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A Dog’s Journey to A Forever Home

Bringing a Lifetime of Companionship to Homes in Northern Virginia

Article by Melinda Gipson

Photography by Annette Anderson

Originally published in Leesburg Lifestyle

Pulling up along a suburban street on a foggy Saturday morning, mine is the last car in a line of a dozen vehicles full of excited foster families. They’re all awaiting a van transporting more than 60 puppies and adult dogs from Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

It’s A Forever Home’s bi-weekly delivery of warm, furry happiness. The van has traveled some 24 hours straight to bring its charges from southern rescue organizations, many of whom are filling a desperate need for shelters that have closed due to the pandemic.

In Mississippi, in particular, whole litters of unwanted puppies are routinely deposited by the side of the road. When they are found by animal lovers in the A Forever Home network, they are provided with medical care and their information shared with the organization in Northern Virginia. Locally, AFH volunteers then activate their lists of more than 2,300 foster families to find a warm and loving home willing to care for the animals until they can be adopted.

Happily, many won’t wait long! Co-founder Maribel Taylor-Mattox says that there are probably enough applications on file to adopt every one of the dogs in the September 26 transport, or there will be as soon as their irresistible photos hit the group’s website https://www.aforeverhome.org/. If there is any silver lining at all in quarantine, it is that people are both starved for companionship and have the time at home to puppy train!

“Beagles especially just fly out of here,” says AFH photographer Annette Anderson. Pointing at the Neppl family (mom Randy, son Haughton, 11, and daughter Ridgely, 10), she says, “This is the Neppl’s second litter in three weeks!” Randy chimes in that she personally got involved with the group when they went to New Orleans to rescue homeless dogs after Katrina, and says, “It was life changing.” When Haughton turned nine and asked for dog toys to donate to AFH instead of the usual kid presents, fostering litters became a family affair.

Besides all the expected warmth and love the animals bring their family, Randy points to the uncommon lessons these extraordinary dogs can teach her kids. (See https://www.ourafhfosters.org/our-prior-fosters for a neat demonstration in beagle mothering.)

Annette is quick to say that she knows as an adoptive dog owner how much the volunteers and owners benefit, but hastens to add, “We’re in it for the dogs.” For example, the group’s adoption contract stipulates that if the adoption isn’t working out or the adoptive owner is ever not able to care for their dog, they must return it to AFH.

Patti Stinson, the shelter liaison and volunteer coordinator looks up from her checklist to explain, “We want lifetime commitments from people. Our goal is to find good, long term, forever homes for every single animal.” There may be a few valid reasons to have to give up a pet, but “99% of our adopters will do anything for their animals.... It’s why we say, ‘Welcome to the AFH family!’”

When a family adopts a dog from A Forever Home, it is certifiably healthy and has had all its shots. Many puppies and dogs are both crate-trained and potty-trained. In fact, you might say A Forever Home both prepares the dogs for a home and the homes for a dog!

The group recently celebrated its 18th year as what may be the largest foster-family based rescue organization on the East Coast. It all began with a personal credit card, a rummage sale, and the idea that there was a better way to manage animal rescues. Maribel says she and her sister Carmen Cline first volunteered for several rescue and shelter operations, but were disappointed with a general lack of organization and medical care for the animals they encountered.

Convinced there was a better way, Carmen created a strict protocol for the care of puppies and pregnant mother dogs that virtually eliminated deaths due to virulent diseases like Canine Parvovirus that can kill puppies with only minimal exposure to an infected animal. Nearly two decades and 14,376 adoptions later, they have proven a model that saves lives, and have even reformed the practices of the shelters with which they interact. The more puppies thrive, the greater the need for good homes. (If the dog you fall in love with on the following pages is taken, don't worry, there are more!)

Randy can hardly contain her praise for the group. "Our whole family is learning so much watching these dogs interact.  And when the kids grow up and look back on this crazy time, we hope they remember more than online classes and Zoom playdates.  Plus, to be honest, it's hard to feel stressed about life when you're surrounded by puppies!"

Visit http://aforeverhome.org to see dogs and cats available for adoption, to volunteer or to donate. Every dime of the $425 adoption fee goes to cover medical care, food or transport, and around $300,000 more is needed for annual support.

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