THE WEEKEND WARRIORS OF
by Greta Gardner, Nancy Marano, Ardeth Baxter, and Suzanne Brannan
Rick and Donna Minor, FRA
Imagine working a regular 9 to 5 job to pay the bills but on weekends and in your “spare” time, when other people get to relax, you open your home to foster animals. You work tirelessly to find them good homes. You spend your own money and energy to get these animals healthy and ready to live with a new family. Your aim is to make the world a better place for all living creatures. Could you find the strength inside yourself to take on this task? Would you?
Finding families for the thousands of unwanted animals in need of homes takes serious willpower and determination. Meet some of the wonderful people who make it their personal mission to tackle this enormous problem. PETroglyphs salutes them and all of New Mexico’s weekend warriors for their unwavering efforts to help the homeless animals in our state.
MEET THE WARRIORS
Friends of Rescued Animals (FRA) is a rescue group based in Santa Fe and headed by Cathy Louisell. Cathy saw too many animals who were hungry, cold or abused and could not ignore them. “The need was in my face on a daily basis.” She began fostering homeless animals and working with a rescue group. FRA currently has adoption clinics at Whole Foods and Wild Oats and various pet stores in Santa Fe.
Rick and Donna Minor are foster dog parents involved with FRA. Their fostering adventure began in Phoenix where they worked with a large no-kill organization that was always full. Even with a high adoption rate, they were forced to turn away hundreds of animals—leading them to realize, “there is no such thing as a no-kill organization or shelter.”
Cathy Louisell, FRA
Lois Geary, a volunteer with the Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society (SFAS&HS), works at their PetsMart satellite adoption center. She became interested in volunteering when she helped care for evacuated animals during the Cerro Grande Fire. “I love being part of the process to get a cat or dog a wonderful, loving home when nearly all hope has vanished. It’s the best Rocky Mountain high one could have.”
Beverly Daugherty and Donnie Dominguez foster cats with Pick of the Pound, a Valencia County rescue group. They show their foster animals at the PETCO on San Mateo and Academy the first Saturday of every month and at the PETCO on Eubank and Lomas all of the remaining Saturdays. They became involved in fostering and rescue work out of necessity. Living in an area where unwanted animals are frequently dumped, they sought help finding them homes. As Beverly noted, “Soon, it was second nature and a very big part of my life.”
Cats have their champions in the volunteers of the Albuquerque Cat Action Team (ACAT). Cindy Richards, the group’s founder, and Susan McCosker are two enthusiastic members of this group. Both foster cats and have been doing rescue work for many years. As Cindy said, “You just keep doing more and more in the time you have available because the need never stops.” ACAT has a regular adoption clinic every Saturday inside the PETCO on Academy and San Mateo.
Lisa Elrod fosters for New Mexico Greyhound Connection. “We fell in love with our first ex-racing greyhound and quickly adopted a second greyhound. We also started fostering at that time and helping our adoption group at the Meet and Greets we do throughout the year.” The group holds adoption clinics at numerous businesses willing to host a Meet and Greet. They hand out literature, discuss the joys of greyhounds with prospective adopters, and answer people’s questions about greyhound racing.
FRUSTRATIONS AND JOYS
So what does it take to be a foster parent or to volunteer with a rescue group?
Cathy Louisell of FRA once fostered eleven puppies from one litter! Although all of the puppies found homes, Cathy points out how important it is to “…stop breeding the number of animals—both purebred and mixed breed—that we currently do.” Pet overpopulation is a serious epidemic in the United States—especially in New Mexico. According to studies, there are at least 90,000 homeless pets in New Mexico every year. The majority of these are euthanized because there are not enough homes for them.
Rick and Donna of FRA expressed similar frustration. “There is an unrelenting flood of animals needing help and a colossal indifference from society generally. Many people have the attitude that companion animals are simply disposable objects.”
Cindy and Susan of ACAT agree. “Animals are sentient, feeling beings. I didn’t realize that so many people weren’t aware of that,” Cindy said. Susan added that she gets upset dealing with people who don’t do basic care, with the enormous number of animals who are destroyed, and with the difficulty of changing the laws in regard to animals and feral cats in particular.
Cathy Louisell, FRA
Lisa is bothered by the bounce-backs. “We try so hard to educate and prepare new adopters for their greyhounds. It’s frustrating to get a call from someone who is complaining about the dog and wanting to return him or her rather than trying to work through whatever the issue is.”
