The Joy of Fostering Animals with Mary Talalay

Mary Talalay

Mary Talalay has a BS in Journalism from Temple University, an MS in Organizational Dynamics from University of Pennsylvania, and an MPH from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

She enjoys photography (her work has appeared in the Baltimore Sun, Maryland Zoo Annual Report, and KIWI Magazine), writing children’s books, travel, and kayaking.

One of her favorite overseas trips was spending Halloween in Transylvania.  Her family fosters animals for the Maryland SPCA and they lost count after the 100th kitten.

The Joy of Fostering Animals with Mary Talalay

What could instantly elicit more joy than a puppy or kitten? This week we talk to Mary Talalay, an expert in fostering animals to get them ready to find their forever homes. She also mentors new fosters, especially first-timers. Mary offers advice to those new to fostering and potential fosters who are curious about what’s involved in the process. She shares stories of fosters that hold a special place in her heart and how she and her daughter initially got involved in their foster community in Maryland.

At the end of the episode I share two resources created by Best Friends Animal Society. They put together a foster program training playbook with an e-learning module, care manuals for dogs, cats, and kittens, and other helpful links. They also have free online recordings of webinars, town halls, online courses, and helpful tips on fostering.

This is a heart-warming episode for all the animal lovers out there and those who want to play a part in animals rescue and adoption.

Topics discussed in this episode:

  • What it’s like to be a foster as well as the commitment needed (it can be as a big or as small a commitment as you have time for!)
  • The community of fosters that Mary and her teenage daughter discovered and are now a part of
  • Memorable fosters that found shelter and safety in Mary’s home
  • Ways to get involved in the foster community even if you can’t take an animal into your home

Links to resources:

TranscriptDuration: 16:12

Christa Avampato  00:00

Hi, everyone. Welcome back to JoyProject. I’m Christa Avampato. And today, I am joined by the lovely Mary Talalay. Mary, welcome to JoyProject.

Mary Talalay  00:08

Thank you. Glad to be here.

Christa Avampato  00:10

I’m so excited that you’re joining us. Where are you joining us from today?

Mary Talalay  00:13

Just north of Baltimore, Maryland.

Christa Avampato  00:15

I love Baltimore. I lived in DC for a long time. And I have a lot of love for Baltimore, for that waterfront and Camden Yards baseball stadium! I’m going to start this conversation the way I always do and ask Mary, what brings you joy?

Mary Talalay  00:36

I’ve been fostering animals for about 10 years now. And we’ve probably hosted at least 200 or more animals. We’ve kind of lost count. We used to like take a picture and have almost like a yearbook. It’s like Christmas morning, every time you go into the foster room, and all the kittens are meowing at you. It’s a ton of work, but just makes your heart swell. Because I think especially the news and all the things going on in this world, I always feel like I’m doing something to put something positive out into the universe by fostering animals. And sometimes it feels tiny and insignificant. But cumulatively, I feel like we definitely helped a lot of animals find homes that would have been on the street. We have animals who are sick, and it just gives them time to heal in a quiet, nurturing environment so that they can be ready to be adopted. The best part really is the community, just the people that my family’s met, through fostering and it’s really consistent. We’ve been fostering with the same people for a really long time and people come and go. College students will do it for a couple years while they’re in town. And then there’s people who’ve been doing it for the Maryland SPCA for 30 years. It’s just a great group of kind people, an eclectic community and we just love being a part of it. So we primarily do cats and kittens for the SPCA. And then puppies for TRU Rescue.

Christa Avampato  02:01

Have you always been an animal lover?

Mary Talalay  02:05

Since minute 1. I’m from a really big family of seven. We always had a zoo as well. We had every little hamster and parakeets and exotic animals like chinchillas and I just grew up around a lot of animals and it would feel strange to me not to have animals in the family.

Christa Avampato  02:20

And do you have animals of your own that are yours, in addition to the fosters?

Mary Talalay  02:24

We have two dogs and a cat, all rescues obviously. The cat was actually a foster and they call it foster failing. We call it foster winning. We had no intention of keeping a cat ever. My husband wasn’t a big fan of cats. And now they’re the best of buddies. We have a dedicated large bathroom in our basement. It has big window with lots of sun and we call it our foster room. It’s tiled so it’s easy to clean.

Christa Avampato  02:49

Should foster animals be kept separate from our own animals. Is that why you have a separate space set up for them?

Mary Talalay  02:57

It depends on the situation. A lot of times we tend to get sick cats. And that might be something mild, where it’s really we’re doing some evaluation like they might have a cold or upper respiratory infection. My animals as they age, my permanent animals, they are a little less receptive to having a stranger in the house. Even if we did a meet and greet, it would be supervised and brief, and everyone would have a safe exit. When we foster puppies, I have a dog named Rosie and she’s a black lab pointer mix and she’s like a nanny. So we let her meet them. Sometimes she’ll give them a little lesson on manners if they get a little too grabby. But she’ll run with them and play with them. And again, it’s always supervised and it’s always safe. She’s allowed to interact. My other two pets aren’t really very interested in being hospitable. We find that really funny because the cat, her name is Thumbellina, she was our foster and now when we have cat foster or kitten foster she’s just downright rude. Like she’s lost all her empathy.

