Editors note: This is part of a series looking at the summer adventures of Walker County teachers. OAKMAN — Math teacher Paulette Berger spent her summer as she has for the past five years, by …
Editors note: This is part of a series looking at the summer adventures of Walker County teachers.
OAKMAN — Math teacher Paulette Berger spent her summer as she has for the past five years, by providing a refuge for dogs waiting on their ride to a different life.
A few days before the new school year began, Berger was busy setting up her classroom at Oakman High School, but she paused to talk about her life outside of school as a foster for Rescuers United for Furbabies (R.U.F.F.).
"I spent my summer with a mama dog and five puppies," Berger said with a quick laugh as she talked about Betsy Ross the dog, who birthed a litter of puppies on Independence Day at her home. She spent five weeks at Berger's home, along with other dogs who had a shorter stay while waiting on transport to rescue groups out of state.
Berger said she has been a year-round foster with RUFF for five years and has kept over 100 dogs who have went on to be placed in forever homes. She said it all started with two lab puppies pulled from a shelter in the county that she kept in her air-conditioned garage. Her life-saving foster home is now equipped with kennels, and she tries to keep no more than two foster dogs at her house at one time.
She already has three dogs and one cat of her own, along with her three children, which she said makes their home the perfect foster home.
"A lot of times, rescues will want to know if the dogs are good with other animals, are they good with cats, are they good with kids," she said. "So I'm a perfect foster home, because I have all of the above. ... We have a good little setup at my house. We can expose them to anything you need them exposed to."
Berger is a longtime animal advocate, and she has also been known to rescue dogs that have been dumped near her home.
"I've always been an animal lover. I was the kid that would cry and make my dad pick up dogs off the side of the road," she said. "I just love animals."
While it has been tough over the years to see many dogs come and go through her home, the life they go on to live is absolutely incredible, she said. RUFF partners with many rescues up North that take dogs from Walker County and place them in homes.
"The dogs, you get them, and they're in such bad shape. You see the progress that they're making, and you know that they're going on to something so much better than you can give them right here," Berger said. "They will go up North and they will have their own den, their own Instagram page, and they will have their pictures made with Santa. It's just a totally different mindset up there."
She continued, "It blows my mind the way we treat animals in the South, because they're not treated like that up North. They have the spay and neuter laws and leash laws. It's just regulated so much more."
Berger said many dogs have broken her heart in the years she has fostered, particularly Mac, a dog that crawled up under a building in Walker County to die after he was shot. RUFF rescued Mac, and Berger kept him at her home until he recovered enough to travel up North. Mac lost one leg due to his injuries, and another leg isn't usable. He now has his own wheelchair and goes to doggie daycare, Berger said.
"He broke my heart. I cried when he left," she said. "Around here, nobody would've took him. Nobody would've gave him that life."
Mac lives with another dog who was also rescued near the Walker County Landfill.
Berger said Popeye was another remarkable transformation. He was rescued in Parrish and went from weighing 27 pounds to now 75 pounds.
"That transformation is just amazing. If people could see that, they would be more apt to foster," she said.
RUFF pulled around 40 dogs from the Walker County Humane and Adoption Center over the summer, and Berger said dogs are typically kept in foster homes two to three weeks before they are transported to northern rescues. Some dogs are kept in foster longer if they are recovering from trauma or being treated for particular medical conditions.
Even though the school year has started back, Berger said she will continue to juggle fostering and teaching, and she is particularly excited about being the head girls volleyball coach this school year.
Berger said she hasn't had a "foster fail" experience, where she has decided to keep a dog in foster. She said it is always tough to take dogs to transport after having them for weeks, but the goodbye is necessary.
"There's several that I have cried tears over when I took them to transport, because I just loved them so much and they were so near and dear to my heart," she said. "You just have to remind yourself that if I keep this one, I can't help the next one. It's a lot like raising your kids. You raise your kids to move on, to do things for themselves. That's what we're doing for these dogs."
Berger encourages people to become involved with any animal rescue, whether it be through fostering, transport, donations or simply supporting the efforts of those who are helping to provide a second life for animals.
"You can make a difference somewhere," Berger said. "There's a place for you."