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Critters in crisis
Pet shelter full, foster parents few
Puppy Dog 4 es
Humane Society of Forsyth County volunteer Lisa Leonard shows occupied dog kennels at the no-kill organization's shelter. - photo by Emily Saunders

Nate, a playful, energetic mix between a golden retriever and an Airedale terrier, bounds across the driveway of his temporary home with his tongue hanging out and tail swinging furiously.

Occasionally, he breaks from his playful romp and gives sloppy kisses to his foster parents, James Gooch and Jill Franklin.

Gooch and Franklin, both 28, are taking care of Nate, a resident of the Humane Society of Forsyth County awaiting adoption.

Nate, who is a year old, was found as a stray in North Carolina and later brought to Georgia, where Gooch said a family "surrendered" him to the shelter.

The struggling economy and blazing summer months have not been kind to pets like Nate, as the number of animals brought to shelters like the Humane Society of Forsyth County has noticeably increased.

On a national scale, every year between 6 and 8 million pets are taken to shelters, according to Nancy Peterson, an issues specialist with the Humane Society of the United States.

No vacancy


The Humane Society of Forsyth County is a "no-kill shelter," which means that its cats and dogs are not euthanized. They remain under the shelter's care until they are adopted.

But the shelter is full, said Lisa Leonard, the Society's Home Team leader. She estimated that as many as 10 animals a day are turned away as a result.

"Being a no-kill shelter, when we're full, we turn away pets," she said.

These pets, explained Leonard, may then be dumped somewhere or taken to the Forsyth County Animal Shelter, which does euthanize.

Some pets at the shelter, like Nate, go to foster homes to make more room for other animals.  

But foster parents like Gooch and Franklin are hard to come by these days.

Leonard said not only has the number of animals entering the shelter increased, but the number of people willing to foster them has decreased.

While more than 70 percent of the shelter's residents are usually placed in foster care, Leonard estimated that barely 60 percent now live in foster homes. As a result, the shelter, which can hold 20 dogs, 17 cats and 12 kittens at a time, has no room for new residents.

Economic struggles

Leonard attributes the influx to several factors, including the economy and summer vacations.
Summertime, Leonard said, is an annual problem as many potential foster families go on vacation.

"People are traveling and are less likely to want to take on a cat or dog," she said. "People don't realize that foster families are not expected to pay for boarding."

In fact, foster families don't have to pay for much. In addition to boarding, medical costs are also covered, including heartworm and flea treatments.

The shelter also provides pet supplies, such as leashes, collars, blankets, toys, bedding and food bowls.

"The only thing they have to cover is feeding the pet," Leonard said.  

But with the country's current economic plight, especially the high cost of food and gas, Leonard said that even this expense may be too much.

"People are less likely to take on another mouth to feed," she explained.

The shelter does collect and give food donations to the community and foster homes, but even it is struggling to meet the demands of both groups.

Families with pets, Leonard said, are coming more frequently to collect food rather than to donate it, as they cannot afford any themselves. Because of this, the amount of food given to foster homes has decreased.   

Home foreclosures, Leonard said, also are decreasing the number of adoptions and foster homes due to families downsizing to smaller, less pet-friendly, residences.

Forsyth County Animal Control reported that it too has seen an increase in owners turning their pets in due to home foreclosures.

"Usually we're able to weather it," Leonard said in reference to the summertime lull. "But all the factors coming together has not helped."

Peterson added that the home foreclosures and other economic woes are not limited to Forsyth County.

"It's definitely a nationwide phenomenon," she said.

Still, she urged people to take responsiblity for their pets.

"Please never abandon a pet in a home, apartment or to the streets," she said. "There's a good chance that that pet will be injured or die a slow, horrible death."

A solution


The future of the animals at the shelter are important to Leonard, who has volunteered there for more than two years. She has six dogs of her own, some of which are fosters.

She said that raising awareness about fostering is one way to solve the shelter's no vacancy status.

This, she explained, includes informing people about the cost of fostering, the duration of the pet's stay, which is usually no more than three months, and the shelter's flexibility in dealing with foster families' needs.

For example, Leonard said, "if you take in an animal that is not compatible in the home, then we always have the opportunity to switch it out for a more compatible animal."

Leonard, Gooch said, has been a great mentor throughout their time as foster parents. "She's really an amazing organizer," he said.

Before someone can foster a pet, they must fill out an application and have a home visit from a society staff member to ensure that they and their home are compatible for the pet.

Franklin and Gooch enjoy being foster parents, as they cannot be full time dog owners themselves. Both run a sustainability-based nonprofit organization, Change of Atmosphere, which takes them away from home several times a year. But, thanks to the foster program, Gooch and Franklin have cared for six dogs since January, including Nate.

"We look to discipline them, give them a structure and get them ready for their forever home," Gooch said.

Bittersweet farewell

Their "forever home" is what Gooch and the Society refer to as the home that adopts the pet.

When the dogs they take care of find a potential permanent residence, he and Franklin accompany a member of the society to the home to ensure it will be a good fit for the animal.

While they are happy that the dogs find homes, parting with each one has been bittersweet.

"You do get attached to the dog, and they get attached to you," said Gooch.

"It's hard because you have to give them away," added Franklin. "But it makes you feel good."
Gooch also said he still visits the dogs he has fostered in the past; both he and Franklin know and communicate with the pets' adopted owners.

Nate has been with the couple for several weeks, and they are hoping that soon, he will find his "forever home."

"He's had 86 views on," Franklin said. is an online database featuring adoptable animals from more than 10,000 animal shelters and adoption organizations in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

When Nate does leave, Franklin and Gooch said they are taking a month off before welcoming another dog into their home.

While Nate, who is now intently watching an unseen squirrel or bird rustling the leaves of a nearby tree, may not have a permanent home just yet, life in foster care seems to suit him just fine.

Franklin said the experience has been great for both Gooch and her as well.

"More people should do it," she said.

The couple said in unison that the experience is "rewarding," because it helps the shelter and the community.

But, most of all, it helps the dogs and cats, like Nate, who receive a little extra tender, love and care while they search for their "forever homes."