The Golden Rule

Hav­ing al­ready rev­o­lu­tion­ized res­cue pet adop­tion, Betsy Banks Saul turns her at­ten­tion to foster pets with the goal of sav­ing mil­lions more an­i­mals


Hav­ing al­ready rev­o­lu­tion­ized res­cue pet adop­tion, Betsy Saul Banks turns her at­ten­tion to foster pets with the goal of sav­ing mil­lions more an­i­mals.

If a home­less an­i­mal had a best friend, it would prob­a­bly look a lot like Betsy Banks Saul.

Betsy has saved tens of mil­lions of pets’ lives—yes, you read that right—through the ground-break­ing res­cue web­site she founded, The site al­lows would-be adopters to search out adopt­able pets in their area from groups and shel­ters across North Amer­ica. Along the way, she changed both pub­lic per­cep­tion of res­cue an­i­mals and how peo­ple adopt pets. Now she aims to do the same for foster an­i­mals.

It is not hy­per­bole to say Petfinder rev­o­lu­tion­ized pet adop­tion. The idea for the site came to Betsy and her then­hus­band, Jared Saul, in De­cem­ber 1995 as they dis­cussed what the In­ter­net could do to help shel­ter an­i­mals. One month later, Petfinder was up and run­ning.

It was hard work, with Betsy and her hus­band per­son­ally con­tact­ing groups and en­ter­ing the adopt­able pets, but for the first time, there was one data­base for adopt­able an­i­mals in need of a home. Even­tu­ally, Betsy or­ga­nized an un­prece­dented 14,000 shel­ters and res­cue groups—nearly every or­ga­ni­za­tion across North Amer­ica—so their adopt­able pets were search­able through one place. “Ev­ery­body played in one sand­box,” says the Mis­souri na­tive proudly. And it worked: in the last 20 years the num­ber of an­i­mals eu­th­a­nized an­nu­ally has dropped from a shock­ing 20 mil­lion an­i­mals to 2.7 mil­lion, a big step in the right di­rec­tion.

Want­ing Petfinder to have an in­ter­na­tional reach, Betsy sold the web­site to Dis­cov­ery Com­mu­ni­ca­tions in 2006 for $35 mil­lion—that’s the kind of pro­file and traf­fic the site sees— and re­mained in­volved un­til Nes­tle Pu­rina bought the site in 2013. But af­ter leav­ing the com­pany, “some­thing kept me up in the mid­dle of the night,” Betsy says. “I felt like I left some un­fin­ished busi­ness on the ta­ble. We had done great things for adopt­able an­i­mals—Petfinder was rockin’ and rollin’—but there were all these pets be­ing left be­hind.” An­i­mals were be­ing eu­th­a­nized be­cause the shel­ters weren’t adopt­ing them out quickly enough, or be­cause there wasn’t enough space. “And there were all these an­i­mals that don’t be­long in shel­ters like birds and goats and horses, and other an­i­mals that were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Not one to rest on her lau­rels, Betsy set to work on a new ven­ture, one with the aim of catch­ing the pets that fall through the cracks—and last spring, Betsy, along with Eric and Traci Theis, launched 911fos­ter­ Al­ready, it’s do­ing for fos­ter­ing what Petfinder did for adop­tion.

Not every home­less an­i­mal can be taken in at the shel­ter, ex­plains Betsy. A foster home is an in-be­tween home, or a place to crash—and it saves lives. “Some an­i­mals are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some an­i­mals just need a fam­ily for

Fos­ter­ing a pet turns an everyday per­son into a hero.

a day or two while trans­porta­tion is be­ing set up to get them to their res­cue part­ners, or a cou­ple of weeks to be­come old enough to qual­ify for adop­tion. Some­times an adopter is in­ter­ested in a pet but can’t take it yet. If the shel­ter is full, we can hold pets un­til a space opens up.”

To get the fos­ter­ing site up and run­ning, Betsy, along with Eric and Traci, started reach­ing out to shel­ters and foster par­ents, and got com­pa­nies Merck and PetMeds on board. With an even­tual goal of see­ing a foster home on every block, 911fos­ter­pets was born.

So far, an­i­mals on the site have been viewed over one mil­lion times and the as­so­ci­ated groups have re­ceived thou­sands of foster of­fers.

It’s mak­ing a real dif­fer­ence. When some­one fos­ters a pet, they not only save that pet’s life, but they also open a ken­nel space for an­other home­less pet in need, says co-founder Traci.

“Moms with kit­tens or pup­pies, preg­nant dogs and cats and dogs and cats with treat­able colds who typ­i­cally need two weeks out of the shel­ter, are all ex­am­ples of pets who are be­ing eu­th­a­nized sim­ply be­cause the shel­ters don’t have the space to care for them un­til they are adopt­able,” she says. “Two to four weeks in some­one’s home can save the lives of many pets.”

While they have their foster pet, foster par­ents can teach the an­i­mal what Traci calls lifesaving skills—“for ex­am­ple, for a younger dog or puppy, learn­ing to love their crate is an in­valu­able les­son that will help pre­vent the pup from be­com­ing an­other tragic statis­tic at a shel­ter in the fu­ture,” she says.

