By Harold Egeln
Ever want to help a homeless animal get a safe and happy home? Could you take in a dog or a cat temporarily while people are helping to find it a permanent home? In Brooklyn, there’s a way to do that. It’s called the Brooklyn Animal Foster Network. BAFN was founded in March 2005 by Laurie Bleier of Park Slope, with friends who are committed to rescuing homeless animals from shelters and the streets, and working hard to help provide safe havens through qualified families and individuals. “Known as the rescue lady of Brooklyn, it seemed that everyone had my number on their refrigerator,” said Bleier about how the all-volunteer, nonprofit BAFN began. “Not having the room to foster all the animals that were coming to my attention, I put a website up to find qualified, animal-loving foster families.” The website, www.BrooklynAnimalFosterNetwork.org, quickly attracted the attention of the folks she wanted to help. “It has worked out well, because 95 percent of the foster families adopt their charge.” Nearly 100 foster caretaker families are involved in the network. “We want the animals to have love and companionship, which they also give to the people who foster them,” said Claire Angelica, who aided Bleier in starting the network. Angelica has run “Cat’s Cradle” for the past ten years out of Park Slope. “BAFN has placed a lot of animals into permanent homes thanks to the foster network. It makes a great difference.” Bleier and her volunteers travel every weekend to the city’s Brooklyn shelter, the Animal Care and Control Center on Linden Boulevard in East New York and take selected animals to the new Petco Superstore at Flatbush and Utica Avenues. There they are placed in an “adoption space” from 1 to 5 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday. Two staffers at the AC&C shelter help select the animals, for which Bleier is grateful. BAFN is thankful for the support of Richard Gentles, Director of Operations for the AC&C, which also oversees the center’s New Hope Partners programs throughout the city. He credits Bleier and BAFN for saving lots of the lives of many animals as “new hope partners.” “Laurie has a lot of energy, drive, vision and enthusiasm which spreads throughout the network she founded,” said Gentles. AC&C is the largest animal rescue service east of the Rocky Mountains. Gentles, who has been with AC&C since mid-2003, noted that he would like to see every animal find a safe, stable and supportive home, and aims for secure life for all shelter animals, avoiding their deaths. “Laurie Bleier, BAFN and Petco are all, together, making that possible. It’s a real community effort.” It all comes down to the nearly 100 people who act as foster companions to the animals, giving them safe haven until what Bleier calls “a forever home” is found. BAFN provides food, litter and veterinarian medical care to the animals while they are in the foster homes as the search for a permanent home happens. “I love the fact that Laurie and the network have a hands-on approach,” said foster animal companion Laura Anson, whose large home, with her husband Jay Anson, helps house animals. “Before moving to New York, I was helping animals in the two places I lived, England and India. When I came here I did an Internet search and discovered BAFN, the perfect match for us.” “The foster network is a brilliant idea,” she said. “People are given a chance to help socialize animals, strolling with them, getting accustomed to children, and much more to prepare them for a permanent home. BAFN gives people that wonderful opportunity.” While the cats and dogs, or other animals like rabbits, are in the foster homes, BAFN searches for a qualified permanent home. To encourage young people to develop a love and active care for animals, volunteering with BAFN can be counted as a student’s community service credit at their schools. “My daughter and her friends have worked with BAFN for a while,” said Nancy Gourman of Park Slope. “What started out as trying to find a way to complete their community service requirements turned into a real involvement and commitment to save and socialize animals.” They continue helping beyond their school service. BAFN relies on its network of helpers to transport animals to Petco and foster homes, and to be home checkers, and encourages volunteers to contact them at the number at the end of this article. The organization provides food and litter and all veterinarian care is paid for by BAFN, if necessary “Helping just one animal won’t change the world, but, surely, the world will change for that one animal.” On the legislative front, BAFN is calling for the City Council to pass Intro 189-A into law. Sponsored by Councilmember Gifford Miller, it would make it easier for people to keep animals in their rented apartments, since some landlords are using a court ruling on a 1983 law to bar pets under certain circumstances. “All animals deserve respect and should be treated with dignity in all circumstances,” said Bleier, who works tirelessly with her BAFN volunteers in making that happen. Since BAFN is an all volunteer, nonprofit organization with no public funding, it depends on donations and fund-raising. On Sunday, February 12 it will have a fundraiser aboard the mega-yacht Atlantis with a four-hour cruise around the city’s waterways, with music, entertainment, buffet food, wine, dancing, children’s activities with games, clowns, raffles and musicians. Because the cruise happens around Valentine’s Day, married couples can apply to be among 25 selected couples whose marriage vows will be renewed by the ship’s captain in a special onboard ceremony. Atlantis will set sail on its “Luxury Cruise to Benefit Brooklyn’s Homeless Animals” from Pier Nine in Sheepshead Bay at Emmons Avenue and East 21st Street, launching at 1 p.m. with a ceremony led by Borough President Marty Markowitz. To learn more about BAFN and its February 12 fund-raising cruise, and to apply as a foster family, visit contact Laurie Bleier at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 718-789-6865, and visit www.BrooklynAnimalFosterNetwork.org, which includes an on-line foster application.