Morgan Hollingsworth and her dog, Sansa, originally a foster but now a permanent part of the family.
The Athens-Clarke County Animal Shelter has been in the news repeatedly due to criticism of animal care and its record of euthanizing a large number of dogs and cats. In the wake of disturbing reports, the Athens-Clarke County Commission unanimously reorganized Animal Control as the Animal Services Department reporting directly to the manager’s office. This restructuring is designed to improve local animal services in a community facing an ongoing challenge. Simply put, there is not enough room at local shelters for the large number of homeless dogs and cats in the Athens area.
According to Best Friends Animal Society, the largest no-kill homeless animal sanctuary in the U.S., Georgia is considered to be a high-kill state. Best Friends’ mission is to “save them all,” and it has been working with local organizations nationwide and making progress toward this goal. According to Best Friends, of the 5.3 million dogs and cats that entered shelters in 2018 in Georgia, 4.1 million were saved. The unsaved animals were killed mostly due to lack of space and infrastructure to care for and adopt out homeless animals. Despite the grim statistics in Georgia and the U.S. as a whole, many positive steps are occurring across the country, in Georgia and in the greater Athens community.
One such step is the rescue work done by local organizations like Three Paws Rescue. Three Paws works closely with the Athens-Clarke County Animal Shelter, Madison Oglethorpe Animal Shelter (MOAS) and other rescue organizations to place homeless cats and dogs in foster homes and forever adoptive homes. University of Georgia student Madison Webb, along with friend and business partner Kelvin Ling, founded Three Paws in 2018. Since that time, this grassroots nonprofit has saved 568 dogs and cats.
Three Paws matches potential adopters with available dogs and cats through its Facebook page, its website and Petfinder, a large pet adoption site that serves North America. The organization actively participates in events to showcase adoptable dogs, such as Boo-le-Bark, Petsense adoption days, UGA’s Stuff the Truck and events hosted by supportive local businesses, such as Chops and Hops and Fully Loaded Pizza. The organization communicates with its dedicated volunteers via a private foster Facebook page, where Webb frequently notifies the group when shelters are full and desperate for fosters to avoid euthanasia. The need is dire, and according to several foster families, the volunteer work is transformational and rewarding.
UGA graduate school student Elizabeth Wrobel and fiancé Trevor Richards have been fostering for Three Paws since February 2019. Wrobel started fostering when she found an emaciated stray Doberman at a gas station parking lot. She searched for an adopter to rescue the dog while it was held at Animal Control waiting to be claimed by owners who never came. Three Paws offered to rescue her from the county animal shelter if Wrobel would foster her, and the dog was named Athena. Wrobel learned that the rescue group provides spaying, neutering and microchipping services for all animals in its care. It provides food, leashes, collars and medication—foster homes only need to provide love, socialization and comfort. Athena was adopted to a wonderful home, and Wrobel’s foster journey continued. Currently, Wrobel and Richards primarily foster kittens. “Getting to help homeless animals is one of my greatest joys,” Wrobel said.
Erika Carter, her husband and their three young children began to foster when their 14-year-old beloved pit bull mix, Jasemine, was terminally ill with bone cancer. Their younger rescue dog, Roscoe, suffered from separation anxiety, and they were concerned that Roscoe would be devastated and unable to recover when Jasemine passed. Carter’s family fostered a border collie mix that comforted Jasemine in her last days and was a companion to Roscoe when she lost her furry friend. As Carter continued to foster, she found that Roscoe no longer had separation anxiety. “I wish I would have known about the fostering process years ago, as it has helped our family in more ways than we can mention,” Carter said. “We are also teaching our children how to give back to the community.”
Third grade teacher Morgan Hollingsworth and husband Ryan, a paramedic, also foster for Three Paws. They had one dog and were considering adopting a second, so fostering enabled them to see if a two-dog family would work for them. They enjoyed their foster dog, Sansa, so much that they decided to keep her. They hesitated to foster more for fear of wanting to keep them all. However, while volunteering at MOAS, Hollingsworth met a puppy that needed a foster. MOAS connected with Three Paws, and the family has since fostered four dogs, all of whom were adopted.
Cari Sue Keller, another elementary school teacher who volunteers for Three Paws, is fostering 12-year-old Little indefinitely. Keller wants to spoil Little for the rest of his days, and he is considered a hospice foster due to his age. He was ill and malnourished when turned in to the shelter, but has recovered. The “fospice” (foster and hospice) option works well for Keller, because she believes she would “foster fail” one after another and have a house full of dogs. Little is also a companion for Keller’s 6-year-old granddaughter, Cady.
Three Paws foster volunteers include single men and women, couples, and families with children and grandchildren of all ages. Some foster regularly, and others jump in when they can. Some have dogs or cats, and others do not. Most have hectic schedules with school, family, work and other obligations. Three Paws works with foster families to find dogs that fit best for their situation.
Anyone considering fostering may contact Three Paws and apply without making a long term commitment. Applications for fostering and adoption are available at threepawsrescue.org.