The dilemma is a reality for those getting out of abusive relationships, experiencing medical hardships or those in temporary housing.
Fortunately, a band of animal loving volunteers is stepping in and bringing these pets under their wing, free of charge, until the owners can take them back.
Owners like Dave Oress.
“I was sleeping in my car. It was bad.”
An Ohio native, Oress lived in Florida for a few years, to help care for a relative. An Army veteran, he found himself temporarily homeless while waiting for his house to be ready. His constant companion “Damien” stayed with him in his car. “It was rough on him because we were in the car all the time if we weren’t by the dog park. He couldn’t go just anywhere. And I couldn’t get my legwork done because he couldn’t sit out in the car. It was still hot outside. It was August. So I couldn’t leave him in the car very long.”
Volunteers of America helped Dave secure temporary housing until his own home was ready. But Damien couldn’t come along. Fortunately, a contact at the Cleveland Veteran Affairs told Dave about a program that could help.
“We’ve served about 50 (pet owners) this year,” said Emily Erbs who is board president of Under The Wing, a program offered through the Berea Animal Rescue.
Under The Wing offers temporary foster placement for pets, whose owners are in crisis. “Most people are terrified. They are in a situation they never expected to be in. They are terrified of losing this family member that they’ve come to treasure. And in some situations, that animal is their sole support,” Erbs explained.
There is no cost to the pet owners. And no cost to the foster families that take these pets in. The program is designed to last 90 days, some stays are shorter and accommodations can be made for slightly longer stays.
“We really need families for this program. We could serve so many other individuals if we had additional foster families that were willing to help,” she added.
We visited on the day that Dave would be reunited with Damien. Dave had transitioned into his new home and was ready to bring his dog home.
“I got him when he was 1 ½ to 2 years old. He’s been with me ever since. Everywhere I go, he goes with me. And yeah, I can’t live without him. He’s basically my son,” Dave said.
Finally, a black pick-up truck pulled into the parking lot. In it, a tail-wagging Damien waited patiently for his foster mom Jenny Brej to secure his leash and open the door.
A “senior” dog, Damien showed the strength of his younger years, pulling Jenny down the sloping hill to Dave. The reunion was a mix of tail wagging, and curiosity over strange dog smells, but soon Damien was sitting on the grass with Dave, leaning his big body into the legs of his owner.
Dave and Jenny had a chance to talk about the gentleness of Damien, his sleeping preferences and his palate for certain kinds of treats. Soon it was time for Dave and Damien to leave, but not before an emotional hug and expression of gratitude.
Dave: “I’m going to take Damien and we are going to go. Thank you so much.”
Jenny: (tearing up): “Enjoy him. I’m glad you got him back.”
Dave: “I’m glad that you guys took care of him and I’m sad that I have to take him away from you.”
Jenny: “All good. That’s what it’s for.”
Jenny leaned in one more time to give Damien a kiss on the head, and a reminder, “be a good boy for daddy.”.
With happy tears still in her eyes, Jenny told us why Damien and Dave meant so much. Like Dave, her own father was an Army veteran. And her first cat was also named Damien. “It just seemed like everything aligned up and I couldn’t say no. So it was a great thing.”
A volunteer for more than 5 years with the Berea Animal Rescue, this was Jenny’s first time fostering within the Under The Wing program. The experience was unlike any other. “It’s one of the best things that you can do. It helps so many people from the person who needs the help to the person who is doing the fostering. And it’s a great feeling. The best feeling in the world.”
We checked in on Dave and Damien four days after their reunion. Dave is still getting the house settled and getting more furniture, but Damien already looked at home.
“Getting used to the place. Getting used to the neighborhood,” Dave said whose plan is to finish up with furnishings and then look for a job. Nothing fancy, he told us, but something to help pay the bills and keep Damien happy.
His plans do include returning the favor. He hopes to volunteer with the Berea Animal Rescue and even foster pets in the Under The Wing program.
“Life will be good again. I plan on living out the rest of my life here. Me and Damien.”
UNDER THE WING
Berea Animal Rescue Friends is a non-profit, donation-funded shelter with no city or state financial support. There is no charge for those who need the program or fosters who are a part of it.
Under The Wing assists for 90 days, although under certain circumstances the window has been extended. To qualify for entry into the program, applicants must show that there is a strong likelihood the family can reunite within the 90-day period. Animals with aggression or medical issues that pose a risk to other animals do not qualify for the program. All pets must be up to date on vaccinations, which Berea Animal Rescue can assist with if necessary. They also must be spayed or neutered prior to admittance or with the Rescue’s assistance. No animals will be admitted to the program until they are spayed or neutered.
How To Help:
Information for shelters to start their own program: Call 440-234-2034