Senior Profile: Bellingham couple find joy as foster parents for pets

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDNovember 18, 2013 

Names: Edwina and Karl Kleeman

Ages: Both are 70.

Hometown: The Kleemans have lived in Bellingham the past 11 years, after moving from Raleigh, N.C. Both are retired; Karl worked in the infectious disease section of a hospital; Edwina worked in a food microbiology research lab at North Carolina State University.

Family: The Kleemans share their home with Brandy, their collie. They have also opened their home to foster pets from Whatcom Humane Society, giving the animals a safe place to stay while they recover from injuries or sickness and become able to be adopted.

Volunteers and donors: Together, the couple supports the Humane Society financially, including money donated for meet-and-greet rooms, where potential owners and pets meet. The society interview prospective owners to make sure a match is a good one.

Edwina has volunteered at the society for nearly a year. She began, she says, as a dog walker so she could get out of the house and get some exercise. Now, in addition to walking dogs, she also plays with puppies and kittens.

Foster owners: The first foster pet the Kleemans welcomed into their home was Luna, a mixed-breed dog weighing about 30 pounds.

"When she came to us, she had a badly broken leg and she really needed good grooming," Karl says.

Luna wore a cone to protect her leg in a cast. She was also underweight. The Kleemans expected to help Luna recover for a permanent home. They didn't expect to fall in love with her, so giving her up was difficult.

In her honor, they set up a fund for the society, the Luna Fund, which people can donate to and have their money matched by the Kleemans.

They also have fostered two litters of kittens and one cat, which had a broken pelvis. All of the foster pets cared for by the Kleemans have been adopted.

"It's kind of exciting when you hear they got adopted," Karl says.

Attachment to the pets is inevitable, but the Kleemans recognize their role in the lives of their foster animals. If they kept each pet they grew attached to, they wouldn't be able to keep providing a foster home for other pets, Edwina says.

Reasons to care: Fostering pets and volunteering can be a lot of work, but it is thoroughly rewarding, the couple agrees.

"You kind of feel really good about helping to take care of a kitten or an injured dog or something," Karl says. "They can't take care of themselves. They depend on us."

And watching a child find their new friend in a dog or cat is emotionally rewarding, he says.

Flexible volunteering: The Kleemans chose to be foster owners because it allows them to be involved while allowing room for flexibility. They do a lot of RV traveling, so fostering pets enables them to make an impact while they enjoy their retirement.

"It fits in with our lifestyle," Edwina says.

Many ways to help: The Humane Society hopes its volunteers will help at least two hours a week, but more is encouraged, Edwina says. With enough volunteers to make sure all of the animals are comfortable, a volunteer with a busy week can make up hours the following week, she says.

With a variety of volunteer positions available, active people can be dog walkers and less active volunteers can play with and help socialize animals.

"There's such a variety of things you can do even as you get older and more and more decrepit," Karl adds.

The Kleemans don't consider themselves old and decrepit, but they are dedicated to volunteering.

"We'll probably be doing it until we hit the nursing home," Karl says. "Then maybe they will bring some to us."

MORE DETAILS

For information about Whatcom Humane Society, including volunteer opportunities, call 360-733-2080 or visit Whatcomhumane.org.

Alisa Gramann is a freelance writer in Bellingham.

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