Christa Avampato  04:02

I also have a rescue dog who’s 12 and a half. I got him when he was a year old, and his name is Phineas and I love him so much. And originally I had thought I was going to foster him and my friends were like, Are you kidding me? You’re gonna meet this dog and never let him go. And I was like no, no. I’m really gonna foster and I have a very busy life. I travel a lot. I had all the reasons of why I could not adopt a dog full-time and I swear to you, it was not even 30 seconds. He wiggled his little self out into the lobby of the rescue organization where I got him and I was like, Oh my God, that’s my dog. It was this very heart centered reaction that there was no way that I was ever going to be able to let him go. And of course then I changed my whole life and everything to accommodate this dog. It’ll be 12 years in September that I’ve had him. He’s my best buddy. What do you say to people who say, Oh, I just don’t know if I could take care of an animal and then give that animal to somebody else?

Mary Talalay  05:07

So my daughter is a senior in high school now. And she’s been doing this with me since she was eight or nine, we wanted to find a loophole in volunteering with animals. Cecause she was too young to work at a shelter, for many reasons. I think the age is actually 18, where you can physically work in a shelter. But she’s as much of an animal lover as I am. And so the loophole was fostering that we could bring the animals to our home, and she’s learned along the years caring for them, training them. A lot of times, I’m the one who has to deliver the meds. I’m the bad cop. She’s the good cop. So they all fall in love with her. And she wrote her college application essay on how do you let them go. Because that’s a question that we get all the time. And it really, it’s a beautiful essay.

And it’s all about how much we learned from the animals. She’s taking an AP Bio class and wants to study biology. You know what you’re getting into when you take them. People say you’re here for a reason or a season. They’re here for a season with us. That could be a long weekend. We’ve had animals for a couple of months. We know that we’re their bridge from not being in a scary stressful shelter situation to someone’s home, that transition is so important that kind of shut down, that quiet, that just being able to breathe. They know that they have someone who loves them and feeds them and meets their medical needs. And we’re readying them for their next step. And we want to set them up completely for success. And that’s our job.

Christa Avampato  06:39

Are there certain ones that really come to mind for you?

Mary Talalay  06:42

There’s definitely some that are harder than others! I think the ones we remember them most because we have the most contact with, ones we’ve adopted to family members and friends where we get regular updates, and we see them. We had three kittens right at the beginning of COVID when everything shut down, and the shelter needed to clear out. So all of a sudden, my daughter finds herself homeschooling on video all day. And it turns out, it was the perfect time to be a foster because all of a sudden, I didn’t have to go to my office at the University and she didn’t go into school. And so we just took batch after batch after batch. Out of a batch of three kittens, one whose name was Jake from State Farm, and the other two I can’t remember their names. Something like Pixie and Boo. My brother had just lost a dear pet and he adopted two of them. But these three were so fun and the most bonded kittens. We needed them as much as they needed us at that time, because that was the beginning of COVID. No one knew what was going on. And it was really scary. You’re kind of scared to just go grocery shopping, but to know that you were doing something good. And then also they were a great comfort to us. And then the bonus of having a family member adopt them. It’s just like win, win, win, win win, all kinds of wins. We’re babysitting a cat. We fell in love with him—Gerald. Luckily, we had been watching him for another foster who had gone away for a week and we just fell in love. He’s like a little man. He’s like Mr. Rogers. He should have a little cardigan, a little bow tie. Just this adorable orange and white cat. He’s such a gentleman. I can’t even tell you. The personality just came through to us. He doesn’t have thumbs but if he did, he’d hold the door for you if you were coming in. Or help you carry your packages. This foster ended up foster failing with him and we were really nudged them to do it. “He needs you. He’s perfect.” So we get to watch him every so often. So he’s going to come visit us for a week next week.

Christa Avampato  08:37

Do you have any advice for people curious about becoming a foster?

Mary Talalay  08:41

You can make it as big of a commitment as you want. So some people are afraid to do it because they think it’s long term. They have a lot going on in their lives. But sometimes we have fosters who can’t commit for a long period of time. But what they do is like if another foster is going on a vacation or wants to go away for a weekend, you can kind of do little spurts and little bites. You don’t have to say, alright, I’m in for three months. You can take a kitten, you can take two kittens, you can take five kittens, it’s really up to you and your lifestyle.

And I think you find like once you’ve done your first batch really just waiting for the next one like us. It’s like potato chips—you just want to keep going. We were traveling a fair bit when my daughter was looking at colleges in the fall and I couldn’t commit to taking a foster but we did a lot of little short term ones to help other fosters out. That was great. And then in the winter, we can take a cat that maybe needs to be somewhere for a month or two because we’re not traveling.

I just met this really cool person to through the Maryland SPCA, and we watch one of her fosters for her, but she’s a traveling nurse. And so she was in Baltimore for one year. And she fostered the whole time and now she’s living somewhere in the Midwest and she’s found another organization and she started to foster with them. And I just think that’s so cool.

