Foster Girls, Foster Dogs Help Each other at Springfield Residential Facility
Along Pythian Street, on a tree-shaded lot, is a big white house. It’s there, at Ashley House, that ten girls at a time, typically from age 16 to 20, learn skills to transition from foster care to living on their own.
Besides the girls, and staff that’s on the clock 24 hours, there’s another resident at any given time: a dog.
Ashley House, a Presbyterian Children's Homes and Services Transitional Living Program site, partnered with Rescue One, a licensed, no-kill rescue based in Springfield, to give the girls a chance to serve the community by getting a dog ready for adoption.
Twenty-year-old Meranda, who has lived at Ashley House for ten months, said she and the other girls can relate to the dogs they foster. According to Meranda, the dogs often deal with some of the same issues as the girls.
"You get to help them with their issues," she said, "and they also help you."
Ashley House site manager, Alisa Griffiths, said they typically get dogs that have been abused or neglected, need to be socialized and learn basic household manners. According to Griffiths, they want to help dogs that are harder to find homes for.
Their most recent foster is Harleigh, a quiet and shy black lab mix who came to Rescue One after being on a chain in her owner’s yard for four years.
Griffiths walked into the living room on a recent rainy day to find one of the girls settled on the couch with her arms wrapped around Harleigh. It was hard to tell who was more content.
"It kills me when I find them like that," said Griffiths.
Harleigh is the seventh dog at Ashley House: four have been adopted, and two had to go back to their old foster homes for being aggressive.
Griffiths said caring for the dogs, and working to find good homes for them, teaches the girls leadership skills, allows them to give back and helps them learn responsibility, empathy and more.
"We can use the dog occasionally as a therapeutic tool," she said, "because sometimes when it's difficult for a kiddo to discuss their history they can kind of process that through the dog's history, and just kind of watching them love each other and heal each other has been really amazing."
When Ellen Dowdy, foster coordinator with Rescue One, was approached by Griffiths about serving as a foster home, she saw it as a chance for dogs with separation anxiety to have a place to stay where someone would always be around.
"Their first dog that they had had very significant separation anxiety, and, of course, here she flourished and did wonderful until we found her a home," Dowdy said.
According to Griffiths, it took six months before the dog felt secure. She said it helps that there’s always someone to love on the dogs, whether it be the girls, staff, caseworkers or therapists.
Nineteen-year-old Taylen, who’s been at Ashley House for one and a half years, believes having a dog in the house to love and care for has a positive impact on the residents.
"It's good for the girls for most of their diagnoses just to help them with depression, etc.," she said.
She loves being part of helping dogs go from abusive homes to loving ones.
"It feels good just to see that they have a good home, that they won't be abused, just so you know that they will be loved and cared for," said Taylen.
When the dogs are ready to go to their new homes, Griffiths said they give them a going away party just as they hold parties for the girls when they’re ready to move out on their own. She said it’s important to celebrate those milestones.
"We actually got a bone-shaped cake for one of the dogs, and there's a picture of her up on the table, but, you know, we also celebrate the girls leaving and moving onto their next situations, so we make a big deal of those things," said Griffiths.
The best part of fostering the dogs, according to Meranda, is “having a friend.” Harleigh starts a seven-day adoption trial this weekend in what will hopefully be her new home. Meranda and Taylen agree that it’s always hard to let the dogs go, but it feels good to know they’ve helped them find a forever home.