Donna Vining has a history of saving lives. Not just people, but also of the four-legged variety.
Her track record started in 1976 at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, one month after graduating from the University of Arizona College of Nursing. Vining then went on to work for The National Institute of Health and The Arizona Cancer Center.
Today, Vining volunteers with Pima Animal Care Center’s fostering program, taking in injured or pregnant dogs and litters of up to four pups. In the past three years, she has nurtured and named 73 puppies, with no end in sight.
These pint-sized pooches have proven to be Vining’s finest patients.
“Puppies are really the best,” she said. “They’re more portable than any other patient I’ve ever worked with.”
Even though the puppies are small, housing them is a big mission that can be just as labor intensive as caring for human infants, especially when they need to be bottle fed at all hours of the day and night. It makes her tired, but Vining said the delight and entertainment that comes from fostering makes up for the work, like when the puppies advance to wet food and dribbled it all over each other’s heads while scavenging.
“It’s like a live-action video game,” Vining said, howling with laughter. “Food gets all over them.”
Despite the puppy mayhem, Vining said she’s able to teach them obedience commands by the time they’re adoptable at 8 weeks old.
Some of the puppies she receives are injured, like her first, Coach, a blue pitbull who needed specialized attention and veterinary treatment at PACC for an abdominal wound.
Vining nurses the sick and invigorates the healthy out of her own pocket. She jumps at every opportunity to care for puppies of all shapes and sizes because she knows that most people don’t have the time or resources to care for them.
“People ask me how I can give my puppies up, but it’s not about hoarding dogs,” Vining said. “It’s about getting the dog well enough to be adopted and continuing this with other litters, so that I can save more animals.”
PACC Director Kristen Auerbach said they attempt to house every puppy with a foster or rescue family because their undeveloped immune system makes them susceptible to fatal diseases at the shelter, placing 500 to 800 pets at any given time into temporary homes is common.
There will always be a disproportionate number of dogs who need placement, since there’s never enough foster families to take them in. If it weren’t for community fosters like Vining, Auerbach said many of PACC’s animals would not survive.
“Donna exemplifies the selfless actions of our foster caregivers,” Auerbach said. “She freely opens her heart and her home to pets she knows will eventually move on to their forever families.”
Fostering for PACC suits Vining’s retired lifestyle. She gets her puppy fix, but has a little time to recuperate between litters, though not much.
By the time two or three days have passed, she said she’s “chomping at the bit for more puppies.”
Tori Tom is a University of Arizona journalism student and Tucson Local Media intern.