10 lives for friends of animal shelter

Maya Changaran, 11, from Morgan Hill, looks at the cats available for adoption through the Friends of the San Martin Animal Shelter as they have a pet adoption fair at An-Jan Feed and Pet Supply in Morgan Hill.

They’re cute, furry and adorable. Their eyes reveal their

personalities, and sometimes it’s hard to say no. Imagine the possibility that more than 100 cats would be killed, if they didn’t find a home within hours.

It’s a scenario that became a reality for Diane Norgard, a volunteer with the Friends of the San Martin Animal Shelter (FOSMAS) that is celebrating its 10-year anniversary this year.  

About five years ago, the Santa Clara County Animal Shelter, as it is officially known in San Martin, saw an outbreak of ringworm. Highly contagious for an animal, the vet at the time informed staff and volunteers that to avoid the disease from spreading, many cats would either have to be cared for outside of the shelter through foster parents, or euthanized.

With a lack of staff needed to care for cats with ringworm – it takes a full month to be treated – Norgard and her fellow FOSMAS volunteers scrambled to save the cats.

Norgard herself ended up taking home the most cats she’s ever fostered: 40.

“We had the skills to take care of them,” she said. “We couldn’t leave them.”

That’s the type of heart that volunteer pet foster parents have. Taking care of 40 cats, a husband and three children is more work than some would go for. But for Norgard, it was just right.

“We’re not hoarders. There’s a fine line,” said Norgard, who has been a foster parent for 15 years. “For me, 40 was doable, but tight.”

FOSMAS’ mission is to lower the euthanasia rate for animals at the shelter; they work with mostly pre-weaned cats.

Pre-weaned kittens, explained FOSMAS board member Ava Geddes, is a kitten that is under weight, and less than a month old. The shelter receives kittens that have been born that day to several weeks old that are considered pre-weaned.

“What makes that particular cat special is that they can’t eat and potty on their own,” said Geddes.

Like human babies that need round the clock care, these little fur balls of cuteness are helpless on their own. They need to be bottle fed every two hours and monitored, said Geddes.

This is where FOSMAS – which has about 40 volunteers – steps in. They take in these pre-weaned kittens and distribute them to available volunteers.

“What makes our group very special is that we do this, because other shelters that don’t have a foster system like we do, when those pre-weaned cats are brought in, they are euthanized,” said Geddes.

FOSMAS also sets up special adoption fairs regularly on weekends through places like PetSmart in Gilroy or An-Jan Pet Food and Supply in Morgan Hill. They currently have a permanent adoption site at the Milpitas PetSmart. Potential pet-owners can view all the cats up for adoption through Pet Finder, online at www.fosmas.org.

Brigid Wasson, the director of the animal shelter said the capacity of the shelter is about 50 cats, although the number has spiked to higher in dire situations such as last September when 175 cats were at sent to the shelter because of a woman was found to be hoarding them.

The capacity of the shelter doesn’t have anything to do with the kitten conundrum, said Wasson. Because pre-weaned kittens need that round-the-clock care, when the shelter closes at 6 p.m., on weekdays and 5 p.m. on weekends, if they do not find a volunteer to take the kittens under their care before closing, they have no choice but to euthanize them.

“This is why there is such a rush to get the babies out to foster before the 5 p.m. deadline,” said Wasson. “We do everything possible to avoid euthanasia of any healthy animal.”

Volunteers like those at FOSMAS are what helped the shelter achieve its 80 percent live release rate last year, she said. Even shelter staff has taken home kittens when they can’t be fostered before the deadline.

President of FOSMAS, Paula Myers began fostering about four years ago to find an activity for her and daughter Tabitha.

“I interviewed to work there one day a week, we started out with Saturday morning cage cleaning and we just got deeper and deeper involved,” she said.

She said FOSMAS is always looking for volunteers – depending on their interest level she said, they need people to post fliers to serving as foster parents. “The more the merrier!,” she said.

For Norgard, a self-proclaimed “kitty rescuer” she’s gotten quite the reputation.

“Sometimes I’ll find kittens between my storm door at home, or I’ll find something sitting at my front door,” she said of those that leave kittens on her doorstep. “Once I even found a bucket full of kittens.”

Norgard has a special “cat room” in her house where the cats or kittens stay to avoid endangering any family pets in case of health reasons. Pet foster parents in fact, do need to isolate them in this way before they can receive their shots and socialize with other animals, said Geddes.

For adoptions, FOSMAS screens potential adopters to make sure that the home is safe and pet-ready; there’s an application, an interview and what they call an “interact” where they let the family interact with the pet to see that they all get along.

“In our experience, we do require all members of the household to be present,” said Geddes. “We’ve learned our lesson. Sometimes only part of the family comes and if one member is missing, and has an allergic reaction, that pet has to come back.”

FOSMAS is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, started by a group of volunteers 10 years ago who understood that the animal shelter itself needed help with taking care of the extra pets it received.

The FOSMAS board mainly oversees the adoption program, adopting out about 150 to 175 animals per year.

“We also help with things such as if a dog got hit by a car, and the shelter couldn’t provide funds to pay for the surgery. We step in and help with the medical supplies for the shelter too,” said Geddes.

FOSMAS helps promote the shelter and showcase the animals up for adoption. They also train foster parents to “save those little lives” of the pre-weaned kittens.

Norgard has opened her home to hundreds of kittens and cats throughout the years. She currently adopted three dogs and cats herself, and always has some under her foster care.

Norgard also has opened her heart too. She and her husband John have three adopted children: Jason, 12, Michael, 9 and daughter Nikki, 8. The couple were foster care parents for children too until about a year ago.

“I have standing joke that everything here has been adopted or is up for adoption,” she said.

Although Norgard herself is the one doing most of the care for the fostered animals, her husband is supportive, she said, and contributes with things such as building an outdoor enclosure, adding cat doors, and making the cat area of the house ready for cold winters.

Even her children, including 12-year-old Jason is starting to be trained to pre-wean cats.

“Jason knows what to do. He’ll help from bottle feeding before school and get up early,” said Norgard. “The kids love it. We raise the cats like we raise a child, as part of the family.”

Norgard however had a lot of “sad emergency cases” with fostering children, as she served as emergency foster home for children younger than 1. Her role as a foster mom for children and kittens is actually very similar and would run on the same schedule, making it easier to care for both at the same time, she said.

“Actually it’s pretty much the same thing. In the middle of night you wake up, there’s a baby bottle on one shelf, and the kitten bottle on another,” she said. “They pretty much eat at the same time. Then you tuck them all in.”

She said her care of fostering cats and dogs has allowed her children to grow up with a better understanding of kindness.

“They have responsibility and compassion. It’s something that lot of children really need,” she said.

That love for animals also has her children bringing home various animals that need rescuing. Her list now includes a possum, racing pigeon, squirrel and a bunny.

“‘We need to rescue it, Mom! It’s outside,’ ” she said of what her children tell her.

She said she was introduced to her daughter Nikki because her neighbor across the street was fostering her when she was just a couple of months old.

“I just happen to be across the street from the lady that was fostering my daughter. It’s just that easy … I went across the street to meet my daughter,” she said.

“I could love any child, it doesn’t have to be my own,” she said. “Some things are just meant to be.”

  • Began in 2002
  • 150-175 adoptions per year
  • Pre-weaned kitties need feeding around the clock every two hours
  • To look up what pets are adoptable, visit www.fosmas.org. Adoption fairs held the 1st and 3rd weekend of the month at PetSmart Gilroy.
  • For more information on volunteering, call (408) 681-3788.

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