BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – What could have been a tragedy, turned into a triumph for the P.A.W no-kill animal shelter in Fort Madison.
With the wicked winter air that descended on southeast Iowa at the end of January, Sandy Brown, the director of the shelter, started worrying about all the dogs that were penned outside at the shelter.
She said they have had situations with cold before, where the animals were brought inside for warmth. But this was something different.
“We had over 50 dogs that lived outside. Our concern was keeping them warm. We can do that at 20 or 30 degrees but with windchills of -45, we were very concerned about keeping everyone warm,” Brown said Tuesday.
So the shelter put a message out to the community asking if anyone would be willing to foster a dog for two weeks. Brown said if they were able to get even 10 people who would take 10 dogs, they could make sheltering work during the arctic blast.
The next day, people were lined up at the door filling out paperwork and waiting for a dog to take home. Brown said the families that came in didn’t even get to pick the animal, shelter workers assigned animals based on information provided on the paperwork.
“We had no idea we’d get this type of response. People came in and filled out paperwork. We looked at their paperwork and we picked the dog for them,” Brown said. “Everyone was patient and wonderful. It was just amazing how easily it went and how many people stepped forward. They were kind… they were patient…and they were very considerate knowing what kind of crunch we were in.”
She said four dogs went to a boarding house in Mt. Pleasant, 3 were held at another rescue, and nine went to Country Pup Boarding near Keokuk.
“A total of 62 dogs left the shelter before those frigid temperatures hit and nobody was left outside,” Brown said.
What’s even greater, she said, is that 30 of those dogs have found forever homes because of the opportunities brought on by the two-week fosters.
“Thirty were adopted by either the people that fostered them, their friends, or people who saw the animals during the fostering time,” Brown said. “These are big dogs. Not the cute 10 or 14 pound dogs. These are big-headed dogs that are almost always outside, that have found their homes.”
Only one dog, Ruby, who was featured and followed on Facebook as rescuers tried to locate her, escaped from her foster home and ran loose. But Brown said even that had a happy ending as Ruby found a friend “Moses” in her two-day travels and the two are now both being adopted at the end of the week.
Even businesses like Jay’s Auto in West Point and River City Motors Plus in Fort Madison offered their garages as a safe haven for kenneled animals during the cold.
“This community really stepped up and now we have a great story to tell,” Brown said.
She’s calling the event the “Freezer to Foster Care Forever” movement and said fostering is something that the shelter is going to take a closer look at in the future.
She said the shelter is licensed to have a fostering program that augments the adoption, but with the large number of animals and what that entails on a daily basis, there hasn’t been extra time to get the program up and running.
Despite the outpouring of support and the high number of adoptions that took place, there are still 110 dogs and 56 cats at the shelter.
“I don’t want anyone to think we don’t have dogs waiting for homes, but a lot of big headed dogs got to go home. At home, they are so much better than at the shelter. They know…they just curl up with you and are so much happier.”
Typically fostering requires the families to provide fully for the animal including food and any medical requirements, but during this fostering to get the animals out of the life-threatening cold, the shelter offered food and even kennels if the families needed them.
“One person took us up on a kennel and no one took us up on the food,” Brown said.
“I’m sure we we’ll be doing much more fostering. We need to sit down and figure out what our program we’ll look it.”
Brown said shelter continues to be blessed by the communities it serves.
“We want to thank everyone who stepped up and supported us. We are very blessed. We deal with a lot of rescues from communities where they don’t have the support we do,” she said. “We want people to know that doesn’t go unnoticed.”