When her 13-year-old cairn terrier, Whitney, passed away in 2001, Laurie Austin started fostering pregnant cats and raising their babies until they could be adopted. But something was missing: a dog, a companion she’d always had.
Then, one Sunday, she was shopping in Wayne and noticed an All 4 Paws Rescue adoption event outside Pet Valu. “I was looking at the dogs, thinking, ‘Gee, I miss my Whitney,’” she says. “I wanted a small to medium dog, no more than 20 pounds.”
Then an 8-week-old puppy caught her eye. Part hound, part Lab, he was almost 20 pounds. They called him Grant, which was also her paternal grandfather’s name. “I said, ‘This is a sign, and I love this little guy,’” recalls Austin, who lives in West Chester. “I figured Grant was looking for me, too, so I filled out the paperwork and gave references.”
Suddenly, a look-alike pup went into the pen where Grant was waiting. It was Grant’s brother, Gere. “I couldn’t figure out how I would explain to my fiancé how I adopted two dogs while he was away for the weekend,” says Austin.
She agreed to foster Gere until the popular Chester Springs-based rescue found him a good home.
When her future husband returned from his trip, he couldn’t help but notice the two litter mates.
“Are we dog sitting?” he asked.
Austin assured him that only Grant was theirs and that his brother was just visiting. Two days later, All 4 Paws founder Kristen Schlichtig called to say that a potential adopter wanted to see Gere a second time. “I said, ‘No. I think he’ll stay here with Grant,’” says Austin.
Gere became Harley, and he and Grant both turned 2 in March. “You could tell how much Kristen loved these guys and was looking for good homes,” Austin says. “She is such an animal lover, and it was very important that the person adopting her dogs shared her love for these guys.”
Founded in May 2009, All 4 Paws is a foster-based, all-breed, no-kill animal rescue that offers salvation and sanctuary to animals in need. Thus far, it’s helped 2,000 animals—mostly dogs, but cats, horses and goats, too. Ninety-five percent are at-risk dogs scheduled for euthanasia. Schlichtig, in essence, commutes death-row sentences.
Schlichtig grew up in a “Dr. Dolittle house” that’s a bit like her small “animal farm” today. There’s a horse, goats, cats, chickens and a tortoise—all rescued.
Among the 11 canines on the farm, there’s Peanut, one of the many Philly street dogs saved by Schlichtig. Peanut was crippled and severely emaciated, with no guarantee that he’d ever stand again, let alone walk. They even made a wheelchair, but he wouldn’t need it. He’s now walking, running and playing.
Foster homes are absolutely essential, and All 4 Paws has 40 active ones, mostly in Chester County. That allows the rescue to handle 40-50 dogs at once. Every weekend, it hosts a local meet-and-greet event at participating pet and feed stores, where 15-20 fosters bring dogs in search of permanent homes.
All 4 Paws came about when Schlichtig rescued a single puppy from a Kentucky shelter. She found the dog a home—perhaps too easily, as one saved puppy led to more. Today, between 10 and 20 dogs come to All 4 Paws weekly.
Due to Schlichtig’s involvement with Bowling Green-Warren County Humane Society in Kentucky, 60 percent of the arrivals are from the South; Philadelphia supplies the rest. Animals are transported at least once a week.
Sadly, puppies are euthanized, too—and it’s not just mixed breeds. Schlichtig takes in a large percentage of purebreds. She has to be selective, as all rescues do. While she loves pit bulls, they tend to sit. “If we can adopt out 10 Labradors in the same amount of time it takes to place one pitbull, we’re saving more dogs,” she says.
Education remains essential, and this region is traditionally a haven for breeders. But these days, rescues are almost trendy. “It’s the right thing to do,” Schlichtig says. “We’re seeing families adopt that years ago wouldn’t have. I don’t see it losing steam. Now, this is the way to do it—and it will continue to be the right thing to do.”
All 4 Paws is funded almost entirely by adoption fees, which cover altering, a microchip, shots, even a 30-day pet insurance policy and one free obedience training session. Within the past year, Schlichtig has taken on help and let go of more responsibility. She’s letting her baby grow and mature, while also guarding against burn out. “It’s a gnarly, sad, draining business, full of blood, sweat and tears,” she says. “You have to love it.”
As for Austin, she couldn’t love her dogs any more than she does now. Her “boys” have even helped her battle liver disease. Austin’s health took a turn for the worse in 2011, four months after adopting Grant and Harley. In November 2012, her 22-year-old daughter donated the right lobe of her liver to save her mother’s life. “I adore all my babies,” says Austin. “And I’m so thankful to Kristen and All 4 Paws.”
To learn more, visit all4pawsrescue.com.