Where ‘The Dogs Are In Charge’
If Allan and Pamela Schildknecht say something to you about dogs, you’d better listen, because they know from experience what they’re talking about. During the 40 years of their marriage they’ve shared their house with over 160 dogs–fortunately, not all at the same time.
It’s not that they haven’t done anything else in their lives. For over 30 years they lived in Hawaii, where Allan established a company specializing in the design and sale of irrigation systems, and that business took them pretty much all over the world. Their clients were typically resorts, golf courses and government projects, and they traveled afar to see their systems installed in exotic locales in China, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, Australia and France, to name just a few, logging over 2 million air miles along the way.
That was their business, but their avocation was something else again: participating in the process of finding “forever homes” for Man’s canine friends in need.
It started in Hawaii in 2005. “We had three dogs of our own at the time: a Labrador mix, a Westie mix and a Doberman mix, all adopted,” Allan remembers. “We had just bought the third dog, and we learned about some pit bull/mix puppies whose mother had died. We had room at our place, so we thought we’d give fostering a try.” Says Pamela: “They were two tiny lumps of fur, just four weeks old. In those days the Hawaii animal centers did not name their dogs, they just gave them code numbers. So we called them Lumpa and Umpa.” They figured the pit bulls could learn from their dogs about socializing, and that is the most important thing foster homes need to achieve. “These dogs have spent their days in a kennel somewhere, and foster parents have to get them to the point that they’re adoptable,” Allan says. “Socializing is the first step, the primary goal.”
They had success on their first try, so Allan and Pam decided to keep on taking in dogs for fostering. “It doesn’t matter what size they are,” Allan says. Lap dog or Marmaduke-sized, the Schildknechts will take them on. “We do specialize in taking on unsocialized dogs,” Allan says. “Typically a dog will be with us for two or three weeks and will then go up for adoption. They’ll usually be housebroken, spayed/neutered and microchipped by then.” But a two-week stay is not always the case. “We had one dog with a stay of 27 hours and another that was with us for six months, because its owner was involved in a court case over possession,” he recalls.
Isn’t it difficult to develop an attachment to a dog and then have to give it up in just a few days or weeks? “Not really,” Allan avers. “We know we’re fostering them for a purpose, and we look forward to their getting adopted for a forever home when they leave us.” But sometimes Allan and Pam have found that their own home is the best forever home for a fostered dog. Their current three pets–Goliath, Linda and Raven–were all fosters of theirs before they adopted them. “In the animal care business they’re called ‘foster failures,’ but we think of them as foster successes,” Allan says.
And there are psychic rewards to fostering as well: appreciation of their service by the families that have to surrender their dogs, by the sanctuaries and humane societies that place the dogs, and especially by the adopting families where the dogs will continue their lives in a loving environment.
Allan retired in 2015, and after a short stay in South Carolina, he and Pam came to Englewood in 2018. “Pamela liked the area,” Allan says. “It was warm, like Hawaii, and it had an ‘Olde Florida’ feel. We met lots of good people, and we got involved with the Englewood Chamber of Commerce. We went to their social events, and it was a great way to meet folks.”
They also got involved with the Englewood Animal Rescue Sanctuary (EARS), a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization which describes its volunteers as “animal lovers with a desire to help precious pets in need” by taking in homeless or surrendered animals, placing them with temporary foster families and preparing them for finding “forever” homes. Having already fostered about 160 dogs, the couple decided that EARS was the place they wanted to affiliate with. The feeling was mutual. Says Todd Zimmerman, shelter manager for EARS, “We have about 20 or 30 foster families, and Allan and Pamela are among our very favorites.”
EARS takes in both dogs and cats, their two primary sources being private owners who for one reason or another cannot keep them, and animal control centers in DeSoto County and Sebring that offer EARS rescued pets that would otherwise be euthanized. “We can keep up to 30 cats here in our offices on Dearborn Street,” Zimmerman points out, “but we’re not allowed to keep dogs on the property because we’re in a residential area and the neighbors would complain about barking at night.” So EARS calls upon its foster families to come to the rescue. Zimmerman lines up takers for each dog before sending the EARS van to pick them up. Every dog gets spayed/neutered, receives vaccines, is given treatment for any medical condition and is microchipped during the foster period.
“The small dogs go quickly to adoption, usually in two or three weeks,” Zimmerman says. “The larger ones we sometimes struggle to place, because many homeowner associations have rules prohibiting dogs that weigh over 45 pounds or so.” But through meet-and-greet events, an excellent cadre of foster families and careful vetting of adoption candidates, EARS does a great job of finding loving homes for the animals they’ve rescued, large or small. “Sometimes our foster homes end up adopting an animal they planned to have just temporarily,” Zimmerman notes. But people looking for a dog or cat to rescue can adopt one directly from EARS. “We placed 126 cats and dogs this past year,” he says, “and about 60 percent were dogs. All of them would have been euthanized if our volunteers and fosters hadn’t helped to find them a loving home.”
Allan and Pam’s home is both loving and ideal: They are in a quiet neighborhood, have a lanai and pool bordered by a large, fenced-in back yard, and they have doggie doors that allow their pets free access to the out of doors. “They have the run of the house, too,” says Pam, “except for the master bedroom.” More importantly, she says, “They are our trainers. They accept the foster dogs coming in, and they show them the ropes.” Goliath (a terrier mix who was the runt of his litter) is the alpha dog. “He lets the other dogs know if they’ve done something wrong,” she says. And it works: “A new dog in the house will pretty much adjust within 48 hours.”
Allan and Pam have had some nice success stories. On one occasion they took in seven puppies from the same litter when they were just a few days old. All survived and were eventually placed, but it wasn’t easy. “I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else,” Pam says. Allan adds, “We’re the right kind of place: We have an all-tile house.”
On another occasion the couple took in Barbie, a brown boxer mix that had been rescued from a kill shelter a day before she was to have been put down. “She was nothing but skin and bones,” says Pam, “and she hadn’t been socialized or trained in any way. We had her for five or six weeks. She recovered, was adopted by a family that had a motor home, and she lived a full life. When we last heard, she weighed 70 pounds.”
The Schildknechts currently have their trio of rescues and one foster in their abode. If that seems like a lot, they’ve had more. “But we’ve never had more than ten at once,” Pam explains. And Allan chimes in: “We don’t have any children. These are our children. Pam and I aren’t party animals, and this is what we do.”
Sounds like the party animals are those canines, and they have a pretty darn good time whenever they’re at the Schildknechts.
Dean Laux is exploring interesting folks living in our community. If you know of anyone with an interesting background please send an email to: [email protected] Include the person’s name, contact info and give a brief description of the person's background.