Man’s best friend gets plenty of love from Friends of the Animals Baton Rouge, especially founder and executive director Paula Schoen. She’s been saving fur babies in the capital region for years, and turned her passion for rescuing dogs into a full-fledged operation.
A former speech language therapist, Schoen got her start in animal rescues by volunteering at a local rescue. In 2009, she started taking dogs from that shelter to Jetson Juvenile Detention Center to have the teens train them. It helped the dogs become more adoptable and also taught discipline to the high risk youth. From there, she launched FOTABR after seeing a need at the local shelters.
“When I would go to the shelter, there was no one there – no volunteers, nothing. So Friends of the Animals started out at the shelter running the volunteer program,” Schoen said.
FOTABR still works with Companion Animal Alliance by finding homes for some of the dogs there, but their volunteers are no longer needed as more people have stepped up to help at CAA. Schoen said working in the dismal shelters inspired her to open an adoption house that felt more like home.
The doggy daycare, as she calls it, has been open since 2013. The house, hopefully, makes people happy as they come in to the cozy animal abode. Keeping the dogs in the adoption house and sending the home with fosters creates a more homey environment for the dogs too.
FOTABR is unique for adoptive pet parents because the new moms and dads can get a good idea of how the newest member of the family will adjust. A covered patio on the back side of the house is perfect for meet and greets with the new parents, as well as any other dogs that may live in the home.
Schoen can tell prospective adopters anything they need to know about their new pet, from how energetic they are to how well they get along with kids or other animals. This helps ensure that each adoption is a perfect fit.
“We’re able to give them a lot of information because they live in our homes and not in a shelter operation,” Schoen said.
Fosters are essential to the program. Schoen said foster parents can bring the dogs to the adoption house on Highland Road during the day, giving the animals a better chance of finding their forever homes.
She said some fosters care for the animals during the week, while others take the dogs home for the weekend.
“They’ll drop off their dog, and they don’t come back ’til 5. So it really makes it easy on the fosters. We give them a kennel if they need one, food, anything they need we will provide for them,” Schoen said.
The only prerequisite to becoming a foster is completing the application and being at least 21-years-old. FOTABR has placed over 3,500 shelter dogs throughout the capitol region since 2010.
In cases where pet parents need to re-home their dogs, FOTABR can even help with that. As long as the family fosters the dog overnight, they can bring it to the adoption house during the day as part of the Positive Alternatives to Shelter Surrender program.
Donations and grants fund the whole operation, which cover the costs of food and vet expenses for foster parents so they don’t have to come out of their own pockets to care for the dogs. Schoen said FOTABR got one of four grants in the country worth $25,000 to treat heart worms, a big problem in Louisiana. She adds the community has been tremendously supportive with sponsorships and tax deductible donations.
Volunteers are also a key part of FOTABR. Schoen said anyone 18 and older can be a volunteer, and kids can volunteer with their parents. Anyone who wants to volunteer can call the Dog Adoption House to get started. All help is welcome since only a few employees work at the house.
For more information on adopting or to find ways to donate and volunteer, visit friendsoftheanimalsbr.com.
Images: Sean Gasser