Picture Rocky. He’s a mostly black pit bull who was caught by Marshall Animal Control last August. Pieces of flesh have been torn away from his head, neck and body, and his eyes don’t reflect much hope. Nothing is known about him, but it seems a good bet that he was used as a bait dog for an illicit fighting operation. Who is willing to adopt a dog like Rocky, with medical needs and temperament unknown?

Consider a litter of two week-old kittens at the shelter. Mortality of young orphaned kittens in almost any situation is high. They aspirate easily, must be kept warm and require feeding every two to three hours, day and night. They can’t even defecate on their own. Shelter personnel, caring and compassionate though they certainly are, don’t have the time or the resources to keep them alive.

Fortunately, there are people willing to take into their own homes animals that have potential as pets, but who need more care than Marshall’s Animal Control and Shelter can provide.

The Friends of Marshall Animals (FOMA) Pet Foster Program began as the inspiration of Danielle Bray. She knew that animals in the shelter were rarely able to show their potential as companions. The result was that many innocent creatures were destroyed when the shelter exceeded capacity; all for the lack of an adopter willing to take a chance.

In the beginning, the program consisted of Danielle herself, taking shelter animals home. With assistance from FOMA and her own fundraising, she had them treated for heartworm, if necessary, and dealt with the almost inevitable fleas and ticks. Some just had to learn how to live indoors. Given proper care, a routine, and patient handling, the animals thrived.

Now a dog had at least a little known history, which helped a potential adopter determine if there was likely to be a fit before taking it home. The adopter would have the health status and would also know something about its behavior. From 2016, when Danielle started pet fostering, until July 2018, she can recall only two dogs that were returned to her, out of the over 100 she had in her care.

Danielle estimates that she, along with the pet foster parents she was able to recruit, saved over 200 animals during her tenure. She described the work as “hard, but so rewarding. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done!”

One of Danielle’s recruits was Megan Benson, who worked as Danielle’s assistant. Megan took over responsibility for the program in the summer of 2018, bringing special skills with her. As a young teenager, she had taught herself how to care for orphaned kittens. This would come in handy.

In addition to running the foster program, and in spite of having an unusually busy family life of her own, Megan fostered the most difficult and labor-intensive cases of all: unweaned kittens and puppies, with all that entails. She also has a gift for organization. In her short time in charge, she was able to make improvements in record keeping and form design that streamlined the foster/adoption process.

Megan turned over her responsibilities to Jana Hernandez in February 2019, due to a family emergency. She is back fostering now, and still tackling the hardest cases. More about Jana and pet foster parenting in the next column.

Back to Rocky. He was hospitalized for a couple of days, but luckily had no internal injuries. He was heartworm positive and will carry scars for the rest of his life. Upon release from the hospital, he was placed in a foster home where he received the care and love he needed to heal. He turned out to be a snuggler, and now has an adopted family of his own.