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Posted on Thu. Apr. 07, 2011 - 03:00 am EDT

Paws on the journey home

Animal lovers shelter pets up for adoption

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If you’re an animal lover, your heart will go out to Dots.

No question, the 9-month-old shepherd/collie mix is cute – especially when she cocks her head, perks up her ears and looks at you as if she she’s pondering the strange behavior of humans. (Who knew brushing your teeth was so fascinating?)

But despite all of this – the adorable behavior, the beautiful brown and white coat, the perky little ears – Dots is also playful. Too playful, actually, for her former home.

For the past three weeks, Dots has lived with local Perfect Paws volunteer Pam Felix and her family, but the situation is temporary. Felix took in Dots after the dog’s original family realized the spunky pup was too much for their other dog, an elderly toy breed.

“She was too rough and rowdy for an older dog,” Felix says. “She needs room to play.”

Dots is one of seven dogs Felix has fostered through Perfect Paws, a local non-profit that places pets in temporary homes until they are adopted and join their “forever family.”

The organization – which works in tandem with Fort Wayne Animal Care & Control – was founded in 2004 by Tammy Derickson, an animal lover who was concerned about the amount of stray, surrendered, abandoned and abused animals she saw. Back then, Derickson hoped the need for pet foster care would decrease over time. It hasn’t, she says.

“There is a huge need,” she says. “The shelters are overflowing, and they can’t do it alone.”

Perfect Paws receives four to eight adoptable dogs a week from Fort Wayne Animal Care & Control. Using a network of 20 foster homes, the organization places dogs with families temporarily while volunteers seek permanent homes for them. Felix has fostered dogs for just six days and sometimes as long as six weeks.

“These are the dogs that, at the shelter, just sit back in the corner,” Derickson says. “They’ve passed the adoption tests, but they hang back and go unnoticed. These dogs aren’t going to get adopted that way.”

Perfect Paws follows Animal Care & Control guidelines, making sure all the adoptable pets are spayed or neutered, are vaccinated, have been tested for heartworm and leukemia, and have started flea and tick prevention.

Foster families may choose what kind of pet to foster – big dogs, puppies, cats, etc. – which increases the need for volunteer families. And, yes, the process is hard at first, Derickson says.

“The first couple are very traumatic,” she says. “The fosters have a tendency to get very attached to the first couple of animals. So there are tears, and then they think it’s too hard and they can’t do it.

“But if I can get them past the first two – after they get feedback, pictures and updates from the pet’s forever family – the fosters realize they’re making a difference.”

Although giving up a foster pet is hard, Felix is determined to love Dots – and all of her foster pets – the way she loves her own dog, Duke.

“It is hard when they get adopted,” she says. “But it’s easier knowing they’re going to really good homes. I know that if I keep them, it means I can’t foster anymore. … And I don’t want to do that because I love doing this so much.”

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