Animal foster parents are a vital part of many Northland rescue groups and organisations. Reporter Jenny Ling talks to four Northlanders who repeatedly open their homes and hearts to help.
Sian Gaunt knew she was in serious trouble when she brought four 7-week-old puppies home from her job at the Kerikeri SPCA.
The animal attendant offered to foster the bundle of border collie crosses after they were surrendered to the animal charity several weeks ago.
Now she's bracing herself for the hardest part - letting them go to their forever homes.
"I'm in serious trouble of keeping them," she said.
"That's the worst part, I've absolutely fallen for them."
This is the fifth time Gaunt and her husband Michael have fostered dogs at their Kerikeri home.
The first was what rescue groups call a "foster fail" when the foster parent ends up keeping the animal permanently.
Sophie the labradoodle fitted that bill.
The couple brought Sophie home in 2017 with the aim of training her for Mobility Dogs, a charitable trust which trains dogs to offer support, companionship and security for those with disabilities.
Despite their best efforts as puppy raisers, her boisterous personality meant she wasn't suited to the job.
Next came Yates who they also fostered as a mobility dog for several months in 2019.
Since Gaunt has been volunteering and working for the SPCA, she has fostered a heading puppy and a troubled German Shepherd whose confidence she built up before matching her with the perfect home.
Now she has her hands full taking care of Spot, Scout, Sheba and Stripe.
She has another week with the pups, before they go into foster-to-adopt homes.
"It's going to be really hard, but I'm going to be really fussy about who they go to.
"We always try to match the dog with the best family."
The biggest challenge is "not worrying about them when they leave you and completely letting go. It helps when you know where they've gone.
"It's always the letting go."
The Gaunts are among dozens of Northland residents who open their homes to animals that need looking after until they find new homes.
Many have been dumped, starved, abused and abandoned.
Foster parents nurture them while they grow big enough for adoption, work with them to improve their behaviour, help them recover from surgery, and give them medicine for an illness.
Gaunt's four puppies came ridden with worms and fleas and needed extra nutrients from being taken off their mum too early.
"For these pups I'm sure two of them were in danger of not surviving. Now they've got a log fire to sleep by, a less stressful environment, and they get lots of love.
"It gives them a much better chance of surviving; they're doing really well."
Foster parents play a big part in helping socialise dogs, as well as getting them used to the activities of everyday life, Gaunt said.
Gaunt, a qualified dog trainer, has taken a couple of her older dogs to cafes and shops and gets them used to cars and vacuum cleaners.
For rural dogs, it's important to introduce them to livestock and horses.
It's not an easy job, but the payoffs are huge.
"It's incredibly rewarding to know you've made a difference for the whole life of that animal.
"Fostering is much preferable to them being in kennels. They thrive in a home environment.
"When you can take a frightened dog and turn it around into a confident dog that's fitted into a family, that's so rewarding.
"There's so much that fosters can do for dogs.
"But it's not just dogs, we've had people foster sheep, cows, horses, cats, rabbits and guinea pigs."
Heidi McNulty's life has been turned upside down since she offered to foster dogs from Bay of Islands Animal Rescue group nearly two years ago.
The Kerikeri mum has so far given over 60 dogs and puppies a temporary home - up until recently she had seven dogs at once.
Though each foster ends in tears, it doesn't stop her from going through it all over again.
"Life hasn't been quite the same since. We need a bigger house".
McNulty had two foster dogs when the Northern Advocate visited, along with her two "originals" Zoe and Bo.
Nearly all of the fosters have issues, she said.
Poppy, a young brindle dog, was a "bag of bones" with sores and mange when she was dropped off at the McNulty's.
Daisy, the white staffy cross, had been locked in a crate as a breeding dog and was also skinny and scared.
"We had one dog which had been shot through the nose and we went up and down to Auckland three times for its surgeries.
"All come in with fleas and worms and are skinny.
"Most of them are scared of brooms and mops and go running as soon as they see them."
But with lots of love and patience from McNulty, her husband, and their four children aged 11 to 17, they gradually come right.
"The most rewarding thing is when you see them come in and the transformation in them.
"They arrive with their tails between their legs and three weeks later, they're still nervous, but better. Seeing the change in them, learning that things are okay, is amazing."
McNulty keeps track of some who are rehomed, usually the dogs she fostered longer term.
Rehoming to her friends is a good way to ensure she can keep seeing them.
"It has to be the right home.
"It's hard. That's why I like to see them and still be part of their lives.
"If they [new owners] go on holiday, I say they can drop them off back here so they don't have to go to the kennels."
There are many organisations that need help fostering animals including New Zealand Police whose police puppies need temporary homes before being placed with their dog handler.
Greyhounds as Pets rehome retired greyhounds, and there's also Blind Low Vision NZ, Mobility Dogs, and Assistance Dogs New Zealand Trust who all need foster parents for their puppies.
Mobility Dogs general manager Jody Wilson said she has "huge admiration" for their puppy raisers, who are responsible for the early raising and socialisation of the young dogs.
They grow up to help people with disabilities live independently.
"The puppy raising community is at the heart of everything we do," Wilson said.
"Their behaviour needs to be spot on so by the time they get to the trainer they're ready for advanced training.
"It's a very hard job to do, you really get close to these dogs, and for them to hand it over after having loved and nurtured it for 18 months or so is extremely difficult."
Then there are rescue operations for other animals like cats.
Marie-Katrin Richter is a trustee at Whangārei Cat Rescue who also fosters kittens.
She contacted the group in January 2020, wanting to add to her clowder.
"I've always loved cats and had three at the time, and wanted another. My husband put his foot down and said no, so I said I'll foster then.
"He agreed and the rest is history.
"Now we have a constant supply of kittens through the house."
Richter looks after litters of up to eight kittens at a time which have been surrendered to the organisation.
Though the mature cats roll their eyes when she brings another litter home– they initially moved outside for two months – now they're all good with it.
Richter looks past "the odd accident" the kittens have in the house.
"It's all part of it.
"Coming home after a stressful day and having a cat on your lap is so relaxing.
"Looking in those little eyes, they just want a cuddle and to be warm and fed. They're so grateful for this.
"Those cute kittens everyone loves, I have them in my house all the time. It's really fun."
Kaikohe resident Karen Bedford has fostered 10 dogs from the Bay of Islands Animal Rescue group after answering their call for dog food eight months ago.
"I donated some, and got talking, and the next thing I've got a dog on my front doorstep."
Bedford currently has two foster dogs, which were so wild at first "I couldn't put a collar on them".
The dogs get to romp on her 4ha property with her own four rescue dogs.
Bedford trains them not to jump and how to sit, gets them used to their food being handled, and takes them to work to socialise them.
The rescue group offers lots of advice and support, along with food and anything else the animals need.
The biggest challenge is if the foster dogs show aggression toward her own dogs.
"I find that very hard, I know I've got my hands full in that sense.
"But we take it slowly, we do slow introductions, and let them sniff each other. It's not the dog's fault it's the owner."
There's nothing like watching their transformation into healthy animals, Bedford said.
"It's just work, every day working on it.
"They're like a naughty little child, but you spend time showing them right from wrong and the end result is rewarding.
"Most of the dogs that come to us are so skinny, but giving them good wholesome meals puts the weight on, then they know they're loved."