April 16, 2014

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Foster parents get taste of puppy love

AVON LAKE – In the last three years, Barb Hamer and Roger Schlott have had almost 200 dogs at their home.

That`s a lot of wagging tails, barking and Kibbles & Bits, by anyone`s standards.

But not all of the dogs are at their Avon Lake home at once, and the couple is willing to open up their home to even more dogs.

Some stay for just a day, others for a week or a month. Hamer and Schlott are not your typical pet owners; they are foster doggy parents, working with Love-a-Stray to give a home to dogs in need.

“I`ve been asked a lot of times, ‘Why wouldn`t someone want this dog? It`s the greatest dog in the world.` And the answer is, ‘I don`t know,` ” Hamer said while playing with one of three foster dogs currently at their home. “We get all kinds of dogs for all kinds of reasons, and the only thing they have in common is they all need a good home.”

The mission of Love-a-Stray is simple: One less homeless dog or cat. The local pet organization is dedicated to helping homeless animals, and with the holiday season upon us, the group is hoping to fulfill that mission by doubling its number of foster families, from 20 to 40, to keep up with the growing demand for homes.

Love-a-Stray operates with a no-kill policy and takes in about 300 to 400 dogs and puppies and about 1,000 cats and kittens a year.

However, with just six kennels in Avon Lake, the group is run exclusively by volunteers and a system of foster families.

The organization gets a lot of dogs this time of the year, and many times there are not enough foster homes to go around, Hamer said.

It doesn`t take much to foster a dog or cat, said Jill Schubert, grant writer and volunteer coordinator for Love-a-Stray.

The idea is not for every foster family to provide a permanent home for a stray pet, although that can certainly happen.

Rather, Schubert said the ideal foster homes are ones that are full of love and have caregivers who understand that no animal should be without a home for even one day.

“It`s awesome to see a dog blossom with love and care,” she said. “Just watching them evolve into an awesome animal is an incredible thing. Plus, when they get their forever home, you feel proud to know you helped with that process.”

Most people think they can`t foster because they will become too attached to the dogs and won`t want to give them up, Hamer said. But that`s not always true.

“Yeah, there are those dogs that just tug at your heart. But they get such great homes, I give them up easy,” she said. “They are mine for just a little while on their road to a better place.”

Hamer, a self-proclaimed dog lover, said she started fostering more than three years ago when her own dog died. She didn’t want to immediately adopt another animal, so she contacted Love-a-Stray to become a foster parent.

“That way, I could give a homeless dog a home while they are looking for their forever home,” she said. “And it`s been great. I still remember my first dog. His name was Danny Boy, a shepherd mix that came to me after it was hit by a car. There was nowhere for him to recover.”

Now, Hamer, 55, has three Love-a-Stray fosters, two shih tzus that were relinquished to the group by their owner who could no longer care for the animals but hoped to find them a loving home, and an American Eskimo that was found abused and malnourished but has since grown into a loving pet.

The only thing Hamer said she provides as a foster parent is love, a warm place to sleep and dog food.

Everything else, including all veterinary bills and the entire adoption process, is handled by Love-a-Stray, Schubert said.

“We try to decrease the load on the foster parent because we know they are doing us a huge service,” Schubert said.

Hamer keeps dogs as long as needed, from one day to four weeks. Typically, the dogs are adopted within two weeks after Love-a-Stray organizers screen applicants to ensure each dog will have a loving home.

“Some of the dogs I get in don`t even make it to petfinder.com,” she said. “I don`t see them again until a picture arrives in the mail from their forever family telling me that they love their new dog. That`s very rewarding because you see the dog is very happy and still there.”

Contact Lisa Roberson at 653-6268 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.