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Hidden Gems: Meet Betsy Banks Saul of 911FosterPets

Today we’d like to introduce you to Betsy Banks Saul. 

Hi Betsy, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself. Thanks. I’m Betsy Banks Saul, best known for co-creating Petfinder. I’ve worked in animal welfare for 25 years now. The tides of pets entering shelters and, too often, being returned to the shelter after they were adopted, always plagued me. What causes an adoption to be a success? What will keep pets from going to the shelter in the first place? The answers led to a firm belief that to save pets we have to regard them as family members. Several themes arose over and over: 1) People usually really love their pets, even if they need to relinquish them, 2) the people who may rely most on their pets for love and emotional security — the socio-economically vulnerable, the sick, and the aged — have the highest risk of having to part with them when life throws them a curveball, and 3) a little extra time to get through a rough patch could often make all the difference in the world. 

911FosterPets is founded on the belief that there are foster heroes in every neighborhood who can help keep vulnerable families stay intact. Foster heroes can help keep a temporary hiccup from becoming a life-threatening event by giving a pet a place to crash while their family gets back on their feet or if a shelter feels they will do better in a home than in the shelter like puppies and kittens do. Our mission is to help keep pets with their families by matching them up with suitable foster heroes and help reduce the length of stay for pets in the shelter. We help them find temporary homes while they wait for adoption. 

Visit our site and you’ll see hundreds of pets that need a temporary safe spot. Some are posted by individuals and some by shelters. By signing up to foster one of them, you are helping to keep a family together during a crisis or giving a shelter-pet the time it needs to find the right adoptive home. 

Currently, due to the economic situation, fires, and storms, we urgently need folks that can take in a foster to sign up. When a nearby pet is in need, we’ll send a message, via text or email, to its local foster heroes to see if one is a good fit. 

Naturally, a lot of people wonder about the commitment of becoming a foster. How long will it need to stay? What are the risks? What if the pet doesn’t get along with their own pets? These are all good questions. Most foster pets stay between two weeks and two months in their temporary spot. To help make sure everyone is on the same page, we worked with Rocket Lawyer to create a free, online foster care agreement that includes expectations, emergency contact information, and medical details about the foster pet. 

Of course, if you are a volunteer foster-parent for a shelter, you and the foster pet have an additional safety net. If you are a neighbor helping out a neighbor, you are the safety net for that pet – and maybe its only chance to stay with its loving family for the long-term. 

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
We like to say that we are small but mighty. We have a very specific focus within animal welfare to keep pet families together during times of crisis. That makes things easier in some ways. When we were just an idea, the companies HomeAgain, 1-800-PetMeds, and ModernDog Magazine all pitched in to support our creation. To answer community needs after the rise of COVID-19, we were encouraged by support from Best Friends Animal Sanctuary and Maddie’s Fund. We’re lucky to count some brave organizations among our friends who share our vision and understand that our power doesn’t come from massive traffic or hundreds of thousands of pet photos like we had at Petfinder, but from the deep meaning that can derive from helping a neighbor during a time of need. 

Has it been easy or smooth? We did have one really weird experience along the way. Several years ago, our lead programmer disappeared. I mean, he really disappeared–never to be found again! That was one of the most surreal experiences in business I’ve ever had. 

Now our biggest challenge is that we see so many folks posting pets from vulnerable areas and we really need neighbors who can help from those communities. If you can foster a pet temporarily, please visit our site and let us know you can help by signing up to receive alerts when a pet in need is posted nearby. And please share our pet stories on social media.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know?
I started Petfinder in 1996 and soon began feeling as if we need to support a pet’s role in the family. Keeping pets out of the shelter has become my primary focus through 911FosterPets and Heal House Call Veterinarian. All of these initiatives have something in common—they help solve a community problem. I’ve always believed that if you do things for the right reasons, it will eventually pay off. They may not pay off when and how you expect them to, but as business philosophies go, this is what guides me.

Let’s talk about our city – what do you love? What do you not love?
I think there are so many good people and forward-thinkers here. Organizations like CARE and its founders, James and Jennifer Evans, spring to mind. Truth be told, I find it hard to feel at home in a city, gravitating to rural farm life. One of the nice things about Baltimore is how quickly you can get to nature. 


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Betsy Banks Saul

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