by Len Lear
According to their website, Grace and Steve Herbert knew they had to do something to help the three-pound dog who was found on the side of the road and taken to a county shelter. They took him in as a foster in 2009 with plans to find him a permanent home.
But Sprout was very underweight, afraid and sick. After an initial visit to the vet, it seemed that Sprout’s future was looking grim. He had a grand mal seizure, and it was suggested that Sprout be euthanized since he was expected to live only two weeks.
In their hearts, Grace and Steve knew that the little dog with a healthy appetite had lots of fight left in him. He needed a chance, and they decided to give him one. So they started hospice care for Sprout, and a miracle began to unfold.
Sprout began to gain weight, learn commands, walk on a leash and even play. His personality came back, and the smallest of milestones like drinking out of a water bowl, wagging his tail and playing with another family dog were celebrated. Sprout was adopted by Grace and Steve and had far surpassed the two weeks that he was expected to live.
Grace and Steve were no strangers to animal rescue. Previously, Grace was the executive director of a no-kill animal shelter, and all of their pets had come from shelters or rescues. It seemed only fitting that the Herberts would begin an animal rescue themselves as a safe, no-kill haven for adoptable pets like Sprout who just needed a chance.
So in 2010, the animal lovers started Finding Shelter Animal Rescue in Norristown. Grace, 43, who grew up in West Chester and graduated in 1996 from East Carolina University with a B.A. in English and a minor in Biology, is the only full-time employee (with a minimal salary), but she has between 40 and 60 part-time volunteers.
(On Feb. 1, 2012, Sprout lost his battle with hydrocephalus. “He was and will continue to be our inspiration,” said Grace in an interview last week, “and we will continue to honor and celebrate his life.”)
Grace and her volunteers have so far been able to place more than 400 dogs in permanent homes. Many of the dogs had serious medical issues that might ordinarily lead to euthanasia.
A few of the volunteers have contacts in the Amish and Mennonite communities, where many cruel, barbaric puppy mills are located. When the dogs get too old or sick to breed any more, the puppy mill owners will kill them or give them away.
Finding Shelter is glad to take them and try to find loving homes for these suffering creatures. The puppy mills may call Finding Shelter to give away the non-breeding adults or puppies too sick to sell. “They know we will not purchase dogs from them,” said Grace, “but we will take the animals who are unwanted.”
Finding Shelter Animal Rescue has an application and screening process that allows them to get to know the potential adopters and appropriately match them with animals who will be the best fit.
What is a typical day like for Grace? “Every day is different, but in general I get up and take care of my own dogs and foster dogs first and spend lots of time making sure they are well exercised, and we work on any training exercises.
“Most days include visits to the vet, social media updates, adoption application screening, answering tons of emails and phone calls from people looking to surrender their animals.
“And touching base with fosters and our dog trainer, Kelly Craig from The Distinguished Dog, to make sure we are keeping up with what is happening with the dogs in their foster homes, plus many other things like marketing, fundraising and public speaking engagements.”
Grace and her husband currently have 12 foster dogs living with them. “They keep us very busy,” she said, “and it takes lots of management and lots of time, but we love each and every dog and make sure we spend lots of time with all of them, one-on-one, so they get the best care they can possibly get.”
What was the hardest thing Grace ever had to do? “Making the decision to euthanize my beloved pet is always the most difficult decision. Even when an animal is clearly so sick that they cannot recover, saying goodbye is painful because I love them so much. I have only had to make that decision a couple of times in my life, and each time it was clearly the right decision, but I love my pets, and it still was so difficult.”
Finding Shelter is a registered 501c3 charity that accepts donations through their website, www.findingshelter.org, or at Finding Shelter, P.O. Box 723, Southeastern, PA 19399.