by Gregg Senko
Friendship APL is like a bee hive. You can see a lot of activity from the outside, but that’s a mere fraction of what is actually taking place inside, and not only in the FAPL building itself, but the care and aid that goes on elsewhere for FAPL. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with FAPL volunteer extraordinaire, Belinda McElhannon. The story would be incomplete if I were to only mention Belinda’s contribution to the shelter, though. There’s not one, not two, but…well, maybe it’s better if I let you read on to get to know this awesome family…
Gregg: It sounds like there’s more than one of you who help out at Friendship APL. How many in your household participate and who does what?
Belinda: There are four of us that volunteer regularly at FAPL. Valerie, my oldest daughter (does not live at home) is a member of the board and started out by volunteering to walk dogs on Saturday morning. Justin, my son, also volunteers for dog walking and special events and is a huge help in fostering at home. Abby, my youngest is the most dedicated and walks dogs, works special events, participates on the MPR committee and is also a huge help in fostering the animals in our home. I am the fourth volunteer, walking dogs at the shelter on a weekly basis, fostering, working special events and in the past have helped Greg with taking animals down to Fox 8 to be on with Dick Goddard.
Gregg: How long have you guys been volunteering at FAPL?
Belinda: Since July of 2011.
(left to right) Justin, Abby, Belinda and Valerie
Gregg: Which one of you was the first to get drawn toward FAPL’s cause? How did it play out from there?
Belinda: Valerie was the first to discover FAPL. She had just lost her dog in June and went to a dog washing event at the United Church of Christ and met Mary who was representing FAPL at the time. Valerie wanted to channel her grief and thought volunteering at FAPL would be the way to move on from a very difficult loss. She took Abby and Justin with her the first few times and then I joined in at the beginning of September. And from there, it has become a second family for all of us. As we continued to volunteer at FAPL we found our family at home growing. When we started volunteering we had one dog of our own that we adopted from the Cleveland APL. We then adopted the rest of our four legged kids from FAPL. A bassett in January of 2012, a bassett in May of 2013, a beagle mix in November of 2013 (she was a puppy mill dog that was a foster failure), and a husky/shepherd mix in May of 2015.
Our first fosters actually came to stay with us right away in September of 2011. It was a humane case that was expected to drag on for quite some time, and it did. We fostered two of six very special dogs from September of 2011 until June 2nd of 2012. From there we continued to walk dogs every Saturday morning, foster puppies for 4 years and started fostering kittens in May of 2016 and have been fostering kittens only ever since. Our first kitten was another foster failure. And our fourth foster kitten was a foster failure. So now we have a very well rounded home to foster kittens in and they become well adjusted to cats, kittens, dogs and a variety of people. We have fostered 27 kittens in a fifteen month period. We had as many as 12 kittens in our home in May and June and the joy they brought to the house was priceless.
Gregg: In regard to fostering, how easy is it to separate any emotional attachment when it comes time to return the animal to the shelter or to a forever home?
Belinda: Fostering is fun, time-consuming at times, rewarding, challenging and sad. The hardest part is taking them back but I know it has to be done. I have to focus on the good that comes from fostering like the 24/7 love and care they get in a home setting and keeping them out of the shelter where kittens are extremely susceptible to disease and get sick quite easily. Kittens are easily entertained with each other and also by themselves. Bottle feeding the young, tiny kittens is rewarding to see them grow and thrive because you are able to help them along. That is where my children have been a tremendous help.
Feeding five little kittens is time consuming and goes much faster with help. There are times when a kitten has to be quarantined from the rest of the house hold and that is where my son Justin is a great help. He houses the quarantine kittens in his room making sure they get all the love and attention they need until they can be introduced back into the rest of the house. We also experienced our first loss while fostering back in July. Not an easy time and only makes me appreciate the staff at FAPL and all that they go through on a daily basis.
Gregg: As a family, what is your most memorable cat or dog moment related to FAPL?
Belinda: After fostering for 6 years, there are many memorable moments. If I had to choose one dog moment it would be Lucy. She is a beagle/bulldog mix that came from a basement breeder. She arrived with roughly 24 other dogs in February of 2013. These dogs lived their lives in cages and didn’t know what it was like to be on a leash or what grass was. By April of 2013 all the dogs except for Lucy were adopted. She was extremely scared and thin and we brought her home to foster her. She sat under our kitchen table for 2 days and would not move. It took months to gain her trust and to this day (4 years later) she is still very skiddish. It’s been rewarding to see her come out of her shell, learn what her voice is and respond to the love and attention she gets in our home. (Yes, she was a foster failure.) My most memorable kitten foster…they have all been special, they are all unique and each have their own story to tell.
Abby, Dick Goddard and Justin at the Fox 8 studio
Here is a massive thank-you to the McElhannon clan for their gigantic hearts and astounding efforts throughout the year. If I ever become a mad scientist, you’ll be at the top of my list of people to clone. You guys rock!