Help for Homeless Pets: Foster families key to rescue groups

Help for Homeless Pets: Foster families key to rescue groups

Editor’s Note: For the next three weeks, The Sun looks into the state of homeless pets in South Jersey and what is being done to find homes — and futures — for thousands of animals. This article is one of four featured in the second week of this series.

The Albertson family was your typical pet-free household before a dog by the name of Geri came along.

She was found by a shelter, abandoned, totally emaciated and tied to a tree on the side of a road. The Albertsons decided to step in and make her a part of their family.

Though mother Kim Albertson got emotional when bringing up Geri, it was clear she cherished her 12 years with her and she had a lasting impact on her family’s desire to help dogs.

The Albertsons have now been a part of the One Love Animal Rescue for two years and are temporarily fostering seven dogs until the right family is found for them.

One Love is an organization that rescues homeless animals, nurtures them through foster care and places them in permanent loving homes to the best of their ability.

One Love promotes responsible pet ownership and encourages others in the community to be kind to all animals, to reduce pet overpopulation and to improve the outcomes of homeless animals.

“Geri started the madness for us,” Kim said.

The Albertsons have a running joke if they were ever to win the lottery they will be making “Geri’s Rescue Ranch” down in Virginia.

The family’s overwhelming passion for these animals shines through when they discuss how each addition was a “miracle” in itself.

Mabel came home with them on Christmas Eve 2014 after his mom delivered seven puppies.

Obi’s mom was sent to be fixed while she was pregnant. They were going to end the life of the puppies while in utero, but she delivered overnight in the vet’s office, so the Albertsons’ daughter, Erin, naturally had to take one home with her.

They also took in three dogs during fall 2015 who were going to be shot if One Love didn’t step in and save them.

All of the Albertsons’ foster dogs came to them in uniquely different ways, but it is clear they are all now a part of the family.

As for Erin, she is training to be a veterinarian in Virginia because of her childhood best friend, Geri. Erin graduated from Roanoke College in May 2015, is working full time as a veterinary tech and is starting veterinary school at Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine in May.

Unfortunately, with Erin away at school, her father Jim working full time and being a trustee on the board of directors for the Indian Mills Athletic Association, and Kim also going to nursing school full time — time can be at a premium when it comes to taking care of their beloved dogs.

Luckily, they have a neighbor who is also a dog fanatic and enjoys every chance she gets to babysit the dogs.

“I got into One Love Rescue because of Kim,” neighbor Morgan Barnett said. “I was helping out with her litter of puppies and I just fell in love with it.”

After being very close with Erin in high school, Barnett also went away to school where she noticed a void in her life. It wasn’t long before she emailed the founders of One Love and asked if she could foster when she arrived back home in Shamong.

“I told them I need some extra dogs, I need to compensate for four months with no dogs,” she said.

Bandit and Smokey were found on the side of the road in West Virginia 20 pounds underweight with worms in their stomach, but they have found a home with Barnett and her two other dogs where they continue to get better each day.

Bringing this many dogs together under one roof comes with some challenges, but the Barnetts and Albertsons have created tactics to adapt. The “crate and rotate” strategy seems to be the go-to approach to speed up the process of training the dogs and making sure they all get along.

“They all end up adapting pretty well to one another in the long run, but that first couple weeks can be a little hairy,” Kim said.

In fact, there are instances when it simply doesn’t work. The Albertsons’ very first foster, Mia, was only in their house for three days before they decided it was not the right fit.

“She was the type of dog who was not going to get along with other dogs. She needed to go to a home where she was the only dog,” Jim Albertson said.

Barnett has also experienced instances in which she’s taken in dogs that were not fit to live among other dogs.

“If a foster is struggling, we immediately take the pet and find another foster who is better suited to manage the pet,” One Love Animal Rescue Chairwoman Sherri Smith said.

One Love attempts to cut down on these instances by investigating every family that is adopting through conducting a home check to make sure they are giving the highest standard of care to their own pet(s) and making sure their home is a safe and loving environment.

The organization will give you the best description of the dog’s personality as it can and will not put a dog it doesn’t think will work in your home.

“I did a home check with another family that was interested in one of my dogs, and I just had a terrible feeling,” Barnett said. “It’s just a gut feeling and I talked to the founders of One Love and they encouraged me to go with my gut.”

The organization puts a lot of trust in its fosters to make the best judgment when it comes to having a family adopt one of these animals they have gotten to know over time.

It also supplies top-of-the-line medical care before it is ready for adoption, food, and all other expenses related to caring for the pet and getting them ready for their new home.

The group prides itself on being a tight-knit team and growing relationships with each other. It even has a private Facebook group where members interact and ask questions to support each other.

However, being a foster is a consuming commitment that cannot be taken for granted or it will likely not work out.

When asked what kind of advice he would give folks who were considering fostering but were tentative about going all in, Jim Alberston advised not to get involved.

“It’s a commitment. You’re responsible for another life,” he said.

For those who are undoubtedly looking to get involved, Kim could not say enough about how rewarding and worth it the whole process is.

Bringing an animal into your house when it is in such critical condition, nurturing it, loving it and seeing how far it comes is something the Albertsons and Barnetts both attested to not being able to put a price tag on.

“It’s the companionship,” Jim said. “It’s making sure unwanted dogs get a deserving home.”

“When you see progress like I have, it reinforces you are meant to be doing this,” Barnett said.

The organization cherishes families such as the Barnetts and the Albertsons, and it intends to continue to grow by adding more loving families like them.

“Finding fosters like the Barnetts and Albertsons is really a dream for us,” Smith said. “These families are fierce animal advocates, experienced dog handlers and committed to training. It’s so important for us to find families who will see it through and work with foster dogs through their challenges.”

To get involved with One Love’s new Foster Forum, register at www.oneloveanimalrescue.org.