By Astrid Söderström.
This Fall again, students old and new, Hungarian and international, flocked back to Budapest for the study year. Many are living on their own for the first time and might find themselves wanting to try the responsibility of caring for an animal. Some might even come from a family with pets and be unable to bring their fluffy friend along.
You might have a home without a pet and there are plenty of pets in Hungary without a home. For the total amount of dogs alone, estimations go from some thousands up to one or two million. The Hungarian database for homeless pets, allatok.info, gives 2715 results for dogs and 560 for cats – although, I’m suspecting the information on their last pages is outdated since it goes back to 2005 and some of the dogs would be more than 20 years old by now. On the newer end, the data is up to date with the latest arrivals posted no later than yesterday, which makes the website a handy place to look for current homeless pets.
Because of the vast amounts of stray pets in Hungary, shelters and non-profit organisations that locate and help homeless, neglected, and abused pets are also many. You can find the organisations through the database but they usually also have websites and Facebook pages of their own where you can search for pets as well as read more about their operations.
One of the most used – and most recommended – organisation among McDaniel students is FAFP – Foundation of Animal Protection in Füzesabony. Currently, FAFP has 110 pets looking for a home, according to the database. FAFP, like most of the organisations, operate on very little funds, don’t have a shelter of their own and therefore, depend on locals, local kennels, and friendly student volunteers to help taking care of the pets. One way to help is fostering, which means accommodating the animal while they wait for a suitable forever home. As a foster parent, you’ll get all the supplies, including a collar and a leash, bowls for both water and food, toys, a bed, and even dry food if needed, from the foundation. If – and usually when – you’ll need to take your animal to the vet for vaccination, routine check-up’s or in case of an emergency, visits to a partnering vet are covered. The role of the foster parent is also to help the pets adapt to city life and life inside a safe home, and to take cute pictures of them to promote adoption. Fostering is a short-term option, and usually closely supported by the foundation, and therefore, possibly the best place to start with if you’re new to Budapest, new to animals, or unsure if your life will be suitable for a pet in the future.
That is what Salima, 21 years old and a senior at McDaniel, did. She has been fostering since January 2021: one cat and three dogs so far. She didn’t have experience with dogs before and got introduced to fostering with a bang, hosting a dog big in both size and intensity. “He wasn’t aggressive or anything but for a person who never dealt with dogs, it was a little too much and I was quite terrified,” she explains. Luckily, Salima is fostering with her roommate and therefore, had a helping hand.
They just recently got their new foster dog – one of the best moments of a foster parent. To Salima as well: “Never stops to be exciting!” On the flip side, giving away your foster pet when they’re ready for adoption can be heart-breaking, no matter how joyous: “…they always do leave you eventually. Always a sad moment,” she describes letting go the animal you’ve been caring for.
Sometimes you fall in love with your foster pet so, you’ll unable to let them go. That’s what happened to Juliette, 21 years old and a senior at McDaniel. She started fostering her dog Pony, currently 2.5 years of age (and not yet enrolled at McDaniel), at the end of her second year. “I became so attached to my dog that when the foundation contacted me to say that four families were interested in Pony, I realized that I just couldn’t let him go,” is how she recalls her fostering experience. Foster pets and parents are not always a perfect match but in each other, Pony and Juliette found companions: “he learned to trust me, I learned to love him, and I wanted to stay with him!”
However, with adoption, comes new responsibilities. “Adopting is definitely an important decision with a lot of consequences. [Dogs] require constant attention, and you need to learn a lot on how to train them,” Juliette explains. While fostering, the financial responsibilities of the pet are on the foundation, but after adopting, it’s all on you. “It is not that expensive to take care of a dog, but you should still dedicate a part of your budget, I’d say around 30€/month,” she continues. In addition to monthly costs, you’ll need to pay a one-time fee to be able to adopt the foster pet.
When adopting her foster cat, Raya, 30 and a senior at McDaniel, it’s exactly the financial requirements she had some confusion with. “I paid around 28000 forints for his previous medical bills; they don’t give you a detailed list of things but rather just a sum amount to pay,” she explains about the adoption process with FAFP. Later, she decided to adopt her second foster cat as well and needed to pay a larger sum. “My reflex was to ask the person handling my case why I paid 28000 vs 35000… I got berated for asking about money.”
She didn’t want to fight with them, so she just agreed to paying the sum and not to ask for more questions. “I do believe people who adopt have the right to know what they are paying for. I don’t think the lady ever thought that what she did was rude, but this did make me look into other places to adopt from,” she concludes.
Others have only positive experiences with FAFP. “They made it so easy for me to foster and adopt [Pony], it was really fast and smooth,” says Juliette. And Raya adds, reflecting on her less-smooth experience: “I think FAPF is just understaffed, underfunded, and overwhelmed which complicates things for foster parents but we can’t blame them.” And indeed, being overwhelmed while working closely with hurt and suffering animals with very little means is more than understandable.
The members of the foundation are not the only ones, even the animals and their caretakers can get overwhelmed. All rescues usually come with trauma due to their past experiences. So does Juliette’s Pony: “he has severe separation anxiety, so he has probably been abandoned a few times or was traumatized by that. I can see this every day, when he walks, he stays very close to me, he follows me everywhere in the apartment, freaks out when I leave… He cannot stay alone and it’s a hassle.”
The role of the new parent, foster or through adoption, is to help the animal recover and adjust to a new life in a loving home. The role is not always easy: “…you have to try your best to ease it and not feel guilty for not healing them completely,” is Juliette’s advice. “Taking care of an animal can be emotionally exhausting and if you already have a lot on your plate, I would recommend waiting until you are sure that you are ready,” Salima reminds.
Despite difficulties, both Salima and Juliette would recommend fostering to other McDaniel students. “I personally have a hard time reconciliating school and Pony because of his separation anxiety, but otherwise having a dog as a student is totally possible,” says Juliette. “But only if they understand the responsibility that comes with it and are ready for that dedication. I’d say that you have to both have a) the practical means for fostering (enough free time, suitable conditions, financial situation, etc) and b) be in a good place in terms of mental health,” is Salima’s take.
Luckily, Budapest – and even McDaniel – had plenty of animal lovers alike, prepared to offer advice and peer-support if needed. None of the three former and current foster parents regret getting into caring for rescue animals and will continue to either welcome new pets into their homes or deepening the connection with their current adopted animals. As Juliette puts it: “I never thought you could bond so deeply with an animal. Pony knows me as much as I learned to know him, and we communicate almost as efficiently as I do with humans.”