Handfuls of dogs arrive at the transport site, the Vince Lombardi Service area, as Bow Wows and Meows representative Robyn O’Hagan poses with one of her foster puppies. Robyn and her family have been fostering dogs in their home and searching for families to adopt them, since the fall of 2016.

Fostering for a cause

April 23, 2018

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After a tattered and pregnant stray pitbull unexpectedly gave birth on an Georgia resident’s property, she and her newborn puppies were shot to death by the landowner. It wasn’t until a rescuer came by when they noticed one puppy, Fawn, that had survived the attack. She was soon brought to safety. In a few weeks, Fawn was living at the O’Hagan family’s house in Glen Rock, NJ, and they would help find a her a forever home with an adoptive family.

Since the fall of 2016, mother and daughter Robyn and Juliann O’Hagan have been providing refuge to rescue puppies by fostering them in their home, and searching for families to adopt them. 

“There’s just so many puppies in need, and there’s so many puppies destroyed, and there’s so many awful stories,” Robyn said. “We see how many dogs need homes and we see how mistreated they are.”  

There’s just so many puppies in need, and there’s so many puppies destroyed, and there’s so many awful stories. We see how many dogs need homes and we see how mistreated they are.”

— Robyn O'Hagan

Robyn and Juliann acquire the foster puppies from the agency Bow Wows and Meows, which is based in Alabama. The agency most commonly sends puppies from their base to satellite homes in New Jersey or New York, but it has also transferred puppies to other states such as Connecticut, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.

It is common for the dogs to be scared and disheveled after being transported from down south.

Robyn says it takes “a good 24 hours for them to acclimate” after arriving in New Jersey. The O’Hagan’s house contains many toys and all the gear for caring for dogs. The family also has two dogs of their own, Lila and Wilma, which allows the foster dogs to socialize with other animals.

On the hunt for safety from their earlier life of maltreatment and abuse, puppies travel up north from having previously lived in south. In the south, the dog population is more prevalent and they are at a higher risk of being killed or mistreated. The O’Hagan family has been fostering puppies for the rescue group Bow Wows and Meows, located in Seale AL, in order to contribute to the cause of saving dogs’ lives.

“All of us are good with raising dogs cause we’ve had dogs our whole lives, so we know the deal,” Juliann said. “We kind of have to change our schedule a bit if they’re baby puppies.”

The O’Hagans are aware of what kind of dog they will get in terms of size, color and an estimated age before they arrive, yet the specific breed of the dog is not always known. In the course of a year, the family fosters about 10 puppies. Robyn explains that they have had puppies stay in their home anywhere from a night to three months, and it can be harder for certain dogs to be rescued depending on age or appearance. In February 2017, the O’Hagans had a “foster fail” and ended up officially adopting their dog Wilma into their family, who had been previously abused before being rescued.

Although the family will host dogs in their home throughout the year, Juliann describes that they try to get the dogs “pre-adopted” by families.

“Our part of fostering is also putting the word out there to get them adopted,” Juliann said.

In order to do so, Juliann posts pictures of the dogs they’re fostering on Facebook while representatives of Bow Wows and Meows will post information on sites such as Petfinder and Adopt-a-Pet.

Founder and director of Bow Wows and Meows Suzanne Moore finds that there is a demand for puppies in the north.

“Dogs down here get put to sleep by the hundreds every week, so anything that we can move out of this area saves a life,” Moore said. “We fulfill a need there to families who would like to have a puppy, and they get a bigger choice by working with rescues that are in the south.”

Moore has been rescuing dogs for 45 years and gave Bow Wows and Meows it’s name 14 years ago after her group moved from Tampa, Fla. to Seale, Ala., where she is currently located. Moore describes herself as being an animal lover for her whole life and is very grateful to those who work with her to rescue dogs.

Bow Wows and Meows primarily works with puppies and dogs that have been “beaten half to death,” “traumatized” or “need extra care,” according to Moore. The group’s goal is to save as many dogs as possible from being mistreated or going to the abundant kill shelters in the south. On average, Moore has 22 dogs in her care and has had as many as 30 at a time. Her home is equipped with multiple playpens and medical supplies that the dogs may need. Moore ensures that each dog is clean, well-fed, and ultimately safe in her home.

About twice each month, Bow Wows and Meows will place their puppies on a transport van that will travel along the east coast. Moore describes that on average there are 40 to 50 pets on one out of a dozen of transport vans, sent out of Georgia or Alabama per week. Although the group sends a transport out a minimum of two times per month, they have access to transport every friday. Moore describes the transport van will begin in the north and travel to Alabama picking up puppies from various rescue groups along the way. After completing that route, the van will then travel back up along the east coast, with the puppies that various adoptive and foster and families, including the O’Hagans, will take.

“We’re grateful for the wonderful group of people that we have in New Jersey and New York that help us with this mission to get as many animals out here as possible on the other side,” Moore said. “Any dog we can move out of this area is a saved dog.”

Before the puppies residing in Moore’s house are transferred up north, Moore has their vet work done including spaying and neutering, to prevent people from breeding their dogs. Moore transports 100 to 150 dogs a year, and in the past 14 years has shipped a total of 1,500 dogs up north.

“We try very hard to get their work done as soon as they are old enough or stable enough and move them as quickly as possible,” Moore said. “We don’t want them to get entrenched in our lifestyle and then have to pick them up and move them again.”

The group that does the transport is known as Grateful Doggies and works with various rescue groups similar to Bow Wows and Meows. Grateful Doggies departs from Fair Lawn, and the entire transfer process could last up to 30 hours.  

