This summer, two weeks before school started, I had the opportunity to conduct interviews with staff from the Helen Woodward Animal Center and several foster families. For fifty years, this San Diego County animal shelter has been dedicated to protecting and housing orphaned pets across the country. None of this would be possible without the help of its staff, donors, volunteers, and foster and adoptive families.
Monica Petruzzelli is Helen Woodward’s public relations manager. She told me that Helen Woodward is on constant alert to track the rescue of hundreds of animals each month arriving from pounds in Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana and other states. Some animals they receive come from dangerous situations.
Last month, the center was involved in the largest dog rescue in history – an operation that freed 4,000 beagles from a farm in Virginia. Most of these dogs are between 5 and 7 years old but have never eaten a treat, played with a toy or slept in a bed.
Of the 4,000 rescued beagles, forty-three are now safe under Helen Woodward’s roof. There are many more dogs like these beagles who still need our help, and without us they have no one.
Helen Woodward sends puppies and kittens to 20-30 foster families in the San Diego area each month. Erin Schmitt, the center’s host family supervisor, told me, “Human interaction is the most valuable thing we can ask for. We need foster families to temporarily keep puppies and kittens in their homes. As soon as a dog can live with a foster family, it is saved.
The center provides foster families with animals and all the necessary supplies they will need. Fostering is an elegant and effective way to solve the center’s two most pressing problems: creating space in the shelter to accept more rescued animals and transitioning existing animals into a permanent home through adoption.
Petruzzelli believes that foster care can change your life. “Thatcher, a rescued beagle I raise, has been given a new breath of life, and seeing him come back to life is a feeling you won’t find anywhere else,” she said. “When he arrived at my house for the first time since raising Virginia, he faced the stairs for the first time in fear. Now when I call him he runs up and down like a natural.
No one knows the joy of fostering better than longtime foster parent Maura Skinner. Working with Helen Woodward for several years, she has fostered over 75 pets into her home with the help of her husband, four daughters and their three dogs. Growing up in Ventura County, she was shocked by the number of homeless dogs and cats on the streets, so she knew she had to do something to help them.
“It’s hard work, but it really is a labor of love,” she said. “Dogs and cats are speechless, and it is our duty to help them realize their right to a loving family.”
His selflessness has inspired countless people to adopt pets, and a few weeks ago my own family joined us. We have taken in two 8 week old boxer puppies named Ollie and Octagon. I now spend many afternoons in my garden watching them run around in the sun, weaving through bushes and biting strawberries.
According to Schmitt, the first few months of these puppies’ lives are the most important for developing social relationships with humans and other dogs. When Ollie and Octagon learn to recognize the sound of a bouncing soccer ball and love chasing it, that piece of them will become one more thing their future family will have the joy of discovering. As Petruzzelli said, “The little things make the biggest difference in a dog’s life.”
Petruzzelli, Schmitt, Skinner and all other Helen Woodward employees and volunteers work hard to inspire others to share their passion and join in the advocacy effort. As a result, the center has received abundant help from the community in the form of volunteers, foster families and donations.
So far, Helen Woodward has received more than 200 applications to adopt rescued beagles. The Adoptions Department is still going through applications, trying to find the right person for each beagle based on their needs. Currently, a small number of beagles have already been adopted.
The combined efforts of our community are inspiring, but the rate of animal arrivals never slows. The fight to save the lives of every dog and cat in our country is a fight, and the Helen Woodward Animal Center is at the center of the battle. These orphaned pets depend on everyone’s efforts to show them the way to their forever homes.
Jack Shi is a 15-year-old junior at Canyon Crest Academy in Carmel Valley.