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Marilyn McKaie: Fostering Hope at North Shore Animal League America
Turning a negative situation into a positive one is a sentiment often expressed when times are tough. We are resilient creatures, so although it can be difficult to always practice what we preach, those negative feelings and emotions can often become the catalyst for positivity if we are able to see through the clouds.
For Marilyn McKaie, one of our long-time Foster Parents here at North Shore Animal League America, her selfless nature and compassionate demeanor helped her overcome a difficult time in her life. That, in turn, gave her the motivation to follow her passion for fostering and rehabilitating animals in need.
Marilyn may have not known it at the time, but her life would change drastically in the winter of 2010. After 25 years working as an Office Manager/Administrative Assistant at a clothing manufacturing company, one day she was told that she was being let go. This surprising news left her feeling uncertain of what her future would hold, and in search of a productive way to spend her days. At that point, Marilyn decided instead of feeling sorry for herself she’d make the best out of a crummy situation. The best way to do that for this animal lover was to sign up to be a volunteer at North Shore Animal League America.
After just a few months of volunteering at the shelter, it was clear to Marilyn, as well as many of the staff of the Animal League, she was destined for bigger things. Lois Bono, a long-time volunteer at the Animal League, immediately recognized her deep affinity for all of the animals at the shelter, and the compassion she brought to her work as a volunteer. She decided to ask Marilyn if she’d like to make an even bigger commitment by becoming a foster parent to a litter of four puppies. This was a question she didn’t even think twice about once she got the go ahead from her husband, John.
“My first litter of pups stayed with us for nine weeks. Everyone in our house grew very attached to those puppies and really enjoyed watching them grow up. We all had our favorites and loved them as if they were our own, so when the day came to give them back I was weeping like a baby,” Marilyn said. “That was the most difficult part for me, but when three of the four got adopted on the first day of the Pet Adoptathon it was the ultimate gratification. The fourth, which was my husband’s favorite, found a loving family at the same event. I still keep in contact with his new family and have been able to watch him grow up through pictures and e-mails.”
Marilyn has come a long way since fostering her first litter of puppies with the Animal League three years ago, estimating she has fostered 23 puppies and approximately 30 dogs. Many of the dogs she takes into her home are “Puppy Mill” dogs or dogs who have socialization issues. It’s certainly not always the easiest job, but it’s the most rewarding.
“We have had at least one foster, sometimes even two in our home every day for more than two years, now. In addition to all of the dogs we’ve fostered, we’ve had two litters of kittens and two litters of puppies. Every time I think I’m going to take a break, I get a call from Alex,” Marilyn said. “I can’t say no because I know that I can make a difference.”
In 2013, Marilyn was honored by the Animal League as the “Foster Parent of the Year,” because of her dedication to the cause, superb knowledge of the role, as well as her willingness to tackle the toughest of fostering projects. For example, she acted as the foster mother to Florence, a six-year old miniature Schnauzer, who was treated as a breeding machine in a puppy mill for most of her life. Marilyn took this resilient pooch from a fearful, timid and horribly abused dog and transformed her into an affectionate and trustworthy mush in need of forever home.
She did the same thing for Falafel, a Wheaton Terrier, who arrived at the Animal League as a severely injured six-month old pup. It was apparent that Falafel suffered a severe trauma, most likely from being struck by a car. He lost vision in both eyes and suffers from minor brain damage, as well as occasional seizures. Nonetheless, Marilyn accepted the challenge of taking this special needs pet into her home and rehabilitating the pooch into the perfect adoptable rescue pet. He was eventually he was adopted by a loving family.
Currently, Marilyn is fostering an adorable and extremely resilient white Lhasa Aspo named Cassie. Cassie spent the first four years of her life living in horrific conditions as a puppy breeding machine in an Oklahoma Puppy Mill. As a result she has had a plethora of debilitating illnesses and injuries including a deformity in one of her front legs, chronic ear infections, bilateral hip dysplasia, a knee condition that causes her knees to pop out of the grooves, and major dental issues. Last month, doctors at the Animal League had to make the difficult decision to remove Cassie’s mangled left front leg. It’s been an extremely difficult journey for Cassie, but with the amazing work by the medical team at the Animal League and lots of love and support from Marilyn this little lady is well on her way to finding a forever home.
“Puppy mill dogs need a special kind of care. You have to teach them to trust, and you teach them to love not only us, but themselves,” Marilyn said.
It’s obvious that Marilyn prides herself on not only taking the cute puppies and kittens, but some of the more difficult cases because those are the animals who need the most nurturing. This news is nothing but music to the ears of Foster Care Manager, Alex Bab.
“She’s one of the best we have here at the Animal League. Most of the time she goes as far as to help get the dogs she fosters adopted directly from her home,” he said. “She’s so dedicated to the program that she even teaches our orientation class for new foster parents. She understands the process so well.”
Marilyn may just very well be the best Foster Parent that The Animal League has had the opportunity to work with, but that’s not how she sees it. To her, it comes down to one common goal shared by everyone involved in spreading the message and following the mission of the world’s largest no-kill shelter; saving the lives of innocent dogs, cats, puppies and kittens.
“I’m not special. Every foster parent is amazing,” she said. “I am just one of many. We do what we do because we know how important it is for these animals to have a loving home. I’m just glad to help.”