In the latest installment of our conversations with Fort Worth newsmakers, Nia Odgers, code compliance supervisor over the Fort Worth Animal Care and Control, discusses how you can give back to your community through volunteering and fostering at your local shelter.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. For a longer version, please listen to the audio file attached to this article.
Emily Wolf: Thank you so much for joining me today to talk a little bit about the animals in Fort Worth shelters and how everyone can help them out. Over the holiday season, the shelter put out a call for adoptions and foster families in the hopes of avoiding euthanizing any animals. What, to you, explains the current overcrowding situation in Fort Worth shelters and across the nation generally?
Nia Odgers: I definitely feel that a lot of it does have to do with (not) spaying and neutering right off the bat. That definitely needs to be a priority — and one of the main things that does come along with responsible pet ownership. And I do believe that there are still some impacts as far as financial reasons, financial stability, that does impact the community as well.
Wolf: I know there’s been a lot of discussion about the pandemic impacting adoptions and fostering, both good and bad. At the beginning, we saw this rush for people to adopt pets while they were at home. And now it seems we might be seeing the opposite when people realize they don’t have the resources. Can you talk a little bit about what Fort Worth has seen as the pandemic has progressed?
Odgers: Yes, initially COVID did really help us I think, because a lot of people were at home, they had the time to have a companion so they weren’t lonely when they were working from home, and they had the time to be able to help in any way that they could. So that really, really helped us, it boosted our foster numbers, it helped us retain some great new fosters and volunteers.
But as time progressed, and people started going back to work, it just really cut down on the amount of time that they were able to foster, which I completely understand.
Wolf: And we’re just getting started into the new year, a lot of people have set New Year’s resolutions, maybe to give back to their community more, get out and volunteer. What can residents do right now to help out Fort Worth animal control?
Odgers: There’s a number of things. In regards to volunteering, you can volunteer in a shelter or out of the shelter, whether it be for requesting donations for the shelter, networking (for) animals that we have available, networking for fosters. Or of course, in-person, we could definitely use staff with operational needs. And as a unit we’re very open and willing for anybody who wants to dedicate any amount of time, we’re definitely going to find a way for them to be able to help.
Wolf: And if someone is interested in adopting, where do they start to get that process rolling?
Odgers: We have our animals listed online on the city of Fort Worth website. You can kind of run through and see if there’s anybody who catches your eye. We do have four different locations. So we have our Silcox location that’s in the southeast side of Fort Worth, we have our Hillshire location that is in the northern part of Fort Worth, and then we have two PetSmart satellite adoption centers.
And then of course, we have animals available in our foster homes as well. So they can definitely take a look online to see one of the hundreds of animals that we do have available, either visit that location, or set up a meeting to meet with the foster home, and then we have a pretty relatively easy adoption process. I would say it takes no more than five or 10 minutes to complete the actual adoption process itself.
Wolf: Oftentimes, there’s news coverage or discussion that lots of animals got adopted out, but then later, were returned to the shelter for one reason or another. What are some methods for preventing these returning dogs and making sure that they find the perfect home?
Odgers: We do offer some resources as far as a first initial health check, we do offer some resources for behavioral (issues) if the animal maybe is a little more energetic, or needs some training, we do offer resources for that.
However, we do take any adoption, regardless as to whether the animal does have to come back, as a positive, because at that point in time, we’re able to learn more about the animal. We’re hopefully able to get better pictures, because a lot of times people will take wonderful pictures of the new pet in their home. And we can use that as well to update their profile. So although the animal is coming back, we do still look at it as a positive thing, because that’s something that we can use to help find the perfect fit for that animal. And then vice versa, the perfect animal for them.
Wolf: And if someone isn’t really ready to take the jump to adoption yet, but they want to become a foster parent, how do they go about that? And are there any specific requirements for fostering?
Odgers: If you are interested in fostering, you are able to apply online. It’s a pretty quick process as well — you do get some information, some training. And we offer a number of different foster types. You can have short-term fosters, that maybe animals we just need out of the shelter for a little bit that are pending a transport, or they’re pending extra medical to go to one of our Petsmart adoption centers. Or, every once in a while, we’ll put out a mass publicity event for animals to get out of the shelter for a little bit of time, whether it be for a day or a weekend, just to see if you are interested in maybe bringing a new family member home. But again, in that process, we are able to get a better idea as to what that animal likes, what the animal doesn’t like, and better pictures.
And then with the out and about process, we have certain locations we’re able to go to, maybe take the animal out to get you know, a Puppuccino, or something making it fun for both the pet and the potential foster. And it gives the animal a break from the everyday scenery that they see at the shelter.
As far as requirements, we do require that the animals within the foster homes are currently vaccinated, they are spayed, neutered, and that you do allow some time for a decompression stage if you choose to keep the animal or the dog overnight or over the weekend. But other than that, we’re pretty open. It’s a lot more convenient if they’re closer to the shelter, but we do expand a little bit. We do provide basic medical care for our fosters.
Wolf: Is there anything else that you would like residents to know either about shelter operations generally or how they can help in this new year?
Odgers: Going a little bit back to the basics as far as the community, microchipping your pet is very, very important. That is going to definitely help us get the animal back to their home quicker, hopefully without even having to go to the shelter. Our animal control officers do give them a call and we’ll set up a time to meet with the owner to release the animal back to their owner.
We touched base on the vaccines, how it’s so important with keeping down disease within the community and helping build a better immunity if the animal does happen to find its way into the shelter. Networking, again, if you don’t have the time to commit, you know, being in-person, networking is a huge thing. Whether it be an adoption event, trying to recruit more fosters or even just trying to recruit volunteers that can help them in the shelter.
Also finding other alternative routes of getting the animal home. That’s a big thing. It’s amazing how Facebook and Nextdoor and all those things work. So you find an animal that is maybe running in your neighborhood and you post it online and that’s where the person goes to look usually … they can actually get their animal before ever having to come into the shelter. So those are some really big things — it’s small in scale, but it really helps us in a very big way.
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Emily Wolf is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter.