Volunteer Appreciation Week is this week, and in celebration of this occasion, The Bancroft Times is recognizing local volunteers. Canada has some 12.7 million volunteers and one of these giving people is Mary Freeman. She has volunteered her time with Home Again Bancroft in a variety of capacities for the past eight years, following the death of a beloved pet.
Freeman has been volunteering with Home Again Bancroft since 2013, starting off as a dog foster to help her get over the loss of her Lhasa Apso in 2012. After retiring from her city job early at age 55, she also volunteered with Loyalist College and with the Hospital Auxiliary for five years. But she found she’d spread herself too thin by volunteering with both Home Again and the North Hastings District Hospital Auxiliary so she focused on Home Again full time.
Freeman says she recovered from her grief at losing her dog the night before she took on her first foster dog.
“My wall plaque says ‘Who Rescued Who?’ Fostering is therapeutic. Then, I joined the board, as secretary to the board, and served five years. Then I resigned to concentrate on media liaison. I submit articles to the newspapers; I act as website liaison and work on the telephone hotline. Twenty-six dogs later, including lots of fleas, heartworm attacked two of my fosters, who were treated by their owners and recovered… it is like chemotherapy. If your foster dog runs away, like Suzie did five years ago, it is way worse than death. Kudos to fosters who still do it,” she says.
Home Again Bancroft was started up in 2009 by its president, Rosemary Dixon, and other to offer Bancroft an alternate animal rescue organization to HART that also includes cats.
It has been a registered charitable organization for the past 10 years. In 2018, they rehomed 76 dogs and 150 cats. Their mandate is to rescue surrendered, abandoned or homeless dogs and cats for people in the Bancroft area, foster them until they’re ready to be adopted and subsidize the spay and neutering of pets in the greater Bancroft area who may not be able to otherwise afford to do so.
Home Again also offers free microchipping for all its dogs and cats, courtesy of a McDougal Insurance grant they received in 2018. They offer this service for people’s pets that did not come from Home Again for a modest $20 at Copper Creek Kennels and the many Home Again fundraising events, which will hopefully resume fully in 2022. They also provide full veterinary care before the pet is adopted, including vaccinations, spay/neuter, skin care, dental care etc. This can total over $5,000 per month.
Home Again is also partnered with Maggie’s Resource Centre to help people in abusive situations escape while ensuring that their pets are safe too. Freeman says that many spouses will not leave their pets to suffer what they suffered until her organization can take them in.
“A lady in Alberta, abused by her hubby, was offered sanctuary by her people in Ontario, but only her and her children, not her pets. Home Again took the pets and freed her from a life of abuse and maybe saved her and her two children’s lives,” she says.
Freeman has fostered 26 small dogs for Home Again, including many litters of puppies. She adopted her foster dog number 17, Trixie, in 2014. Trixie is a Yorkshire Terrier/Poodle mix, but they don’t know for sure since she’d been abandoned. She is now seven and a half years old.
“She was found tied to the [Faraday Municipal] dog pound with a thick rope, six pounds, emaciated, flea ridden, collar imbedded, terrorized by an intact male while she was crated and in heat. Now she is the correct weight at 14 pounds, spayed, sleeps beside me in bed and is never alone. She goes with us everywhere, including the United States, back when we used to travel!” she says.
Freeman thinks that fostering pets is good for retirees who want to travel in between their dog and cat foster assignments. Anyone interested in fostering pets for Home Again can get in touch with Freeman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Home Again is currently doing a bottle drive called Returns for Rescues in cooperation with the Bancroft Beer Store. Running from April 12 to April 26, it’s to raise money for their organization, and Freeman says is going very well. With COVID-19 restrictions, it has been exceedingly difficult to raise much needed funding for their activities.
Freeman says they haven’t had a fundraiser since December, 2019.
“We were all set to have our Easter bake sale fundraiser when COVID-19 hit, and we haven’t been able to have one since,” she says.
Before COVID-19, in any given year, Home Again would have fundraisers that included; the aforementioned Easter bake sale, a summer golf tournament, a pet festival at Millennium Park in August, a quilt raffle, a Legion dance in the autumn and the Brighten the Night festival in Maynooth in December.
Despite not being able to fundraise, Freeman says they still get donations from people because of their newspaper articles.
“So, they read about us and think ‘oh, yeah’ or they call us and say they’d like to adopt a dog, what have you got? And sometimes we have to say nothing, because the dogs are adopted out so fast. So, they decide to give us money instead. We’ve got a great reputation and it’s generating funds for us because we can’t do anything else,” she says.
With the huge demand for dogs and kittens during COVID-19, Freeman says she’s even had to put people on a waiting list, which is quite long.
“If I do call them sometimes, they’ll say they won’t take a certain type of dog. There’s such a variety of sizes and shapes with respect to dogs. A lady from Belleville, one of her dogs died that she had gotten from us, and she wanted another little cute one. So, I called her about a chihuahua and she said ‘I’m not taking a chihuahua!’ They are very particular and they won’t go out if it’s raining and they’re very snappy and have a bit of an attitude,” she says.
That’s one of the challenges of keeping a list, according to Freeman. She says they have a very careful screening process with respect to dog ownership because dogs can be dangerous and can bite you. Applicants for dogs must fill in a two-page questionnaire including a satisfactory veterinary reference. After interviewing the dog they like in the presence of the dog’s foster, if all are in agreement, the applicants can adopt the dog.
“A refund is offered within 30 days for any reason and a return is always accepted. The happiness of the pack is paramount. Many people need to rehome a dog or cat because the owner died or went into long-term care. Home Again reduces the trauma of finding a proper new home. The first applicant is not always selected,” she says.
Freeman says with a laugh that the photo of her and her beloved dog will prompt a lot of people to phone her up, wanting to adopt Trixie.
“I know that the readers always look at the photographs first, so much so that they’ll see it and say ‘I want to adopt that dog!’ And I’ll say but that’s my own Trixie; she’s not for adoption,” she says. “I may end up getting a few calls about her but that’s alright!”
Michael Riley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Bancroft Times