“Fos­ter­ing pro­vides a safe, lov­ing place for our furry friends to call home for a lit­tle while—some­where where they can ex­pe­ri­ence what it feels like to be loved and cher­ished, with­out all the stress of a shel­ter en­vi­ron­ment,” Traci con­tin­ues. “Fos­ter­ing a pet turns an everyday per­son into a hero.”

There are ben­e­fits for hu­mans, too. Fos­ter­ing al­lows peo­ple with lim­ited band­width to reap the ben­e­fits of pet own­er­ship and feed their need to make the world a bet­ter place.

Any­one—mil­len­ni­als who don’t have time for a full-time pet and re­tirees who travel for months at a time—can be a foster pet par­ent if they can carve out a chunk of time, says Betsy.

Melissa Troche be­gan fos­ter­ing dogs af­ter her two chil­dren begged for a pet. Over the past seven years, the Clear­wa­ter, Florida-based fam­ily has fos­tered 19 dogs through Rugaz Res­cue, a Florida or­ga­ni­za­tion and 911fos­ter­ par­tic­i­pant that res­cues dogs sched­uled for eu­thana­sia.

“We found a need out there that we were able to con­trib­ute to, and it’s re­ally re­ward­ing,” says the sin­gle mother. “Many of the dogs have been ne­glected or abused, and we see them come back to life. It’s good for the soul and good for the

spirit and it re­wards you in a way you can’t even be­gin to de­scribe.”

The lessons her chil­dren, now 22 and 14, have learned from fos­ter­ing are in­valu­able, Melissa says. “They’ve learned to care for some­thing other than them­selves. I’m not sure that they would have got­ten those lessons from school.” Traci agrees. Now that she and Eric have a son, Jasper, fos­ter­ing pets is para­mount, Traci says. “It en­ables us to teach him about com­pas­sion for an­i­mals and car­ing for oth­ers while also giv­ing back to our com­mu­nity.”

Traci says peo­ple don’t re­al­ize that even a short-term com­mit­ment can save an an­i­mal’s life. One of the goals of 911fos­ter­pets is sim­ply to raise aware­ness of the ben­e­fits of fos­ter­ing.

“If more peo­ple knew, they would step up and foster,” Traci says. “Vet­eri­nary care and of­ten many, if not all ex­penses are cov­ered. [These pets] just need a fam­ily to love them and care for them un­til they can go up for adop­tion or find their for­ever fam­ily.”

Fos­ter­ing also al­lows for a no-com­mit­ment get­ting-to-knowyou pe­riod, as op­posed to adop­tion, which Betsy jok­ingly likens to an ar­ranged mar­riage.

“When you see a pet at a shel­ter and you take it home, it’s a mir­a­cle when it works out—you haven’t re­ally met yet,” she says. Fos­ter­ing, she says, al­lows prospec­tive pet own­ers to dip their toes in. “It’s a great way to ‘try be­fore you buy,’ and be a lit­tle more cir­cum­spect about who you in­vite into your home for 10 years.” Many times, fos­ter­ing has a happy end­ing. Lots of pets find their for­ever home with their foster par­ents, which Betsy calls “foster fail­ures.’’ She her­self has had many foster fail­ures, in­clud­ing her Ger­man Shep­herd mix, Jake, and her mixed breed res­cue named So­phie. She’d re­al­ized that she had fallen in love with So­phie when she found her­self not want­ing to re­ceive calls from po­ten­tial adopters.

Fos­ter­ing also al­lows res­cue dogs the pre­cious time they may need to find the right match; some­times it takes a while for the right fam­ily to show up. Betsy re­calls fos­ter­ing a 10-year-old fe­male Golden Retriever in the late 1990s. The pre­vi­ous owner had got­ten mar­ried and was forced to give up his pet.

The dog was so de­pressed she couldn’t pick her head up for weeks un­til a fam­ily with young chil­dren came to see the dog.

The dog “was bounc­ing and skip­ping around,” says Betsy. “I cried when the dog left but I knew that the dog was a good fit… The dog was so happy and had found her pur­pose and her fam­ily. Fos­ter­ing can be so re­ward­ing.” Other times, end­ings are bit­ter­sweet. Betsy once picked up a stray, dy­ing Cocker Spaniel mix from the shel­ter.

“I didn’t want her to die in a shel­ter—she de­served to die in a dog bed in a home. I talked them into let­ting me take the dog home,” she says. Three days later, the dog passed away, but she did so with dig­nity and sur­rounded by love.

A life­long an­i­mal lover, Betsy cred­its her par­ents for in­still­ing in her the urge to help oth­ers. “I trans­lated that ethic onto all be­ings and never dif­fer­en­ti­ated be­tween peo­ple and an­i­mals,” she says.

These days, the 49-year-old for­mer park ranger di­vides her time be­tween her homes in Crys­tal Beach, Florida, and Chapel Hill, North Carolina, which she shares with about 40 res­cue an­i­mals. In ad­di­tion to her cur­rent dogs, Jake and Cat­tle Dog mix Pinto, she has five cats, cows, two goats, five horses, a don­key, a box tur­tle, eight guinea hens, and 16 chick­ens. In short, she lives it, and help­ing an­i­mals is her life’s work.

“It’s about the golden rule,” says Betsy. “Ev­ery­one needs a hand up some­times.” Find a pet to foster at 911fos­ter­ It could change both your life and the life of the pet you foster. Turn the page to check out pups look­ing for a foster home!

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