Volunteer Profile: Karen Lesure
by Lee Chambers
A Multi-Generational Love for Animals
“Kids and animals go together,” says Foster Caregiver Karen Lesure. “To me, that's a no-brainer. Kids learn responsibility, love and compassion, and they find out that taking care of a pet means more than just food and water. Animals also needs love, especially the babies.”
Currently, Karen is fostering Dinah, a striking three-year old tabby with enormous eyes and her six-week old kittens (Violet, Raven and Hunter), as well as a pair of rats named Sleepy and Dopey. A two-year foster veteran, Karen takes advantage of the smaller helping hands around her house; her granddaughter and a male foster child, both of whom are seven years old.
Mama cat and kittens have their place in the living room, which is cordoned off by a moveable panel. “The kids have learned they can't run from room to room,” Karen chuckles. “They know if they don't slow down, they can't have kitten time, and they really want that.”
How Animals Help Children
What's been especially remarkable, she says, is the effect the foster pets have had on her foster child. “He gets excitable, and it's very calming for him to play with animals. It helps him to focus. He's been trained to handle them carefully and he's at the point now where he can even take the rats out of the cage with permission. He grabs a towel, handles them gently and brings them right up to his chest. It also helps him understand the concept of adoption. He grasps that the animals come here to a loving home until they can be adopted permanently into another loving home.”
Asked about her fondness for animals, Karen explains, “It's in my blood, my parents felt the same way.” Raised on a small farm in Stamford, VT, she enjoyed pets like chickens and ponies, and now occasionally works as a care provider for farm animals.
Following high school, Karen studied animal science and worked for several veterinarians. During a stint at Greylock Animal Hospital in North Adams, she fostered wildlife babies including squirrels, raccoons, rabbits and birds.
Handling the Goodbyes
In addition to Karen, her daughter and her fiance, the children and the foster pets, the family also includes 10 fancy mice, three rats named Spice, Panda and Pepper, a dog named Bella, and a pair of 17 year old cats named Harry and Shilo. There is a lot of excitement and activity when new fosters arrive, but how does Karen prepare the children for the bittersweet moments when the animals are well enough to move on and leave the household?
“At the beginning, I explain to the kids before it happens,” she answers. “I let them know I'm going to Dakin, who I'm picking up, and that it's temporary. I tell them that we're the nanny, and our job is to make this pet feel better.” The kids, she says, experience a lot of gratification in helping the animals, but admits that there are teary times when kittens have to leave. “I remind them that we did a good job, and that's what we're supposed to do.”
What advice would she offer someone considering becoming a foster caregiver, but also dreading the tearful goodbyes? “You have to go into it thinking that you're nurturing this creature to blossom. We can't keep them all, as much as we'd love to. There are so many animals out there that need homes, and so many people who want them, and I believe animals and people belong together. To me, the fulfillment is having played my part in the process of bringing them together.”
Another fulfillment for Karen is seeing her youngsters opening their hearts to animals. “That's something I've passed on to them,” she says.