Fostering Devotion

BY Hannah Bunn

Statistics from the Humane Society of the United States show that every year 6-8 million homeless animals end up in shelters across the country. Most are dogs and tragically nearly half are never rescued or returned to their owner and must be euthanized.

But there is hope on the horizon. Foster-pet parenting a fast-growing concept taking root on the Azalea Coast is the bright light of the future for the homeless inhabitants here in Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach. Numerous organizations in our area are devoted to finding people who will foster a pet and prepare it for a better life.

Five of these special people — and their foster pets — opened their hearts and their homes to help us get the good word out for our fifth annual People and Pets feature.

Teresa Rodgers Haley and Pogo

There was a time when Teresa Rodgers like many of us was unaware of the problem of overcrowded animal shelters. “I had no clue that rescues existed or that dogs were even in shelters ” she says. She was made aware after an Internet search turned up dozens of results for dog rescue organizations in the area. After becoming involved with one she and two fellow volunteers decided to start a rescue of their own and in 2001 the breed-based organization Carolina Boxer Rescue was born. Teresa hasn’t had an empty nest since. “I’ve been fostering for six years now nonstop ” she says. “I’ve never adopted one. I will adopt them out to a good home because I see the wait list.” The boxers at Carolina Boxer Rescue live with their foster families anywhere from a couple of weeks to six months until they are ready and can be placed into a permanent adoptive home. “I’m in a unique position where I’m one of the directors but also a foster parent. I think if people saw the wait list they would realize that I can’t adopt one when I know another one is sitting in the shelter and it’s going to be euthanized.” At the time she spoke with us Teresa was housing two boxers — Pogo a springy young male found on the streets in Durham and Haley a sweet light-fawn colored female. “I’m really blessed that I can take in two ” says Rodgers. “Fostering saves a dog’s life and you get such a good feeling so those reasons right there are just so encouraging.”

Tom and Patricia Prentiss Piper Bandit and Pugsley

Not everyone who fosters a pet has the iron will to say goodbye when it comes time for the animal to be adopted. Patricia Prentiss doubled the number of pets in her home because of a phenomenon known among animal rescue operations as “Failing Fostering 101.” Kiki a boxer rescued from Carolina Boxer Rescue and Piper a terrier adopted from the Boston Terrier Rescue of North Carolina were living permanently at the Prentiss home when Patricia decided to foster two more Boston terriers Bandit and Pugsley. The two fosters fit so well into the family that she couldn’t let them go and it became a dog party of four. “It’s a bit much for some people but the only way we handle this many dogs is we have very strict routines ” Patricia says. “I’ve got to get up at 4:30 every morning to take care of them before I go to work but it’s a sacrifice my husband Tom and I make because we both absolutely love our dogs.” Patricia works for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and is also the secretary for the Pets Are Worth Saving (PAWS) of North Carolina board and still she finds time for all her furry friends. “We take them for walks and we play with them and they play a lot together ” she says. “I don’t take them to dog parks because I figure I’ve got my own little dog park going on here.” Patricia has no regrets about taking on the responsibility of so many dogs and feels strongly about fostering. “It’s a very important job because you are really evaluating a dog to go to a family.”

Pam Adair and Conway

Pam Adair fondly remembers a trip to Myrtle Beach with her foster dog a yellow Lab named Conway whom she was training through Carolina Canines for Service Inc. This nonprofit organization takes dogs into its program and looks for individuals to foster them while they undergo basic training to become a service dog for someone who is disabled. Conway joined Pam and her husband in South Carolina on one of their last outings together before Conway was to move on to his advanced training in a different home. “I was walking around with him and I saw an individual in a wheelchair and with her at her side was a yellow Lab ” Pam remembers. The dog was wearing a vest marking it as a service dog trained to assist the disabled just as Pam was training Conway. The handicapped woman approached Pam. “She looked at me with tears in her eyes and she said ‘God bless you for what you do. I couldn’t function without my dog.’ I started crying. It really brings it to light exactly what you’re doing. That dog is going to become someone’s life.” Pam remains involved with Carolina Canines as she sees a growing need for service animals in the future. “We’re having a lot of young men come back from this war with lost limbs and they’re going to be in a wheelchair and there’s going to be a bigger need than ever.”

