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Dog lovers hope to give pooches a special Christmas present

Noel Fisher is shown with Johnny, a 10-year-old yellow Lab who plays the title character in Hallmark Hall of Fame’s movie “A Dog Named Christmas.”  (Associated Press)
Noel Fisher is shown with Johnny, a 10-year-old yellow Lab who plays the title character in Hallmark Hall of Fame’s movie “A Dog Named Christmas.” (Associated Press)

Petfinder.com is looking for at least a million people who want company for Christmas.

The online pet adoption database is teaming up with CBS and the producers of the Hallmark Hall of Fame Movie “A Dog Named Christmas” for a campaign to foster pets for the holidays.

Imagine waking up Christmas morning to find all the shelters empty, said attorney Greg Kincaid, author of the best-selling novel “A Dog Named Christmas.”

“If 10 dogs in every city get a Christmas break, I think that would be fantastic,” added actor Bruce Greenwood, who stars in the movie version, which airs Sunday.

The book and film tell the story of a shelter dog taken in by a developmentally challenged young man as part of an “Adopt a Dog for Christmas” campaign.

Kincaid made it up for Christmas one year as a bedtime story for his five kids. After a rewrite – “the kids hated it,” he said of the original ending – he turned it into a short story, then a novel.

The real-life “Foster a Lonely Pet for the Holidays” campaign will draw on 2,080 shelters and rescues across the country for a national foster week, which will last from Christmas Eve through New Year’s Day.

The idea took hold at a clinic in Pensacola, Fla., that started the campaign last year after the book’s release.

A nurse there put out a sign that read “Foster a pet for the holidays.” She emptied all the cages for Thanksgiving and again at Christmas, Kincaid said, and there was a waiting list 100 people long.

Petfinder.com will provide participating shelters with newspaper ads, radio spots and support, said co-founder Betsy Saul.

“The smallest act can make such a big difference,” Saul said in a telephone interview from Chapel Hill, N.C.

Everyone involved in the movie hopes some animals will find permanent homes through the program.

“But this is not a trick to get you to keep pets. We need fosters desperately,” Saul said.

People can use fostering to find out if a pet is a good match or if they are ready for a pet. There are fosters who specialize in older pets, sick pets, pets of a particular breed, kittens and puppies, even pregnant animals.

“The beauty of this program is it can be whatever anyone wants it to be,” Saul said.

In Virginia, the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA plans to pull out all the stops to promote the program and the movie, including fliers, tweets, blogs and calls.

“Our goal is to get every pet out,” executive director Susanne Kogut said.

No foster effort is a failure, she said, remembering Van, a plain vanilla hound that had been at the shelter for nine months and was overlooked time and again.

“We put him in a foster home. He deserved a break,” Kogut said.

“There was nothing distinctive about him. He wasn’t overly loud, just a quiet, gentle, wonderful heart.”

The foster family had friends over who fell in love with the dog – and just like that he had a forever home.

“If a pet has a choice of being in a small kennel at a shelter over the holidays or in your home with a lot of people, I guarantee you the pet’s going to choose the home environment,” Kogut said.

“Animals love people. And I can’t imagine a better thing for them for the holidays.”

It might not be so bad for the people, either.

“We get it in our head that fostering a dog is about helping the dog,” Kincaid said. “We don’t always understand how much a dog can do for us.”



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