Penn family welcomes Ffoster, a WDC foster dog

With three children under 7, Utsav Schurmans and Andi Johnson already have a busy, full home. But recently, Schurmans, house dean at Penn’s Ware College House, and Johnson, an associate fellow at Ware and a lecturer in the Department of History and Sociology of Science, decided to add one more family member to their brood: a three-year-old yellow lab named Ffoster, one of the newest dogs to join the Penn Vet Working Dog Center (WDC).

Critical to the success of the WDC are the loving foster families who care for the working-dogs-to-be when they’re not training. Monday through Friday, these individuals and families ferry the dogs to the Center in the morning and back home in the evening. At night and on weekends, they care for the dogs as their own.

For Schurmans and Johnson, fostering Ffoster was an ideal way to support a worthy program while simultaneously “trying on” dog ownership.

Ffoster kids

Courtesy of Utsav Schurmans and Andi Johnson

Ffoster with Oni and Kai, two of the three children in his new family. Ffoster is named in memory of a victim of 9/11.

“We were talking in the family about how it would be great to have a dog at some point,” Schurmans says. “We thought that this could be a good test, on some level, to see how it would work for us.”

Around the end of the spring semester, Ffoster—who was named in memory of a victim of 9/11 and came from the Transportation Security Administration’s breeding program—joined their family. She is being trained at the WDC to detect ovarian cancer and may also be bred to produce a new generation of healthy and dedicated working dogs. Ffoster is sponsored by the Kaleidoscope of Hope Foundation, an organization that supports research and awareness of ovarian cancer.

Though most of the students who lived in Ware had already left for the summer by the time Ffoster arrived, Schurmans says those who remained were thrilled to have a dog around. Schurmans and Johnson’s three kids have also been very happy with their new canine companion.

“I remember the first morning after she got here, I woke up and it was 6:30,” Schurmans recalls. “Normally at 6 I get woken up by the kids, but it was so quiet. I got up and it turned out the kids were all sitting by the kennel and looking at Ffoster, putting their hands through the crate, trying to touch her. It’s been amazing to witness their interactions with her.”

Lindsey Hagan, the WDC’s foster coordinator, says having dogs in families with small children benefits not only dog-loving kids, but also the dogs themselves.

“Kids are naturally interested in training the dogs, and we’ve seen some of our dogs who have kids in the family develop their skills faster,” Hagan says. “It also really helps to socialize our dogs to have kids around.”

The WDC is currently looking for more foster families to support their mission of raising working dogs.

For more information, contact Hagan at lhagan@vet.upenn.edu.

Originally published on June 26, 2014