Bev and Donnie of Pick of the Pound think these attitudes could best be confronted by asking people to “…look at the faces of the animals at the shelters, or watch them be put to death because there is no home for them.”
Lois of SFAS&HS agrees, noting, “One of the worst aspects of shelter work is to contemplate that euthanasia is still, unfortunately, a part of the equation.”
The frustration is real and palpable among these rescuers.
As difficult as rescue work can get, there are happy endings. Finding an animal his forever home brings joy to foster parents. Cathy recalls one particularly rewarding adoption experience. “One foster dog, Gracie, we had with us for over a year. She was a great dog but she came to us with a difficult mange problem. It took months for that to improve. She was shy at first but developed into a friendly, happy dog and was so outgoing at adoption clinics it sometimes broke our hearts to watch as people interacted with her but didn’t adopt her. Then one day at Whole Foods, Gracie was getting a lot of attention from prospective adopters. One woman spent about two hours playing with Gracie and talking to us. That day Gracie found her home.”
Rick and Donna Minor, FRA
Rick and Donna Minor echo that sentiment. “Working with an ‘unadoptable’ animal (fear biter, semi-feral, serious illness or injury or too old) who would have faced certain death, preparing him or her for adoption and finding a good home” is the best part of doing rescue work. Lisa saw this when she fostered a greyhound who suffered from separation anxiety. “We got so attached to him as we worked on his issues together that he became the hardest foster for me to let go. But I know he’s in a wonderful home. That’s what makes it worth the effort.”
One of Rick and Donna’s most gratifying experiences involved an Alzheimer’s victim whose wife adopted one of their foster dogs. Soon after, she reported that her husband, who had been virtually bedridden and unresponsive for some time, got up the next day, dressed, picked up the dog’s leash, and told her he needed to take their new dog for a walk!
Bev and Donnie feel “another reward in animal rescue is the fine people you meet and become friends with. People just like you who care about the animals…who network to protect them…and who together form a strong alliance in animal protection and education.” Susan agrees that the best part of the job is the “…social activity and camaraderie that goes along with being at a clinic and the joy of seeing a cat adopted to the right home.”
EDUCATION: KEY TO THE MISSION
For most rescuers, education is the key. Cathy Louisell states, “FRA’s main mission is to help the way people view animals. We try to educate by virtue of our interaction with all our adoptive families and whoever we talk to.”
Rick and Donna distribute literature on various animal topics such as the dangers of leaving animals in hot vehicles or the inhumanity of chaining animals in the yard.
Rick and Donna Minor, FRA
Susan and Cindy also use their clinics as a way to educate. Cindy said, “ACAT’s mission is to educate people in responsible cat ownership. We talk about declawing and why it should not be done. We emphasize keeping cats indoors. We have a feral cat mission that utilizes TNR— trap, neuter, return—because ferals need protection and care. Many people look on ferals as trash or vermin. We want to correct that idea.”
One issue that needs publicity above all others is spay/neuter. Bev and Donnie are adamant in their efforts to educate people about sterilizing their pets. The more people they reach with the spay/neuter message, the sooner the problem of pet overpopulation will be controlled. Cindy agrees with this. “The lack of awareness of the problem of uncontrolled breeding is discouraging. There are programs available to help people get their animals spayed or neutered, but a lot of people just won’t do it.” Lois also believes, “We need to work toward educating absolutely everyone who adopts, as well as those who do not adopt, that spay/neuter is a must.”
SHOULD YOU DO RESCUE?
Do you have what it takes to be a foster parent or rescue volunteer? Most everyone we spoke with agrees the work can be difficult and frustrating. “The need keeps you going. The ultimate goal is finding responsible homes for the animals,” Cindy said. You must be persistent and not easily discouraged. Prime characteristics needed to do this work are lots of love, generosity and a sense of humor. Lois added, “It helps to be a good listener, to have a happy disposition, and to remain calm and collected in difficult situations. You must be able to communicate accurately and not be too hard on yourself should the adoption fail or not go as planned.”
ACAT Adoption Day
Beverly and Donnie from Pick of the Pound summed up most people’s opinions when they said, “The truth is you have to be tough enough to take the heartbreak, strong enough to let your orphan child go to a new home, wise enough to know what is helping and what is not, disciplined enough to hold your tongue when you want to rip someone to shreds, nurturing enough to nurse an injured or weak animal, dedicated enough to forfeit a lot of your own life and kind enough to want to help all species reach the goal of a harmonious life.”
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