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My Pet Rescue Story

How Colorado families and rescue animals enrich each others' lives

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Families in Colorado are stepping up to provide homes for cats and dogs through fostering and adopting. In fact, Animal Rescue of the Rockies reports a 37 percent increase in adoptions from 2019 to 2020. Yet, the stories below are not just about rescuing animals and giving them second chances, the humans often needed a little rescuing, too.

The Johns Family

Humans: Amanda, Brian, Hannah (13), and Dylan (12)
Animal(s): April (cat, 1)
Home: Aguilar

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Hannah and April Johns

Once there was a cat named Angel who loved her humans, especially Hannah, very much. Wherever Hannah went, Angel followed. When the Johns family moved to Colorado from Pennsylvania, they stayed in a hotel while searching for an apartment. The night before Easter of 2020, Angel got out — she’d wandered before, but always come back. This time was different. Amanda, Hannah’s mom, called the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region and made a post on Facebook, to no avail. About a week later Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region website showed a picture of a cat that looked so similar, the family thought it must have been Angel. When the Johnses visited, they couldn’t touch the cat because of COVID-19 restrictions. Still, they filled out the paperwork and picked her up the next day. Hannah held the cat and knew then it wasn’t her beloved pet. She cried, but Brian reassured her that April, their new feline friend, would become just as much part of the family as Angel had been. It’s true. “They have been best friends ever since,” says Amanda.
Kid’s best friend: “Her nickname is Kitty Kitty. April should be her nickname because she answers more to Kitty Kitty.” –Hannah

The O’Neill Family

Humans: Heidi, George, Elena (6), and Bryn (4)
Animal(s): Hope (dog, 5), Mayhem (dog, 4), Kodiak (dog, 2); Fostering cats, dogs, rabbits
Home: Colorado Springs

Bryn O’Niell

Love and loss is all part of life; this lesson is what Bryn and Elena learn through fostering animals. Heidi, the girls’ mom, has volunteered with the Douglas County Canine Rescue and Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region walking dogs, taking care of cats, and working in the surgery center. She began fostering in April 2020 as a way to involve her young daughters and teach them about treating animals with kindness and compassion. The girls have seen sick and injured animals move on to loving homes, and cared for some until they had to be put down. Whatever the situation, saying goodbye has been tough. Ultimately, though, the journeys with each foster dog, cat, and the one rabbit, have been rewarding. “I continue taking in fosters because I want my girls to respect animals and learn the responsibilities involved in owning pets,” says Heidi. “I also want them to see the realities of the pet overpopulation problem. I want them to know that not every dog is friendly, but with time and effort, even those that may seem helpless can be taught to trust and find loving homes.”
Kid’s best friend: “We can’t get puppies, they are too much work.” –Bryn

The Knight Family

Humans: Michele, Jacob (12), Ethan (10)
Animal(s): Phoebe (dog, 10), Ella (dog, 3), Littles (dog, 1); Fostering dogs
Home: Frisco

Ethan Knight

It started with one dog adoption through Animal Rescue of the Rockies. Then, when Ethan showed signs of depression at the young age of six, his mom, Michele, had the idea to foster. She took her experience volunteering—knowing how it helped her get out of her head—and applied it to the process of helping foster dogs find great homes. Now, more than 30 dogs have passed through the Knight home, and a current resident, Gya, recently populated the place with a dozen more puppies. Fostering pregnant dogs and helping with their birth is now a passion for the family. None of this happens without a few “foster failures” along the way, says Michele, who’s adopted two dogs she fostered. “But the greatest reward of all was during the birth of the [12] pups, four came out unresponsive and my son was the one who jumped in and performed CPR!” Ethan was able to save three puppies.
Kids’ best friend: “Moms can be very protective, so I’ve learned to be cautious and quiet to help keep their puppies safe. The moms are like tiger moms…you mess with their babies, they’ll eat you! But Gya knows I helped save her babies, and I’m the only kid she doesn’t mind around them. The puppies love it when I lay on the floor and let them ‘puppy pile’ on me! They can be annoying little alarm clocks and I hate the smell of poop, but it’s worth it to save lives.” –Ethan

