California: Shelly Rogers, a Champion for Senior Dogs
A dog’s final years can also be their best years. That’s the viewpoint of Shelly Rogers, who’s opened her home to dozens of elderly foster dogs who might otherwise have spent their last weeks or months in a shelter.
“In a home, as someone’s pet, they get a name and a bed,” she says. “It’s one of my favorite things to do because you don’t want that dog to end its life at the shelter; you want it to be a loved pet in someone’s home. Yes, it is so hard when they die, but I’ve had the honor of giving them their last home.”
Rogers and her husband have fostered 89 dogs from Chico Animal Shelter in Northern California since she started volunteering with the city-run shelter in 2012. They’ve found homes for them all, with the exception of five “fospice” dogs (foster dogs who need hospice care) who passed away, and two who still live with the couple. She also volunteers with the Neighborhood Cat Advocates (NCA), a Chico group formed in January 2013 that traps, neuters/spays and then releases feral and homeless cats.
Rogers has never failed to find a loving forever family for her senior foster dogs—even if that family is her own.
“When I know the end is coming, I adopt the dog, so it’s my dog,” Rogers says. “It didn’t die as a shelter animal; it died as my pet.”
Georgia: Trent Allen, the “Cat Whisperer” of Savannah
When a neglected or abused cat finds their way to the Humane Society of Greater Savannah, staff there know just who to call: Trent Allen, also known as “the cat whisperer.” Allen specializes in comforting and socializing difficult felines, training them to accept care and love so that they’re able to find an adopted family.
“I have this patience level with animals, this deeper understanding from watching very subtle changes in their body language. I understand their pain, because I’ve gone through pain myself,” says Allen, whose family refused to accept him when he came out as transgender.
Allen is the senior animal care tech at the Savannah humane society, a role that includes grooming. He finds joy in socializing shelter cats, especially ones with behavioral issues, and helping the animals become “comfortable in their own skin” by giving them a haircut and a bath, he says.
Since he began working at the shelter about a year and a half ago, he’s helped to rehabilitate over 150 cats. He’s also fostered over 40 cats in his own home, many with special medical needs or behavioral problems who needed training or socialization.
One of Allen’s most recent successes was a tom cat named Mickey, one of 70 cats rescued from a hoarding situation. “No one could touch this cat,” Allen recalls. “He was Mr. Grumpy Pants and nobody could get near him. I worked with him for about five months, and he went from biting and scratching anybody who came near him to being the sweetest boy.”
After 5 months with Allen, Mickey found his forever home. For Allen, successes like these make his work worthwhile—but they’re also bittersweet. “It’s really hard not to cry like a baby when your project cat gets adopted,” he says.
Illinois: Cheryl West, a “Super Foster” Who’s Helped Hundreds of Pets
Cheryl West has always made space for animals in need. A special education teacher in Chicago, she and her 12-year-old son began volunteering at the South Suburban Humane Society in 2012 as a way to spend quality time together. Today, her son is 20 years old, and together they have fostered more than 300 dogs and cats in the past eight years, nearly all of which have found permanent homes.
You read that right: West has lent her home to 300 pets since 2012. And she’s still finding room for new fosters, including animals who come with challenges to adoption, like advanced age or special needs.
West recently fostered a couple of “sassy old lady chihuahuas,” she says, who were both “ancient” and “grumpy”—not exactly what the average pet parent is looking for. When pets like these find a forever home, she says, she feels as happy and grateful as the pets themselves.
“Sometimes you lose hope in humanity, and then somebody steps up and is willing to take on a difficult case, or a dog with special needs,” she says. “When you take in a foster pet, you’re saving a life.”
As a foster parent, she knows she’s helping the animals in countless ways. She’s noticed that pets’ personalities come out fully when they leave the shelter, and if they have medical needs, they’ll heal much faster in the less stressful environment of her home.
And though the goal is always to help shelter pets find homes, she doesn’t mind if some of them end up living with her long term.
“We have a pack of failures that still lives with us,” she says with a laugh.