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Melissa Dorange and Dominoes

Losing a home upends a person’s life, and even when the situation is temporary, the experience can have a lot of long-term effects. Among those is the need to surrender a pet to a shelter, especially if a pet owner moves into a space that doesn’t allow animals. That’s where Pawster Nashville comes in.

Founded in 2020, Pawster coordinates temporary foster care for pets whose owners are experiencing a housing crisis. Founder Gabe Horton says the idea stemmed from a neighbor’s experience years ago. His neighbor had a health crisis and wasn’t sure what to do with his beloved dog Lacey during the treatment period. Horton says Lacey clearly had a good life and loving home. But her owner couldn’t take care of her, and surrendered her to a shelter.

“He had this temporary crisis,” says Horton. “And the only solution he had was to surrender her permanently.”

Fast-forward to 2020 and the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, which put many people into crisis situations — folks found themselves in hospitals, or suddenly without employment. Horton himself had been furloughed, and he remembered his neighbor and Lacey.

“I just wondered what kind of help was available for people with pets,” he says. “And I started calling around to animal welfare organizations in Nashville — I learned that there were so many wonderful organizations doing incredible work.”

Eventually Horton spoke with Natalie Corwin, founder of the nonprofit veterinary clinic Pet Community Center, and learned about the need for temporary fostering. Corwin laid out the framework for what would become Pawster, says Horton.

“I called up some friends,” he says, “and we founded Pawster in May of 2020 with the mission to end pet homelessness before it begins, by providing crisis foster care for cats and dogs.”

Pawster fostered their first cat in October 2020, and to date they have helped foster 84 pets in crisis in Middle Tennessee. Horton says 93 percent of pets have been reunited with their owners, and 13 pets are currently in foster care.

While Pawster formed during the pandemic, Horton notes that issues of housing stability predate COVID-19, and that fostering requests related to housing issues have increased since founding the organization. To that end, Pawster is looking at ways to help owners.

Horton says the organization is helping pay for pet deposit fees and approval letters for emotional support animals. They’re also working with other organizations to build a database of pet-friendly housing and talking to social services providers to help as housing navigators.

“In the beginning, we thought we were just going to foster pets, and we are realizing that it helps the pets if we can help the people,” says Horton.

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Dominoes

Of course, fostering is a great way to help an animal and also see how a pet fits into your family. Melissa Dorange and her husband have been fostering with Pawster for more than a month, taking care of an energetic pup named Dominoes, and it’s been a great experience.

“It’s psychologically beneficial to have a little creature to take care of and be responsible for,” says Dorange. “All of a sudden, your problems are just minor.”

Dominoes, who appears to be a pit mix and is a few months past 1 year old, is very friendly — wagging her tail, rolling around in the grass, and seeking pets and scratches. Dorange says the application process was easy, and Horton encourages anyone interested in fostering to try it out.

“Melissa’s doing the work of keeping the family together by taking care of Dominoes, and you can see that the love she has for Dominoes is at least equal to how much she was loved with her owner,” says Horton. “That’s kind of the great part. … Dominoes is the lucky one, she gets all the love from everybody.”

“You get attached for sure,” says Dorange. “I’m not letting her go anywhere except to go back to her owner.”

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