunny, and are now fostering their 101st and 102nd.
“You could tell he wanted love; you could tell he wanted to be part of a family, he just had to overcome this fear,” said Christine Ponce, who eventually adopted Bunny in early March.
Shelly and Eric spend their time learning about the behavior and personalities of their fostered dogs to give future adopters insight into how they might behave with their lifestyle.
“Shelly was wonderful in that she was able to provide us some context; give us some hints, tips,” Ponce said. “We’ve never adopted a dog; we’ve only approached it as a puppy and then raised them, so I’ve been pleasantly surprised. I feel like he’s come a long way.”
The pair began fostering dogs in 2012 when Shelly left a job she was unhappy with and needed something to do. She began volunteering at the Chico Animal Shelter, which at the time was brand-new, doing office work, when the shelter asked if she would like to foster a dog.
“We had our own dog at the time, and so I didn’t tell Eric,” Shelly said. “I brought home this yellow lab and her name was Lolo. She was bumpy and lumpy and had fatty tumors all over her, and I remember thinking, ‘Who’s going to adopt this dog?’”
Lolo was adopted in two weeks to a family who loved yellow labs and that was the moment when Shelly said she knew she wanted to continue.
“I thought to myself, ‘This fostering thing is for me,’” Shelly said. “This is great.”
“I was like, ‘Who the heck’s dog is this?’: Eric said. “But it was such a sweet dog and it got along well with our dog. We don’t have a big house, but we have room and it was a nice mellow dog. It didn’t take me long to warm up.”
Just after Lolo was adopted, Shelly said they immediately brought home another dog, and then another, and then another — continuing today with dogs Chupie, who was abandoned in an apartment, and Buddy, who just arrived last Friday.
“We have a revolving dog door; just as soon as one goes we get another one. We might miss them, but it makes room for another dog, and it means we can help out another dog,” Eric said.
“The most satisfying part of fostering is we get to know the dogs and their good and their bad points,” Shelly said. “When a potential adopter comes along, we can be super honest with them and say, ‘These are the great things about the dog, these are the bad things about the dog — Can you handle that?”
Eric said some dogs who they take in, especially those who have stayed in the shelter for a long time, have lost themselves and become scared and shy and need help feeling comfortable. To help them feel at home, they have to be aware of how the dogs perceive them.
“They always like Shelly almost immediately, but so many dogs have fear of men whether it’s just the low voice or whatever, and it usually takes them at least a few days,” Eric said. “That’s one of the satisfying things for me is to build trust with a dog and see it come out of its shell and become a dog.”
Other than vacations, the pair have never taken a break between fostering dogs and continue today.
On top of fostering dogs to adopt to families, the couple also does hospice care for dogs that can still enjoy a good quality of life but away from the shelter environment. Shelly is also part of the board of Bidwell Wildlife Rehab, Neighborhood Cat Advocates, and cares for baby squirrels at their house.
“Volunteering is a slippery slope — foster one dog and all of a sudden you have squirrels living in your spare room,” Shelly said.
The couple began the nonprofit Friends of Chico Animal Shelter in 2018 as a partnership to receive donations for the city-managed animal shelter. Shelly said the nonprofit covers all expenses not paid for by the city including medication, surgeries, veterinarian visits, specialized food, enrichment toys, CBD oil, spays and neuters.
Shelly and Eric are advocates for new foster pet parents and said the Chico Animal Shelter takes care of all the medical costs, food costs for potential foster pet parents and can take back the animal if the arrangement is not working out for any reason.
“Know your limitations. If you’re gone from home a lot, you need a dog that’s confident that can handle being alone a lot. If you have an active lifestyle you don’t want to get a sedentary dog. If you have a lot of people coming over, don’t get a scared dog. Really be brutally honest about evaluating your lifestyle,” Shelly said.
Now, Shelly and Eric will be looking for homes for dogs Chupie and Buddy and will continue to work with Chico Animal Shelter in providing care for all dogs in the area.
“Having a dog around is just the best,” Shelly said. “Dogs are like nature’s gift to humans,”