Pet ‘foster family’ promoting good cause

Published 10:30 am Wednesday, April 7, 2004

By By JAMES COLLINS / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- Caring for 11 dogs and six cats qualifies Bill and Martha Fenton of Niles, as bonafide pet lovers.
As members of Animal Aid of Southwestern Michigan, the Fentons have been providing foster homes for homeless animals since 2000.
The couple owns five of the 11 dogs, all rescued pets, and the six cats. They are providing a foster home for an additional six dogs, who are waiting for a permanent home.
Bill Fenton was quick to point out that having so many dogs is just a temporary arrangement. He said it is not the norm for an Animal Aid foster family to have so many dogs, but because the need for caring homes has been so great lately, they have agreed to take them on temporarily.
Animal Aid of Southwestern Michigan was founded nearly 20 years ago to help injured, abused, and neglected animals in our area.
The organization has no shelter, so volunteers, like the Fentons, provide caring foster homes until adoptive families can be found.
Last year, the organization found homes for 183 dogs and 111 cats.
Animal Aid is a non-profit organization whose funding comes entirely from donations, memorials and yearly events like the Mutt March in August and the Christmas Open House/Raffle in December.
With limited funding, Animal Aid still manages to provide medical treatment, innoculations and spaying/neutering for all the animals they help. Volunteers also give their time to provide education on proper pet care and the importance of spaying/neutering all pets.
Fenton encourages people to donate to the organization's most recent fundraiser called One Million Pennies for Homeless Pets. Locally, people can donate their spare change at the Animal Aid barrel located inside Martin's Supermarket, 720 S. 11th St. in Niles.
There are also a number of donation location around the county including Pets Supplies Plus in Benton Harbor and Paw Mart in St. Joseph.
Fenton said all of Animal Aid's foster home providers are currently at their limit and the organization can not take on any new pets.
Last week, Fenton agreed to take on a sixth foster dog.
Being retired, having a nice dog run outside and extensive experience with dogs allows the couple to take proper care of all of the animals.
He said taking care of nearly a dozen dogs at once is something that he has gotten used to.
The Fentons, who used to own the K-9 Center in Niles' Bell Plaza, have always loved dogs, but there was a period of time when tragedy kept dogs out of their lives for almost a decade.
The couple raised and bred Bouviers and Basset Hounds for years and provided grooming and obedience training for other dogs.
In 1991, the Fentons experienced heart break when they lost their three dogs in a matter of weeks, two dogs died of cancer and the other dog suffered from severe arthritis.
They went for eight years without a dog until they decided to adopt a rescued shepherd mix named Chubby in 1999.
In 2000, the Fentons volunteered to provide a foster home for Animal Aid and the floodgates have been open ever since.
They have taken on four more dogs as their own and continue to open their doors for any dog in need of a caring place to live.
With a combination of love for animals and a lot of experience in caring for dogs, Fenton said he felt it was their duty to be helping dogs in need.
With 11 dogs, Fenton must take them out in two separate shifts to let the dogs spend time in the fenced-in dog run in their yard.
Taking care of so many dogs can be a large job because most of the dogs they receive are suffering from malnutrition and other health concerns.
Fenton said another big part of providing a foster home is helping to socialize the dogs to be friendly and obedient for their permanent owners.
He said all of the dogs currently living at his house are compatible with each other and even get along with the six cats.
Since 2000, the couple has cared for about 50 foster dogs and Fenton said he sees no end in sight.
Fenton will be bringing some of his foster dogs to Animal Aid's Adoption Clinic this weekend. The event will be held on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Pet Supplies Plus in Benton Harbor.