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Foster care of puppies gives woman purpose

By Kathy Antoniotti
Beacon Journal staff writer

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Donna Schulman nuzzles one of the five puppies she is fostering at her home in Stow, Ohio. (Mike Cardew/Akron Beacon Journal)
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Puppies heal the heart.

It is one of my favorite sayings and especially fitting when someone loses a longtime pet. The loss can make you feel as if your heart will shatter like glass.

But when you are suffering from a long-term illness and you lose a well-loved pet, the pain can be doubly debilitating.

“Last September, as I lay beside one of the best friends I ever had in my life, his shallow breathing and lifeless body left me numb,” wrote Stow resident Donna Schulman.

Schulman, who suffers with fibromyalgia, a syndrome that affects an estimated 5.8 million Americans, said just getting out of bed in the morning was one of her biggest challenges each day. Toby, her 17-year-old canine buddy, was more than happy to stay by her side.

When Toby died, replacing him was out of the question. Why take the risk of going through that kind of heartbreak again, she asked herself.

Schulman’s 87-year-old mother, who lives with her, would have none of it.

“It’s just not right without a dog in this house,” said Margie Banbury.

So Schulman and her husband, Dick, went in search of a dog that would belong strictly to her mother, bringing home a Pomeranian named Pepper.

During the outing, a kernel of an idea began to sprout and Schulman realized she wanted to foster dogs. Emotionally, she could keep a safe distance just knowing they would go to new homes. That should keep the pain of separation at bay. But Schulman realized even more that it wasn’t just a dog she truly wanted to foster, that it would have to be puppies — lots of puppies — even those with special needs, if necessary.

Dick was dubious about the idea, she said. How could a woman with her medical condition care for an aging mother and multiple pups, too?

Naively, Schulman thought that if she didn’t name the dogs, there would be no attachment and therefore no pain when they separated ways.

But the secret to being a successful foster parent came to her when she overheard another foster parent explain how it works.

“You grow to love each and every one of your foster dogs but you love them enough to take great care to find them a wonderful home where they will be loved forever. When you have done that, you have room to save another dog in need, another dog you will fall in love with,” she said.

It wasn’t long before Paws and Prayers animal rescue assigned her the care of three newborn American bulldog pups that had only a 40 percent chance of survival. Their mother had died from neglect and starvation. During their first 24 hours with Schulman, one puppy died.

For the next eight weeks, Schulman found a reason to leave her bed each day.

“I realized I had these pups depending on me, and they didn’t care if I was tired or in pain. So, I had to push through. I suddenly found myself with a purpose and a passion. I loved what I was doing,” she said.

Through several bouts with serious puppy illnesses, Schulman researched and administered the best medical care she could find.

“We now have been through gruel, worming, enemas and high-pitched whining at 3 a.m. and they completely have my heart,” she admitted.

At a healthy eight weeks, Schulman dutifully listed the dogs for adoption with other Paws and Prayers animals on PetFinder.com. She approved the adopters herself, finding homes she herself would want to go to, she said.

Two weeks ago, before Ducky and Bolt (yes, they did get named) flew the nest, five new foster puppies (yet to be named) and their white shepherd mamma moved into the Schulman household.

“I truly believe this experience has saved me from a really bleak future and once again gave me purpose. I guess this time, Paws and Prayers saved more than just our four-legged friends,” she said.

Other animals in the news:

Feral Cat Seminar — 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. March 16 at One of a Kind Pet Rescue Adoption Center, 1929 W. Market St., Akron. An informative seminar for those interested in learning how to humanely control the cat population through Trap-Neuter-Return. There is no charge for the program and reservations are not required. Call 330-867-6890 for more information.

St. Pat’s Day at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo — 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 17 at the zoo, 3900 Wildlife Way. Volunteers collect recyclable materials including old cellphones, aluminum cans (one pound minimum), pairs of athletic shoes and cookware (pots and pans) at the zoo’s ticket plaza. Guests who bring any of these items will receive a $2 discount for admission. Guests may also bring newspapers, magazines, junk mail and bagged shredded paper to the green and yellow paper retriever bins in the Hippo parking lot behind the RainForest. Admission through March 31 is $8.25, $5.25 for children 2-11, free for children younger than 2. For more information, visit clemetzoo.com or call 216-661-6500.

Bunny EGGstravaganza — 9:30 to 11 a.m. March 23-24 and 30 at the Akron Zoo, 500 Edgewood Ave. The event includes hot chocolate, crafts, an egg hunt and visit with the bunny. Reservations are required and can be made by calling 330-375-2550 or online at www.akronzoo.org. Space is limited. $8 for adults, $10 for children; admission free for zoo members, $8 for children.

Kathy Antoniotti writes about pets for the Akron Beacon Journal. She is unable to help locate, place or provide medical attention for an individual animal. If you have an idea or question about pets, write her at the Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640; call 330-996-3565; or send an email to kantoniotti@thebeaconjournal.com.


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