In 1999, when Hurricane Floyd brought massive flooding to Eastern North Carolina, Missy Ward was one of the volunteers working with the many pets it displaced. Microchipping was far less common then than it is today, making reconnecting pets with owners difficult.
That same year, she started fostering cats for Best Friend Pet Adoption. Since then, both the technology and the laws have changed: today, cats and dogs are regularly microchipped, and the 2006 Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act has made it easier for disaster evacuees to flee without abandoning their animals.
“For some people, that’s all they have,” Ward says. Her connection to animals is just as strong – today she’s BFPA’s cat coordinator. The organization, which formed in 1998, has evolved since then, starting initiatives to spay or neuter community cats, commonly known as feral cats, as long as they’re being fed. More than anything, though, BFPA has continued in its original mission, surviving as a foster and adoption organization longer than many such nonprofits last.
“We never overload our foster homes with too many animals,” says Carol Cook of Angier. “This is never a good situation for the people or the animals.” Cook has fostered for BFPA since 2001 and previously volunteered with a similar foster organization in Greensboro. She’s on the board of directors and the fundraising team; she hosts adoption events, administers vaccines and, yes, fosters dogs of any size and temperament.
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She’s never succumbed to the temptation to adopt one of her fosters, though she jokes there’s always a first time. She reminds herself that there are many more animals out there, and that adopting another dog means she’ll have less room to foster. It’s this perspective, this professionalism, she says, that’s helped BFPA survive.
Plus, as Ward says, the animals BFPA takes in need more than just a roof over their heads. “Generally, healthy animals get to stay in their home – that’s why they’re healthy,” she says. “By the time we get them, they’ve generally been stray for a while, abandoned for a while, or they ended up in the shelter if they’re lucky enough.” Many North Carolina animal shelters lack in-house veterinarians; they’re typically strapped for funds.
“It is what it is,” Ward says.
So when BFPA gets an animal – from a shelter, an ailing owner or off the street – the animal gets shots and a microchip. It is spayed or neutered and receives vet care if needed. These costs go beyond what the organization makes in adoption fees, so it is totally reliant on donations to get these animals well. “With big medical cases, we (make a) plea to our donors,” Ward says.
Supporters who can’t give money can work at fundraising events or donate pet food or supplies. And BFPA, which works primarily in the Triangle, could always use more foster homes. There are no specific criteria; much like adoption, fostering is about connecting the right cat or dog to the right person.
“It’s about personality matches,” Ward says. And it’s about fosters who, like Cook, work full-time jobs, have families, but still dedicate their free time to previously stray animals.
“I foster because I believe that is my purpose in life,” Cook says.