By Kathy Antoniotti
Beacon Journal staff writer
A local rescue group is on track to meet its lofty goal: Find homes for as many as 1,000 unwanted animals by the end of the year.
Paws and Prayers, which has placed more than 700 animals this year, credits its success to good customer relations, said Jen D'Aurelio, the group's president.
''People aren't adopting animals anymore. They feel they are buying them. They expect to be treated like consumers,'' she said.
The nonprofit agency charges $200 for a fully vetted dog and $300 for vetted puppies. Standard adoption fee for cats is $90. Fees for senior dogs and cats can be much lower.
Projected adoption fees could raise as much as $100,000 this year, with the entire amount going toward caring for unwanted animals, D'Aurelio said.
The group, which also rescues dogs from the Summit County animal shelter, often doesn't take the cute and cuddly ones that can easily find homes. Paws and Prayers is known for rescuing dogs that
are hard to place, Summit County animal control manager Christine Fatheree said.
Older dogs get help
''Jen comes in here and takes the older dogs that have been here the longest. She usually says, 'What two or three dogs have been here for a while?' '' Fatheree said.
Paws and Prayers also will take dogs that have tested positive for heartworm.
''She helps us with those, too,'' Fatheree said.
The agency has taken in 26 dogs this year that were diagnosed with parvo, a deadly and highly contagious virus. Treatment for parvo generally runs $1,000 per animal. The agency also has rescued 20 dogs diagnosed with heartworm disease, which also can cost $1,000 to treat.
An adopter will get an animal that has been wormed, treated for fleas, is up to date on vaccinations and has been spayed or neutered.
Although adoptive ''parents'' are required to file applications, the agency is more concerned with making a good match between animal and owner, D'Aurelio said.
''What we really are looking for is adoptability,'' she said of prospective owners.
People who inquire about an animal will receive a response within 24 hours, she said.
Besides the 2,500 electronic newsletters sent out each week, the rescue group displays animals on the Web at Petfinder, a virtual store for adoptable pets that represents more than 12,000 adoption groups nationally.
No solid walls for group
Paws and Prayers, which has no solid walls other than in the homes of the 20 foster volunteers, caters to owners as well as animals, D'Aurelio said.
''Our job is to find homes for them, not to make it so difficult to adopt that we can't place them,'' she said.
''For example, we don't require people be homeowners. A lot of those dogs are the ones that are coming back now because of foreclosures.''
The agency placed 176 animals in 2007 and 600 animals last year. This year, it is averaging about 20 adoptions each week.
D'Aurelio said she got involved with the group while looking for a border collie and not getting a quick response from agencies she contacted. The West Akron single mom, who has a 21-year-old son in the U.S. Navy training to be a nuclear engineer, volunteers more time placing animals each week than she would work in a full-time job. The work doesn't leave much time for dating, she said.
''It's hard to find a guy who would be willing to put up with this. I buy my furniture on Craigslist because it's disposable. Every three months, I put it out on the curb,'' she joked.
D'Aurelio credits sidekick Heather Wade, the agency's medical intake coordinator, with being her right-hand woman.
Falls woman volunteers
Wade, of Cuyahoga Falls, has four children, including 15-month-old twins. She manages to volunteer ''with all the kids'' in tow when she is called to pick up or care for an animal.
She said she began helping the rescue effort because her husband, Mike, told her they couldn't afford to own a dog. D'Aurelio suggested Wade foster an animal as an alternative.
''It's all because my husband wouldn't let me adopt a [Welsh] corgi,'' she said.
Wade, who now owns two corgis, also helps police find homes for unwanted animals. Mike Wade holds adoption events each Saturday at the Aurora PetSmart, as well as working two jobs to keep the family financially afloat, she said.
The agency has 30 volunteers handling events and taking care of the mounds of paperwork required for adoptions. Some respond to inquiries from prospective owners and others help owners solve problems before they surrender pets for adoption.
The organization might waive an adoption fee or offer to pay for behavior training when a person agrees to take a dog ''with issues,'' D'Aurelio said. Or it could send a volunteer trainer into the client's home to work with the owner and animal.
''We told a man we would charge him $100 for the adoption, but that the money would be reimbursed when he took the dog to training,'' she said.
Volunteers will work with folks who own a litter of unwanted puppies, but only if the owner agrees to spay and neuter the mother at the agency's expense. All puppies in a litter must be surrendered so they will eventually be altered.
''We will help people foster their own dogs'' until they are adopted, D'Aurelio said.
Even with those safety nets in place, about one animal each month is returned to the agency.
''Realistically, there are only so many doggy Utopias out there,'' she said.
Anyone interested in adopting an animal or becoming a volunteer can contact Paws and Prayers at http://www.pawsandprayers.org on the Web, or by calling 330-475-8300.
Adoption events planned
Adoptable animals will be available at several events from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, including Tots N Tails at Hardesty Park and PetsMart at Chapel Hill, Fairlawn and Aurora, and Pet Supplies Plus in Medina. The group will also show animals from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Quailcrest Family of Friends Dog Walk, 2810 Armstrong Road, Wooster.
On Sunday, Paws and Prayers will be at Paw Fest at Bow-Wow Beach Dog Park in Silver Springs Park, 5027 Stow Road in Stow, to help raise money for the Ohio Lions Club Pilot Dog Program.
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