We’re grateful for the wonderful group of people that we have in New Jersey and New York that help us with this mission to get as many animals out here as possible on the other side. ”

— Suzanne Moore

In southern states such as Alabama and Georgia, dogs are more frequently abused and there is a greater abundance of puppy mills in the south. Moore and others in her community are pushing to pass legislation in the area that requires puppies to be spayed and neutered in an effort to curb dogs from breeding, which will decrease the overwhelming canine population and the amount of maltreatment dogs receive.

According to Moore, Bow Wows and Meows never goes “looking for dogs” and rather has a great amount of people, including other rescue groups, contacting the group each day to see if they can take needy dogs. She says not having to go out herself and look for dogs to rescue is an “unfortunate thing,” and emphasizes the overabundance of pets in need of rescuing.

“It’s definitely a networking thing and it’s definitely a hand in hand thing,” Moore said. “All of us rescuers work together, trying to save as many as possible.”

The O’Hagans first got involved in Bow Wows and Meows when their friend Katie McCarten, wife to high school Special Education teacher and track coach J.P. McCarten, encouraged them to foster. McCarten used to foster dogs for Bow Wows and Meows and thought the O’Hagans would be great at fostering too. 

Photo credit: Robyn O’Hagan
Mother and daughter Robyn and Juliann O’Hagan pose with their two dogs Lila and Wilma. Since the fall of 2016, the duo has been fostering puppies in their home and searching for families to adopt them.

“They’re just amazing people, the O’Hagans are just some of the nicest and most generous and kind people that I know,” McCarten said. “They know that it’s making a huge difference, they’re a big part of the program.” 

Although the O’Hagan family fosters the dogs in Glen Rock, most have been adopted from them by families in surrounding towns. Fawn, now known as Callie, was adopted by Renee Rosenberg and her family in Wayne

Rosenberg used to foster for other rescues such as FOWA Rescue, The Last Resort Rescue and A Pathway to Hope. In the past Rosenberg has had three pitbulls, but after two passed away she wanted to adopt another. Callie had been living with the O’Hagans for three months and they were having trouble finding a family to adopt her. After Rosenberg met Callie for the first time, she knew there was something special about her and officially adopted her this past September. According to Rosenberg, Callie is about one year old now.

“I have a spot in my heart for pitbulls,” Rosenberg said. “The media portrays them to be these monsters and it’s just so far from the truth.”

The O’Hagan’s also had Glen Rock’s Jensen family adopt a dog from them this past February. After brothers Matt and Jack saw a picture of Mia, the dog they would soon rescue, they adopted her.

Matt Jensen poses with his dog Mia that him and his family rescued this past February. The Jensens adopted Mia from the O’Hagan family after they fostered her for the rescue group Bow Wows and Meows.

“I prefer to rescue just because I feel like it’s for a better cause,” Jensen said. “There’s a lot of kill shelters and there’s these dogs found literally in ditches with nothing so I feel like rescuing is a better choice than paying for an animal.”

Over the past few years, the phrase “Adopt Don’t Shop” has been a prevalent trend on social media, encouraging individuals to adopt animals rather than purchase them.

“It’s really become more of the norm to adopt and i think more and more people are adopting rather than going to a pet store,” McCarten said. “The mentality is changing which is awesome.

Due to the increasing aversion of puppy mills and the growing awareness about rescuing dogs, more people have been rescuing their pets. Although there is a larger tendency to adopt, Juliann argue that some people may not be able to adopt a rescue dog.

“Some people need to know that their dog is hypoallergenic and they can’t trust that a rescue is going to be fully hypoallergenic,” Juliann said. “We obviously advocate for rescuing just cause we see how many dogs are really mistreated.”

Rosenberg, another advocate of rescuing, says that people can in fact obtain a specific breed from certain rescue groups that have pure bred or hypoallergenic dogs. She believes that more dogs can be rescued once people are educated on the fact that they can get great dogs from shelter.

“People aren’t educated enough about rescuing dogs, they have this phobia or this fear about you can’t get a good dog from this shelter and that is just the furthest thing from the truth,” Rosenberg said.

Renee Rosenberg and her daughter Camryn are walking their two rescue dogs, Callie and Mama. Callie, previously known as Fawn, was being fostered by the O’Hagan family until the Rosenbergs adopted her this past September.

In order to adopt a dog from Bow Wows and Meows, one must have a fenced in yard and a safe home for the dog. After filling out an application to get a dog, a representative will check references and do a home visit. Once this process is complete, a puppy will be assigned to a home and sent on transport up north.

“Part of doing the rescue is making sure they’re going to a home that’s safe,” Robyn said.

Moore describes that there is a team of people that work on reference checking and doing home visits, and she welcomes anyone who would like to join the foster process because it will help rescue more dogs.  

“It’s a great opportunity to be involved in something where you know you’re making a difference and you’re bringing happiness to peoples lives,” Mccarten said. “These dogs just have a really big opportunity in New Jersey and in this area to find great homes.”

It’s a great opportunity to be involved in something where you know you’re making a difference and you’re bringing happiness to peoples lives,” These dogs just have a really big opportunity in New Jersey and in this area to find great homes.”

— Katie McCarten

Juliann finds that this is a form of volunteering to do that can be easy. One does not necessarily have to adopt a dog, but can check references or be the social media advocate, which will still contribute to the cause.

The O’Hagans plan to continue fostering in the future and can’t see a reason to stop helping puppies in need while giving families a new member to adopt.

“[You can] make their life happier, or give them something they want or fill a void,” Juliann said. “You have these horrible stories of bad and you can make good of it.”

For more information refer to the ASPCA, APPA and The Puppy Mill Project

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