Cathy Williams Mac and Nicole

I’ve always been involved with animals ” says Cathy Williams who works for the Topsail Humane Society. “I went away to an equestrian college to work with horses and ended up working with dogs.” Cathy became involved with fostering through her friend Kathy Lewis who started the Topsail Humane Society and “sweet talked” her into it. One day while at lunch the two women got a phone call with news of a litter whose mother was killed. This time it was Cathy who did the sweet talking convincing her friend to shelter the pups and soon the back seat of Cathy’s new car was squirming with seven 2-week-old puppies. “That very day I looked in the back seat and I said ‘I want that dog ’” says Cathy of her 4-year-old part-Lab part-dachshund Sophie (since adopted). Aside from Sophie Cathy is currently semi-fostering Mac and Nicole two beautiful dogs that have been at the shelter since June. It takes a special person to take a foster animal into his or her home and there is even more to be said about someone who is willing to foster an animal that is sick. These are the ones that Cathy prefers. She fosters an animal long enough to “fatten it up” and get it healthy which can range from a couple of days to a few weeks. “At one point I got this healthy little Labrador retriever. He was so healthy and so happy it was like ‘I can’t stand this!’” she laughs. So Cathy traded the spunky Lab for a dog that was malnourished dehydrated and deemed “unadoptable” for not being people-friendly. Cathy ended up loving and keeping the dog Emma for four years until she died of Addison’s disease. Despite the heartache that can come along with caring for an animal the benefits outweigh the hardships for Cathy. “It’s such a rewarding experience. It hurts to let them leave but you get a whole lot more out of it than you put into it.”

Melissa Rorrer Magnus and Bella

Why breed and buy when those in shelters die?” These words from a bumper sticker resonate in Melissa Rorrer’s mind as she provides loving and lodging for a host of foster pets in her home. After moving to Wilmington earning a college degree and adopting two dogs of her own from Carolina Boxer Rescue Melissa Rorrer bought her own place and decided that she wanted to start fostering boxers as well. Melissa fell in love with the breed at a former job in a veterinary office. “Boxers are so cute as puppies but they grow up to be dogs and people can’t handle them and they end up in shelters or abandoned. They’re even used as bait dogs in fighting ” she explains. “I wanted to help any way I could.” She has taken in a total of seven dogs over the past few years whose names she can still remember and recite. “It takes a lot especially having two dogs of my own already.” Magnus a 7-year-old male and Bella a 4-year-old female live with Melissa in her townhome and welcome their temporary guests as they come. “I have to make sure to introduce the foster into the home properly and make sure the dogs get along and don’t fight and that took some getting used to.” Melissa’s first foster Violet had been abused and was somewhat aggressive toward other dogs. She fought with Bella tearing up her ear and causing her to need surgery. “Making sure that the dominance order is established is important. First of all I’m top dog!” she laughs. “The foster has to find its place in the family and be taught that it’s okay to trust people and that people will love them and take care of them.”

Foster Facts

Organizations in our area need your help! If you’re looking for a new pet check with a rescue or a shelter first. Whether it’s a cat a dog or a rabbit you’ll be sure to find a loving companion to foster or adopt. See how it feels to save a life.

(910) 392-0557

Boston Terrier Rescue of NC

Cape Fear House Rabbit Society
(910) 798-0103

Carolina Boxer Rescue
(910) 799-5638

Carolina Canines for Service Inc.
(910) 362-8181

The Cat Adoption Team
(910) 792-9014

New Hanover County Animal Control
(910) 758-7500

New Hanover Humane Society
(910) 763-6692

Pender County Humane Society
(910) 259-7022

The Sound Cat Veterinary Hospital
(910) 686-0131

Topsail Humane Society
(910) 329-0376