And the other thing too I think people should know is that most foster organizations provide you with what you need. So they’ll provide you with training. There’s people you can call for help. I mentor other fosters who are just coming in and starting to foster. This kitten is doing this. If that normal? and I’m not a vet but I have a lot of experience and I can tell them what’s normal and when to say okay, maybe call the vet. For the two organizations where we foster there’s just so much support and just good people and people you’d want to hang out with, even if you weren’t fostering.

Also with fostering you can do other things. You can have supply drives. That’s great for school kids. Making toys for the animals, or collecting food or blankets, going to events like adoption events. So there’s all kinds of things you can do that aren’t a huge commitment.

If you’d asked me 10 years ago, would I still be fostering I would have said no way. I’m too busy. Here I am. So it’s really a source of joy. And like I said, I can get sucked into the news, and just feel hopeless and helpless. And this, again, makes me feel like I’m putting positivity out into the world.

Christa Avampato  10:58

This idea of community. I had not thought about fostering animals that way. I thought about it as the person getting the animal and that relationship, but I hadn’t thought about oh, this whole community of fosters, mentoring new fosters, supporting one another if something does come up, and somebody has to go out of town or somebody has to be away and being able to be there to be that support and that help for them.

So I hadn’t thought about the human community aspect, which is so fascinating.

I feel like now with my dog, like, over the course of 12 years, this dog has been with me through breakups and moves and a cancer diagnosis and COVID and every kind of personal trauma that we can imagine and just his presence has been such a gift. And I feel like that is the blessing of animals. This dog has given me so much more than I think I’ve ever given him even though I spoil him to no end. But when I think about who saved who, my dog helped me through dark, frightening times. And adopted animals are something special.

Mary Talalay  12:23

It’s like they know, they know that you are their home base. When we foster an animal, we write up a profile about what they like and what they don’t like and try to find a good match with a new family. Just getting to know them. And then seeing them open up. The cat we have now, Anabelle, she’s a very sweet, friendly cat. But she was little shy. She sort of just run around my basement and now her favorite spot is wherever I am. Same for my husband and my daughter. It’s wherever we are that she wants to be.

Christa Avampato  12:57

Do you really recommend people looking at their own local organizations that they have in their city or their town? And just get involved that way?

Mary Talalay  13:05

Yeah, absolutely. If you go to most PetSmart stores, there are cats that they’re showing, and they’re sponsored by local organziations. If you just keep your eyes open, you’ll see ways to get involved. We do a lot of adoption events for puppies at local pet stores. Inevitably, you do know a foster, you just don’t know that. I just was looking for a loophole. When my daughter and I wanted to work with the animals and she was too young, fostering was something that I could do with work and her school and it just really worked out.

Christa Avampato  13:38

Oh, Mary, thank you so for all the work that you’re doing for these animals and to get the animals ready for families. I feel like that’s such an important piece of work in the adoption chain. And I’m just so grateful that you spent some time talking to us today. And I just I loved meeting your current foster, Annabelle. I hope she finds a wonderful, wonderful home. Do you do any kind of social media outreach if people wanted to know more about fostering? Would you be open to having people get in touch with you?

Mary Talalay  14:06

Oh, sure. Absolutely. I’m on Instagram @ta_la_lay. Happy to answer any more questions about it because I love it so much!

Christa Avampato  14:19

Thank you so much for joining us on JoyProject and sharing your joy of fostering animals. Thank you on behalf of all the animals and adoptive families everywhere. Thank you. Thank you so much.

Mary Talalay  14:30

Thank you. Thanks for this project. This is wonderful. It’s nice to have a bright spot.

Christa Avampato  14:35

Yes, yes. Thank you so much.

As the mom of a rescue dog and an animal lover, this episode warmed my heart. It got me excited about fostering—something I wasn’t sure I could ever do—and I hope it got you excited about it as well.

Best Friends Animal Society is one of my favorite animal rescue nonprofits. They are incredible advocates for pet adoptions and fostering, and they have loads of resources for those of us who want to learn more about becoming fosters. From online courses and care manuals, to videos, podcasts, and their foster programs playbook, they’re a fantastic resource for would-be, new, and experienced fosters. I hope you’ll get involved in a way that works for your schedule. There are so many animals in need and we can be a lifeline for them as they can be a source of joy and inspiration for us.

Thanks for spending part of your day with me and JoyProject. A big thank you to Mary for sharing her joy of fostering animals with all of us.

You can find her on Instagram at @ta_la_lay.

You can find me on Twitter at @christanyc, on Instagram at @christarosenyc, and through the website for this podcast where you can also find links to everything we talk about on the podcast as well as show transcripts for each episode.

I’ll be back in two weeks on Tuesday, September 6th, with another episode of JoyProject. It’s hard to believe the summer is drawing to a close and that September and Fall are just around the corner. I hope you’re finding joy in some way every day. Take care of yourself and take care of those in your corner of the world. Have a joy-filled week and I’ll chat with you soon.