by Kelly Serrano
photography by Natalie Fowle
Denise Draper talked at her home for at least 20 minutes before she had to put the baby down. The baby girl had already gnawed on the nipple of a four ounce bottle of formula, drinking it in a matter of minutes, then she tried to crawl out of the white infant blanket onto the table, but Draper kept a tight hold on to the baby. After realizing she had no where left to go, the baby cried too loud for her to carry a conversation. So, with a smile of patience, Draper put the baby down in her pen to play on her own.
She barked and yelped in the background for a few minutes until finally falling asleep.
The baby Draper is currently caring for is a 3-week-old, black-bodied, brown-pawed, furry rottweiler, momentarily named “Molly.” Molly has depended on Draper since she was a day old, after her mother, brothers and sisters were abandoned. Once old enough, Molly will be given to a loving family who will adopt her. At that time, Draper will invite another orphaned puppy into her home and start the process all over.
This has been the norm at the Draper home for the past four years. Draper is a volunteer for the Inland Valley Humane Society (IVHS) and is a foster parent to abandoned pups. She went into the center to donate towels and blankets, and decided to become more involved, having always had a love for animals.
“I’ve always, as a kid, picked up stray dogs and brought them home,” Draper says. “I just got involved with their volunteer program, and fostering was what I really wanted to do.”
For the past four years, Draper has helped raise more than 75 pups and kittens, but specializes in the care of pups. When the IVHS finds a litter of pups, Draper takes up to five home, depending on the situation, and cares for them as though they are children. Her La Verne home is a puppy wonderland, equipped with various-sized pens for the fosters to sleep in and an exercise pen for them to scamper in. The pens serve as a nice background object, because most of the time the pups are free to run about the house with the other family pets. Although Draper has invested in her own products, the Humane Society provides all formula, food, bottles, bowls and blankets necessary in raising a growing pup. Draper gives each of her foster pups a teddy bear to sleep with, in which they often bond and take to their adoptive homes. Molly has become attached to a small fluffy teddy bear that was once white, but has become dirtied through weeks of play.
Taking care of infant puppies is not easy work. She bottle feeds the infants that are less than 3 weeks old, sometimes every two hours. Draper recalls many nights of sleeping on her couch, only nodding off every couple of hours in order to keep regular feeding schedules. The puppies are nourished to good health and learn how to socialize with humans. She is also responsible for taking the pups to the IVHS veterinarian for their shots and check ups. She then helps find the puppies a loving home and usually keeps in contact with the new owners to check on each pups progress.
Sheila Beattie, IVHS Volunteer Coordinator, says nine out of 10 people who adopt animals from the center prefer a puppy who has been fostered. “These animals are handled right from the beginning. There is a lot of human contact, nurturing and beginning of the housebreaking has begun,” Beattie explains. “By the time they are placed in another home they are already used to other animals, used to being in the house, used to being around a family.”
The entire Draper family joins in on fostering the abandoned pups. Waking up first in the house allows husband Alan Draper to help with many of the early morning duties. Hearing the sound of a whimpering pup first thing in the morning could only mean one thing – bathroom calls. This training, designed to teach growing pups how to go outside to use the bathroom, begins by the pup’s third week.
“I’m the only one up so I’ll potty them and change the papers,” Alan explains. “I’ll play with them a little bit, put them back to bed, then they’ll sleep for another half hour until the next person gets up.”
Draper gets a well deserved break when her daughter, Jennifer, 19, helps out by taking the foster pups whenever her schedule allows. Taking the pups with her to her boyfriend’s house on a Saturday night or out during the day allows Draper to do the laundry or make dinner without interruptions. Once in a while, Draper gets enough time to meet a friend at the mall for lunch.
Always willing to help out her mom, Jennifer explained, “I know that she gets tired and I stay up later than her practically every night, so if I’m up, there is no reason for her to get up just to feed the dogs.”
Jennifer shares her mom’s love for animals and desire to help abandoned pups. “There are days when you’re tired, but because you care about the animals you just keep doing it.”
Teenage sons, Jim, 17, and Ray, 15, are always willing to help play with and entertain the pups.
The family dogs also assist raising the puppies. Brutus, a small terrier, who was once one of Draper’s foster pups, jumps around while Eddie, a tall terrier, who was also rescued from the shelter, loves to protect. Brutus and Molly have sparked a playful relationship, play biting and rolling around on the floor together. Mandy the cat likes to keep her distance from all fosters.
When not caring for puppies, Draper works as an assistant teacher to Lori Bell-Ramos at Gladstone Street Elementary School in Azusa. They work together to teach children with learning disabilities. The small class size and supportive school staff are beneficial to Draper’s fostering projects. She often brings in her foster pups to sleep in a pen, allowing them to keep their regular feeding schedules. It also allows the children to become familiar with animals.
The children observe Draper hand feed the puppies, and when the pups are old enough, the children participate in holding the bottle. Often, older puppies run around the classroom with the children and sit with them during story time. This provides a great opportunity to teach the children about the importance of responsible pet maintenance.
“The animals are very positive for the kids,” says Emy Perry, a Gladstone Street Elementary school clerk. “Some kids aren’t exposed to animals and some kids are scared at first but then look forward to them coming in.” Perry now shares her home with a much loved cat that was once fostered by the Drapers. “My cat came to me well-trained and loving.”
Draper loves her fosters and is completely dedicated to them, but at the same time wishes there was not a need for her. She spends most of her free time at the IVHS working with the staff to help animals. Nine cities worth of abandoned and mistreated animals are brought into the IVHS. It is estimated that 20 to 50 animals are brought in daily. Draper commented that in the last year she has seen an increase in people abandoning pregnant dogs, leaving them alone and scared to have their puppies. Working at the IVHS can be traumatic.
Often, the staff find themselves emotionally attached to the deserted dogs who occupy a seven by five square foot concrete cage, or the cats who lay in a two foot square pen searching for an owner. At the same time, the staff has to remember that most of the innocent animals will undergo euthanasia.
Beattie said she believes that this is where the IVHS volunteers come in handy. There are about 20 other volunteers who foster animals, some taking whole litters of dogs or cats. She says the staff gets positive reinforcement out of knowing that the animals will be raised and put into a good home. Foster animals never undergo euthanasia.
Draper always knew she wanted to reach out and help animals, and found the perfect way to do so in fostering. She loves to plan her life around a foster and “make it part of the family.” Her generosity has helped save the lives of the 75 animals she has fostered.
When asked if Draper sees her animal fostering as work, she replied “Actually I do this for my sanity!”