I found Carly Sutherland on Instagram. Her pictures caught my eye because they are fantastic. But I also pay attention because she fosters dogs and cats for the SPCA of Northeastern North Carolina and welcomes a constant stream of animals into her home, a home she shares with her husband Bryan and their pack of three, Chuck, Meg, and Pig.
Currently, she’s fostering one dog, nine nursing puppies, one cat, and three kittens. I recently reached out to her for a Q & A because I want everybody to know Carly. She’s a badass foster mom who dedicates her life to animal rescue. In the past, I recognized a goat rescue, a lionfish hunter and a sea turtle advocate. This month I talked to Carly Sutherland, foster mom extraordinaire.
So, you’re currently taking care of 17 animals. Is that a true story?
Laughs. Right now we have fourteen fosters and three of our own.
How old are your nine foster puppies?
Two weeks old today.
Are their eyes open?
All but one. These are the youngest dogs we’ve ever had so it’s really a fun, new experience. I started taking in young kittens about two years ago as far as neonatal, orphaned animals go. I tend to lean more towards older dogs because puppies are a lot to handle. But we got a call about this mom in need. I couldn’t say no. I didn’t want to say no.
People love or hate puppy breath. What’s your opinion?
Laughs. It really is a polarizing smell. I wish I could bottle it. One of the puppies Cilantro has this shining personality. As soon as I pick her up, she latches onto my nose and suckles. At first, I was like is this strange? But then she leaves that puppy breath smell on the tip of my nose. And I was like is it weird that I love it?
Not even remotely.
What are your first memories of rescuing animals?
Animal rescue has played a large role in my life from an early childhood when I’d spend my weekends at the local shelter volunteering with my mom. That was truly my first introduction to it. I’ve since wanted to ask my mom what made her decide to bring me there because my parents really weren’t involved with rescue. I’m not sure what her draw was to get me engaged with it, but I’m glad she did. I was probably about ten years old when we started spending weekends at the shelter together.
When did you start fostering full-time?
Full-time I would say maybe two years ago. Up until then, it was kind of one here and there when they came to me. It wasn’t until I got involved with the SPCA of Northeastern North Carolina. It’s an organization I’m proud to work with for sure. I know you’re aware of how limited resources are in rural areas, especially in the south, and they do so much with limited resources.
Is your partner supportive? Does he help with the animals?
[Bryan] is amazing. It’s a funny dynamic in our marriage. He didn’t grow up with animals in the house. So when we started dating it was kind of his introduction to my way of life. You know dogs sleep in the bed. They get on the furniture. I’ve had to get to the point of 17 slowly. But whenever I need the help, he’s there in a heartbeat. He’s not going to enjoy the dirty parts, but he’s always feeding them and helping me walk and do all the good routine stuff. I couldn’t do all this alone for sure.
Tell me about your pack.
Our oldest is Chuck the cat. He was actually the first foster I ever took in back in 2010. I was in college working two or three jobs. Didn’t have a lot of time. I found this sick cat and tried desperately to find him a home but he had already chosen me.
And then we have Meg, who is our youngest dog. The shelter needed help in 2016 when a hurricane was coming in. They were trying to clear out in case we had to evacuate. The day she came to us, the storm hit, and then we lost power for about a week. So we had this puppy and no power and it’s the middle of summer. And she was amazing. She fit right in so she never left.
The third was also a foster. Pig was on death row. She had been starved and locked in a car and abandoned. She was heartworm positive. Pig was a mess. It took about a year of rehabilitating her. Rehabilitating her was the most challenging and rewarding thing. And it totally changed my viewpoint about fostering. She’s the reason I have 17 animals right now. I saw what fostering did for her, and I wanted to do it more. [Pig] is my little spirit animal.
Your pictures are beautiful. How do you integrate your photography with your rescue work?
Thank you. My husband does studio work. And I asked him to teach me how to use the equipment. I’ve been playing with it ever since. It’s a fun hobby but my goal is to encourage adoption. I do a lot of the shelter photography. It helps draw an audience, especially on social media. It makes a positive impact.
And I think about my childhood and the photos of when I first adopted. That moment when you see them and you’re like that’s them. That’s my animal. So it’s fun to be able to try and create that for folks. I think any little bit we can do to get these animals out there is helping and maybe encouraging someone else to do it along the way.
Hardest part of fostering?
The most heartache has come when we lost animals. Something I haven’t shared about this litter to anyone yet is we did lose one of the puppies the first day we brought them home. I mean hours after. So it’s the loss. It’s hard to talk about.
How do you strike a balance between hardening your heart and your activism?
I don’t think I’ve found out how yet. Truly. I don’t think I’ve found my balance. All people fighting for something probably struggle with this. You have those good days when you are feeling really optimistic and then you have those days it can be really overwhelming and it doesn’t feel as positive. But, I think my perception is always changing. And that’s one of the biggest things I’ve had to learn from this. I really just have to go one day at a time. Cause I think when you think about the big picture, about the mass suffering, that’s when it’s too overwhelming.
It’s like a tsunami, right?
Yes. It’s hard for anybody fighting for something. When you feel how you and I do about these animals, when you feel so passionately about something then that’s your life. It’s not like I’m just thinking about the puppies when I’m up here taking care of them. It’s a constant weight on my shoulders, something I dedicate my life to. It’s consuming.
Have you kept a count of how many you’ve rescued over the years?
Oh gosh no. But I could figure it out. I remember every single one of them.