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The Hemphill Family

Humans: Emily, Robert, Ainsley (3)
Animal(s): Zoe (cat, 8 months); Fostering cats
Home: Bennett

Ainsley and Zoe Hemphill

At just three years old, Ainsley has earned the title “mini foster mama.” She helps with feeding, caring for, and playing with all the cats and kittens that come to the Hemphill’s 49 acres. Many of the cats have special needs and a few have been feral (the Hemphills find safe barn or shop homes for these). Emily, Ainsley’s mom and a foster provider through Animal Rescue of the Rockies, says her daughter is especially helpful with kitties who are scared; they almost always gravitate to her. Robert, who says he’s “not a cat person,” helps out and snuggles everyone. A few cherished felines they’ve helped include Baloo, who came from the streets of New Mexico and was FIV (Feline immunodeficiency virus) positive; Leah, who was an anxious wreck but loved children; Zeke, who came with a broken leg; and Junior, who often refused to eat except when Ainsley encouraged him. The lessons Ainsley has learned about loving someone in need is worth the tears that come with “goodbye,” says Emily. “She always cries when they leave but tells them they have a new mama and she loves them. It’s heartbreakingly beautiful every time and makes me so proud that she’s mine.” The Hemphill’s current charge, Zoe, an eight-month-old Manx kitten who is incontinent, will most likely never leave the family. Ainsley calls her “sister.”
Kid’s best friend: “She’s stinky.” –Ainsley. That’s why she gets a lot of baths. No matter the odor, Ainsley loves to snuggle Zoe.

The Cedillo Family

Humans: Jordyn, Adam, Roman (9), Selah (4), Alyssa (1)
Animal(s): Marley (dog, 1)
Home: Firestone

Selah and Marley Cedillo

Dogs come therapist-recommended, at least in the experience of the Cedillo family. Jordyn and her kids had been working through post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from domestic violence in a past relationship and struggling financially during the pandemic. Roman gave up in school and suffered nightmares; Jordyn hardly slept. With a new baby in the family, bringing in a dog seemed like it would be too much, until Jordyn saw Marley. The beautiful male corgi graced the page of a Facebook group and caught her attention. He might help her keep peace over the children, Jordyn thought. When Marley came home with Jordyn in September 2020, he showed signs of abuse and lack of training. But he showed so much love—hopping between the kids’ beds at night—that the Cedillos made him their official Emotional Support Animal. He is no longer scared and knows many commands, including: “Go check the kids,” and, “Nap with baby.” Adam tells Marley he’s not adopted, he’s just a little more cuddly than the hairless ones before him. “I wish he had thumbs to help more around the house but he does so much for our hearts,” says Jordyn.
Kid’s best friend: The kids love to see Marley in the snow; it’s his favorite and he runs fast. “Him’s a low boy but not a slow boy.” –Roman


Ready to Add to your Family? Check Here:

Before picking up a pal, make sure everyone in your house is ready for the commitment, and knows what resources are available for support. Animal Rescue of the Rockies maintains a list of behavioral training, pet food, and medical care assistance organizations. arrcolorado.org/resources-for-pet-owners

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What to Expect in Adoption and Rehoming

When adopting from a rescue organization, one can expect a thorough application process including questions about lifestyle and living conditions, landlord contacts if applicable, pet ownership history, and references. Many require a meet-and-greet or home visit to ensure the placement is the right fit. Finally, expect an adoption fee of up to around $500 for dogs and $300 for cats, which covers the cost of services such as spay/neuter, veterinary exams, vaccinations, microchipping, and foster care. Olya Alexeyeva, moderator of the Rescue Foster Adopt Repeat Colorado Facebook group, reminds folks that rehoming fees of several hundred are reasonable because the animal may have been transported to the rescue center from a different state, or needed treatment for medical issues such as distemper, heartworm, and even broken bones.

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