Fostering Forever Friendships
When Shannon Bohl met Piper, an Old English Bulldog, Piper was cowering beneath a kitchen table. The family who adopted her had unknowingly purchased her from someone who “flips” dogs—a troubling practice that occurs when dogs are found or stolen and later sold for a profit. After a month and a half, the family had made no progress with Piper, and decided to contact the Brown County Pet Rescue League for help. Shannon was able to coax the panicked pooch out from her hiding place and, eventually, helped place her in a new “Forever Home” in Minot, N.D. Within a week, Piper had already adjusted to her new home, exceeding everyone’s expectations by getting along with other people, dogs, and even children. The best part? Piper’s success story inspired a string of other rescues from those who knew her and her new owner, leading to the successful placement of even more rescue dogs.
Stories like this are why Shannon Bohl, president of the Brown County Pet Rescue League (BCPRL), has been running the rescue for over a decade and found forever homes for over 300 dogs (and other pets!)
Shannon started volunteering at the local Humane Society when she was 14 years old, but her career in animal care didn’t begin until after the birth of her first child. Health complications made her reconsider her teaching position at the time, and she began to think seriously about the need for a local foster-based rescue.
Unlike the Humane Society, the Rescue League doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar location. Instead, the league is made up of a network of volunteers who host rescued animals in the comfort and privacy of their own homes. This is a great alternative for animals that may struggle in a shelter setting due to age, medical issues, or a lack of socialization and behavioral training.
Most importantly, the Foster program allows Shannon and members of the league to get to know both the animals and the people adopting them.
“I won’t place a dog in a home until I’ve gotten to know the family and know they have a good history,” Shannon said.
In shelters like the Humane Society, it’s important for animals to be adopted quickly to prevent overcrowding. Unfortunately, this sometimes means pets might not always mesh well with their new home, causing them to end up back at a shelter.
“People get animals by how they look and later realize they’re a lot more work,” Shannon said. “If I can keep an animal out of the system and in a good home, that is always my goal.”
But the Rescue League is so much more than just a foster program. It also helps pet owners who have fallen on hard times. Foster homes can keep pets while a family goes through a move or other major life change, and the League will help pay for basic needs like food and cat litter if someone is having trouble making ends meet.
“They might not have much money, but they have a whole lot of love,” Shannon said.
The Rescue League also runs a food bank to give pet food to families directly, in addition to taking over the Spay and Neuter Coalition to make sure people have access to low-cost spay and neuter options.
“We will never rescue our way out of overpopulation,” Shannon said. “Especially with cats. We can’t rescue them fast enough.”
Shannon says she has a soft spot for helping senior citizens with their pets. “These animals mean everything to them,” she said. “When they get too old to care for them, they worry, ‘What will happen to my dog?’”
The Rescue League makes sure the pets have a safe place to go, and even helps keep former owners in touch with them.
“All the owners are so thankful and appreciative,” Shannon said.
Fit to Foster
The Brown County Pet Rescue League currently has about 10 foster homes, though that number is constantly fluctuating. Right now, many foster homes are housing both dogs and cats to keep up with the ever-rising demand of animals in need. Potential fosters fill out an application on the Pet Rescue League’s website. If Shannon thinks they sound like a good fit, she calls them to talk to them directly, after which she schedules a home visit and inspection.
“I don’t do that to judge people—just to make sure they live where they say they live,” Shannon explained. “After you’ve done this for so long, you kind of get a gut feeling about things.”
She isn’t strict with requirements, though for specific dogs known to be “escape artists” she may recommend the foster home have a fenced-in yard. She also tends to be more cautious with families that have babies or toddlers since certain dogs may struggle more with children in the home. “It’s just for everybody’s safety,” she said.
After passing the home inspection, the Rescue League does a 7-day trial period to make sure the animal successfully settles in. The Pet Rescue League pays for all expenses once an animal is in a foster home. “We just ask that they give [the animal] love and shelter,” Shannon said.
With a long list of behavior classes under her belt, Shannon works directly with the dogs to help train them. That even extends to the Aberdeen Area Humane Society, where she frequently helps train dogs and hopes to soon offer a revamped volunteer program that would teach volunteers to do basic dog training such as loose-leash walking.
But what if I want to keep them all???
Shannon understands firsthand the bonds many foster families form with the animals they rescue. She’s kept her own fair share of animals over the years, but lovingly insists the ones she takes in are the dysfunctional ones. “I tend to take in the dogs that are harder to adopt out, whether they’re older or more challenging.”
Her first rescue-turned-family member was a chihuahua who was stuck in a garage in a box. “His owners said he was a terrible dog. But he and I just clicked for some reason,” Shannon said.
It can be difficult at first, but it gets easier when you see the animals going home to good families, Shannon says. She makes sure the foster families are involved with the adoption families, listening to their input on applications and even letting them come along to meet the applicants. Oftentimes, both the foster and the adoptive family become friends and continue to exchange photos of their pets. “I’ve learned that it’s a lot easier to foster when you have input,” Shannon said. “When you know they’re going to the right home, it doesn’t hurt so much.”
Being on the front-lines of pet rescue can sometimes be difficult, heartbreaking work. Shannon has rescued dogs from all kinds of situations, from puppy mills to abusive homes to dogs abandoned on the street. But despite the challenges, the difference the Pet Rescue League has made on the community has made it more than worth it.
“I love watching the families when they meet their new dog and the dog meets them, and you just know it’s right,” Shannon said. “I might not be able to save them all, but at least there’s one life I made a difference in. When you see that, it refills your cup.” //
In order to keep up with the constant animal-care needs running a rescue requires, the Pet Rescue League is constantly seeking out new fosters as well as monetary donations. If you are interested in becoming a foster or adoptive family, you can apply online at browncoprl.wixsite.com/bcprl. Donations can be made to [email protected] or mailed to PO Box 1020, 6th Ave. S.E. Suite 1. For more information and any questions you might have, you can contact Shannon directly at 605-228-2894. Follow their Facebook page to get updates of all the current foster animals at www.facebook.com/PetRescueLeague.