Nonprofit organization “Hearts for Paws” offers students opportunities to foster pets

Nonprofit organization “Hearts for Paws” offers students opportunities to foster pets

Photo Credits: JUSTIN HAN / AGGIE

Organization has permanently rehomed over 700 animals that were set for euthanasia

About 1.5 million dogs and cats are euthanized in shelters each year due to a lack of space and funding, according to the ASPCA. Hearts for Paws, a foster-based 501(C)(3) animal rescue in Davis, was established in 2016 to specifically combat this statistic, helping animals found in kill shelters find their forever homes. The organization has helped find permanent homes for over 700 animals and it continues to provide safe and loving environments for neglected animals throughout California.

Samantha Camarra is the co-founder and current director of Hearts for Paws. She oversees all major operations including rescuing and facilitating the foster and adoption processes for the dogs. Camarra explained her organization’s goals and vision. 

“Our mission is to save the lives of homeless dogs in our community,” Camarra said. “[We] advocate for the rescue of animals and to educate people about adoption and responsible ownership. Hearts for Paws was born from my experiences volunteering at a kill shelter and witnessing just how many wonderful dogs were slipping [through] the cracks and being euthanized simply due to time and space.”

Hearts for Paws offers the community opportunities to get involved by adopting or fostering a pet. While it may be a challenge for students to adopt an animal due to their busy schedules, there are other ways to help out. Camarra encourages students to consider fostering a dog instead.

“Fostering is a great way to directly save the life of an animal,” Camarra said. “For each animal that comes through our program, we need a committed volunteer to care for and love animals like their own until we can place them in a permanent home.”

Prospective foster parents must complete a foster application to be considered by the organization. Throughout the application process, Hearts for Paws also asks for pictures of the applicant’s house and yard, as well as a letter from a landlord. Camarra explained the screening process typically takes a few days and that typically within a week the interested party can start the fostering process. 

“The foster process is only temporary,” Camarra said. “Hearts for Paws covers all costs including food, equipment and vetting. We can help you find a dog for your experience level, activity level and work schedule. Although your ideal dog might be a young lab, if you are a busy student in an apartment we might look to place you with a more laid-back senior with less exercise need, for example.”

Jenna Rutledge, a fourth-year communications major, is a coordinator for Hearts for Paws and is one of several volunteers who helps rescue dogs from kill shelters in Sacramento, the Central Valley and the Bay Area. As a long-time team member, Rutledge detailed her experience working with Hearts for Paws. 

“Our core team has seen it all,” Rutledge said. “We’ve been through some really heartbreaking and challenging things, but I’d say the thing that keeps me going is when I run into my former fosters and rescues in town.” 

Rutledge also addressed the challenges foster parents have to face when saying goodbye to their foster pet.

“A lot of people tell me they don’t want to foster because they think they’d get attached and find it too painful to let the dog go,” Rutledge said. “You definitely miss your dogs when they go, but that’s the most rewarding part! There’s nothing like watching my foster dogs go from terrified in a kennel to spoiled and having the time of their lives in amazing forever homes. And when one goes, we get to save another!”

Several UC Davis students have developed a close relationship with Hearts for Paws and find the fostering process meaningful. Among these students is Sarah Netland, a third-year wildlife, fish and conservation major. Netland is currently on her second year of fostering dogs through Hearts for Paws. 

She explained that as an out-of-state student, she had always wanted to have a pet in college but felt it was irresponsible to adopt due to both the transitional college lifestyle and living far away. Netland detailed why she chose to foster dogs through Hearts for Paws and what she learned through the process. 

“I moved far away from home to go to college and it has been very isolating at times,” Netland said. “I missed my dog and [I] felt like having an animal here would seriously improve my mental health. Taking care of an animal is a big time commitment and it forces you to double-check before making decisions. For example, I can’t stay out too late because I have to make sure the dog gets outside before bed.”

Netland said her experience of fostering dogs has encouraged her to balance out her life as a busy college student. 

“I’m a person who thrives when I have a lot on my plate,” Netland said. “With a dog around, there is no excuse to be lazy at all, there’s always something to do! Instead of sitting and watching a show, I’ll take the dog to the Arboretum for any quick break I have between classes. It keeps my mind and body active and warmed-up for the next task of the day. It’s also incredibly soothing and relaxing for me to be around dogs and so it really helps reduce my anxiety/stress, which often stands in the way of me getting stuff done.”

Netland and her housemates have saved six dogs — some of which were on the euthanasia list — through the fostering program. But despite all the love and fun that comes with having the company of a dog in your home, there are also some challenges potential foster parents should keep in mind. 

“Fostering is incredibly rewarding, but very serious work,” Netland said. “These dogs are being pulled from shelters because they might not be the most adoptable animals and they each come with their own histories and challenges.”

Netland described the challenges she has faced as a foster parent and emphasized that student foster parents should be aware of the potential struggles they may face throughout the process. 

“One of our dogs, Bubbles, would start barking at 4 a.m. to be let out,” Netland said. “My sister and I were the only ones getting up to take her out and I was missing out on a serious portion of sleep. We’ve also had our fair share of ‘accidents’, but that is to be expected of a nervous dog adjusting. Our latest foster Kaya, had four medications — one of which had to be applied every four hours. Fostering is so fun, and it’s appealing to people to have a dog in the house, but it is a huge commitment and students should only be doing it if they are sure that they can handle it.”

For prospective foster parents, she advises making an “honest assessment” of one’s life, home and ability to be a foster parent. Netland said these animals have suffered greatly, making it all the more essential to be confident in one’s choice and ability to foster. She is a huge proponent of the program and encourages potential foster parents to reach out to her at spnetland@ucdavis.org with any questions. 

Written by: Sneha Ramachandran  — features@theaggie.org