Before Benji’s days consisted of cuddles and chasing soccer balls during games of fetch, he was stuck in a cage at a shelter that was running out of room. As a result, Benji was next in line for euthanasia to reduce overcrowding.
The 8-year-old pit bull was freed from the Orange County Animal Services shelter nine months ago by Plenty of Pit Bulls, a Gainesville-based nonprofit rescue specializing in placing at-risk shelter dogs in foster care. But the organization, which is short on volunteers, is struggling to provide homes for dogs. With shelters like Orange County and Alachua County reaching capacity, fosters are crucial to reducing the homeless dog population.
The Alachua County Animal Resources & Care shelter shut down in June to reduce overcrowding and has started lifting restrictions. But it is only accepting animals on a limited basis, Deputy County Manager Carl Smart said.
Plenty of Pit Bulls helps reduce overcrowding in Alachua County and other shelters from South Florida to Georgia. It has saved about 800 animals since its founding in 2012, but it cannot rescue pit bulls until it has more fosters, Plenty of Pit Bulls Treasurer Blanca Carbia said.
The organization has 10 active fosters and about 20 dogs, she said. A few volunteers have stopped fostering this past year for personal reasons, which means the dogs that were under their care have been moved into boarding facilities until the rescue finds other foster homes.
“We need at least twice as many fosters,” Carbia said.
Plenty of Pit Bulls has a yearly budget of about $40,000 primarily from donations, she said. The money provides the dogs with food, training and medical care and makes fostering free for volunteers. However, in May, the organization had to place five dogs into boarding because of the shortage of foster homes. That caused its budget to decrease.
“I will certainly put more money into boarding next year,” Carbia said. “Not that I expect this to happen again, but if it does, we won’t have a heart attack.”
Plenty of Pit Bulls volunteer Amanda Wysocki, a fourth-year criminology and psychology major at the University of Florida, said people may not be inclined to foster because they misunderstand the process.
“When I tell a lot of people about fostering, they don’t really know that it’s free,” the 21-year-old said. “They say, ‘Oh, I don’t have the money,’ and then, I tell them everything is provided by the rescue.”
Wysocki is fostering Froggy, who is about 2 years old and was in boarding for a month. He is full of energy and less anxious because he is no longer in a crate and surrounded by other dogs, she said.
“As a foster, the hours you can give are better than what they would be getting at the shelter,” she said.
Plenty of Pit Bulls works with Julie Hughes, the owner of Dog’s Play training school. She has been professionally training dogs for over 20 years, and her website lists her as the only board-certified dog behavior consultant within 100 miles of Gainesville, Hughes said. She trains dogs with behavioral problems to help them find suitable homes.
While shelters do all they can for these animals, they are not able to provide the individualized care that fostering organizations do, Wysocki said.
Wysocki’s first foster was Wren, who was shy and scared of everything, she said.
“She came from an underresourced county in Georgia,” she said. “They kind of just shook her out of a crate in my house. She wouldn’t let us come near her. She was just crying and cowering in the corner.”
Wren started opening up after she began to meet people at adoption events, she said. Nine months after Wysocki started fostering her, she found her forever home.
In addition to giving dogs the training and socialization they need, Plenty of Pit Bulls also allocates money toward medical procedures, Carbia said.
Blanche, a black-and-white pit bull, was pulled from the Alachua County Animal Resources & Care shelter because she needed hospice care. Blanche was heartworm-positive and had a potentially cancerous tumor when she entered foster care with volunteer Katy McCaddin, who is a licensed veterinary technician at the UF College of Veterinary Medicine.
Plenty of Pit Bulls is ready to take on cases that may be more expensive than anticipated, McCaddin said. The organization paid for Blanche’s heartworm treatment, and she has also outlived the potentially cancerous mass, she said.
“She’s not a hospice case anymore,” she said. “She’s thriving. We’re meeting a potential adopter. It’s a really happy ending.”
Benji’s foster, 21-year-old Veema Jhagru, a fourth-year Japanese studies major at UF, started fostering for Plenty of Pit Bulls after seeing how the organization supports not only its dogs but also its volunteers.
“I get to take care of a dog, and I don’t even have to pay for it,” she said. “Even if I have to go out of town, other people in our network step up to foster them.”
Jhagru said that, with shelters across the country reaching capacity, fosters are needed now more than ever. Fosters give dogs a second chance at life, she said.
“With Benji, I saved a life,” she said. “And that means everything.”
Plenty of Pit Bulls is hosting an event Oct. 2 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. at First Magnitude Brewing Co., located at 1220 SE Veitch St., McCaddin said. All proceeds will go toward the dogs’ medical care and other needs.