For animal advocate Miki Carlamere, of Egg Harbor City, it wasn't enough just to work with abandoned animals at the Atlantic County Humane Society's Atlantic City shelter. She knew how many were killed in shelters all around the country.
The Humane Society of the United States estimates that six to eight million animals enter shelters each year, and half of them are euthanized.
So Carlamere started the nonprofit Furry Angels Rescue about seven years ago. Furry Angels joined several other South Jersey rescue groups in saving animals about to lose their lives - often transporting them to southern New Jersey from high-kill shelters in the South and Midwest.
The groups place animals in volunteer foster families, and advertise them on websites such as petfinders.com, until they are matched with permanent homes.
Furry Angels gets its animals through the M.O.M.S. Rescue in Hammonton, which travels regularly to Georgia shelters, Carlamere said. The group has 17 dogs now in foster care, and Carlamere has three foster families helping her. She also fosters several animals at a time at her home, where she lives with her two children and her own three dogs.
Foster families must provide vet and personal references, just like potential adoptive families, she said, and must sign a contract spelling out their rights and responsibilities. The screening is designed to ensure the animals get good care, and there is no question about ownership.
She is not looking for foster families to adopt animals.
"We call those foster failures," she said, "because they adopt and we lose a foster home."
She tries to arrange it so most families only have an animal for a week or two, she said. She handles the ones that take longer to place, and has had some animals for several months. But puppies tend to be placed quickly, she said.
Donna Taylor, of Linwood, has fostered for Puppies and More Rescue in Marlton, Camden County, for more than two years. An attorney for Atlantic County, and president of the Linwood City Council, she said the group had more than 100 applications for the last batch of 22 puppies it handled in December. She fostered nine of them.
"The time frame is 10 to 14 days with us," she said. "We make sure they are healthy, get them acclimated and socialized." Foster families also make sure the pups are vaccinated, and Taylor has learned to administer the shots herself, with a vet's oversight.
All of the medicine, food and accessories like baby gates are provided free of charge to foster families by the rescue group, she said.
Adoptive families pay an average of about $285 to adopt from either rescue group, which includes transport from their original shelter, pre-adoptive medical tests, up-to-date vaccination, microchipping and spaying or neutering.
Taylor said there are about a dozen foster families that regularly take animals for Puppies and More, which saved about 450 animals last year. She is due to get another batch of puppies this week. Other volunteers handle processing online adoption applications, transporting the dogs and raising money.
Toni Tarby, of Egg Harbor City, fosters for Furry Angels. She has three children, and said it is a lot of work to add care of an extra animal to the family's packed school and sports schedule. But her family enjoys it, she said.
"If you have attachment issues, it's not good," she warned. But if you can see your role as saving a life, it's easier.
Tarby said her three children, ages 3-11, have learned to help care for the animals, and say goodbye when the time comes. So have Carlamere's two children, ages 10 and 11; and Taylor's three kids, ages 12-18.
"They're reconciled to it because we know we're going to get more in, and the more we bring in the more lives we save," Taylor said. "Plus, 90 percent of the time the kids are there when people come to meet the puppies. They feel comfortable knowing they are going to good homes."
Their efforts are making a difference. The Humane Society says American shelters euthanized 12 to 20 million dogs and cats a year in the 1970s, at a time when there were 67 million pets in homes. Today, shelters euthanize around 4 million animals, while there are more than 135 million dogs and cats in homes.
"This enormous decline in euthanasia numbers - from around 25 percent of American dogs and cats euthanized every year to about 3 percent - represents substantial progress," the HSUS says on its web site, adding work still needs to be done to eliminate pet overpopulation.
People come from all over New Jersey and surrounding states to Taylor's home to meet the puppies and dogs, after their application has been received and vet and personal references checked, she said. The last adult dog she had was adopted by a woman from the Bronx in New York City, who saw the dog's photo online "and connected right away," Taylor said.
While most people want puppies, a good number are looking for adult dogs that are already housebroken, she said. Tarby agreed.
"At least when they're a year old, you have an idea of what you are getting," Tarby said of older animals whose temperaments and personalities are apparent.
The foster families make connections with adoptive families.
"We get Christmas cards with puppies pictures sent to us," Taylor said. The woman from the Bronx sent her a photo she had put on a comedy website called dogshaming.com, after the dog had eaten food she'd prepared for a holiday party. It showed the dog with a placard around her neck that read: "My mom took a shower and I ate all her asparagus wraps."
Sometimes Taylor gets the feeling that a particular dog isn't a good match with a family, and has learned to say so gently.
"I have twice (had a bad feeling) and both times the dog came back. I should not have let them go but I did. It was early on," Taylor said. Now she doesn't hesitate to tell people if she's not seeing a good fit.
"I had to tell someone 'She's not warming up to you. It's not going to work.' And the next litter there was a perfect fit," Taylor said. "They were good people, (the dog) ... was shyer, they were more aggressive. I've learned how to match personalities."
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If you want to help
To apply to be a foster family for Furry Angels Rescue, email email@example.com; and for Puppies and More, visit