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Nancy Fantuzzi '89 and fellow Rogers Rescuers: Lehigh folks become doggie foster parents

From left, Kim Luff '00, '03G, with Shay; Heather Rodburg '05, with Nicky; and Nancy Fantuzzi '89, with Mocha, at a recent Rogers' Rescues picnic.

Three Lehigh alumni and one employee give new meaning to the term "puppy love." These women volunteer for Rogers' Rescues, a virtual shelter that rescues dogs from shelters in the South, where the animals are most likely to be killed due to overcrowding. They then arrange for the dogs to be adopted by families in eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Sixty volunteers for the nonprofit organization transport animals deemed "highly adoptable" to foster homes before the dogs are permanently adopted. The foster families evaluate their dogs' personalities and preferences to discover what type of home would be best for the dog. Foster families train the dogs and care for their medical needs, including spaying and neutering. When a family decides to adopt a dog from Rogers' Rescues, the foster family can tell them about their dog's personality, temperament, and behavior.

"We can tell [potential adopters] about the dog," volunteer Nancy Fantuzzi '89 says. "Then they get the dog they want. There are no surprises."

In the rural South, some people treat dogs poorly, Fantuzzi says. They allow their pets to roam freely and rarely spay or neuter them. As a result, the shelters quickly become overcrowded, forcing workers to kill many healthy dogs to make room for more strays.

Rogers' Rescues works with several shelters in West Virginia and Kentucky to transport these dogs from the high-kill shelters to the Northeast, where they are more likely to be adopted.

Thanks to Rogers' Rescues and similar programs, the Bowling Green/Warren County Humane Society in Kentucky has been able to maintain an 82 percent adoption rate compared with a 39 percent adoption rate without help. Other shelters, including one in Hampshire County, West Virginia, have become "no-kill" shelters, meaning that the shelter does not have to kill any dogs due to overcrowding.

Fantuzzi, an avowed animal lover, began volunteering with Rogers' Rescues a year ago.

"I look right past the baby in the baby carriage," Fantuzzi says, "and go to the dog."

Before she discovered Rogers' Rescues, Fantuzzi volunteered at other animal centers, answering phones for a spay/neuter hotline and walking dogs at shelters. But she had little time to drive from her work to the shelter, walk the dogs, and then return to her home.

During this time, Fantuzzi considered getting a third dog. She searched Petfinder.com, a Web site that helps people find pets in shelters and rescue groups. There, Fantuzzi found a link to the Rogers' Rescues site. As she read about the organization, she realized that being a doggy foster mom would be perfect. As a foster mom, Fantuzzi could have a third dog when she wanted one, while providing a safe home for a needy pet.

So, Fantuzzi began the training program required for all foster parents. Rogers' Rescues taught her how to handle dogs who have only known the shelter environment and some who may have been abused. Since the shelter environment is very stressful for animals, the foster homes have no guarantees as to what the dog's temperament might be in a house, Fantuzzi says.

"You can't tell the dog's personality in a shelter," Fantuzzi explains. "Dogs act differently in a shelter than they would normally, just like a human would in a prison."

After a couple of days in a foster home, the dog's true personality emerges. As the dog realizes that it is being provided with food, care, and love every day, it will interact more with its foster family and the stress from the shelter environment will fade.

When Fantuzzi went to pick up her first dog, she noticed a woman wearing a Lehigh sweatshirt, Heather Rodburg. Rodburg graduated from Lehigh in January 2005 with a degree in educational technology. She and her sister, Kim Luff, who received her undergraduate degree in 2000 and her master's in political science in 2003, both volunteer for Rogers' Rescues. Both Rodburg and Luff are foster parents and board members.

Fantuzzi's first dog, a calm, well-behaved lab mix, was chosen for her. Since then, Fantuzzi has fostered 13 dogs, including a black lab named Annie who she is caring for today.

When a foster family gets a new dog, they will frequently seek advice from Brenda Bachman, secretary for Lehigh's business services and purchasing departments, dog trainer, and owner of two dogs.

Bachman teaches basic obedience and helps dogs overcome emotional problems from a life of neglect and poor treatment. Currently, she is helping one abused dog that snaps at children and occasionally adults when she feels threatened by them.

In August, Bachman will begin her first class to becoming certified in Tellington Touch (T-Touch), a type of massage therapy for animals. "T-Touch relaxes the dogs and allows them to think before they act," she explains.

Bachman is available to foster homes and adopting families from Rogers' Rescues through e-mail. Bachman, who makes her own dog food, answers questions ranging from how to housebreak a dog to providing for a dog's nutritional needs.

Other volunteers for Rogers' Rescues include veterinarians who work for a discount, groomers, and fund raisers.

"We love to do it," Fantuzzi says of the volunteers. "We find dogs fun to be with. I could just play around with the dogs all day. I can't help but smile when I'm with the dogs."

To volunteer, donate, adopt, or just visit, go to Rogers' Rescues on the Web. Or visit Rogers' Rescues on Petfinder.

--Becky Straw

Lehigh Alumni Bulletin
Fall 2005

Posted on Wednesday, October 19, 2005

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