Amy Creel will never forget the first time she volunteered to foster a dog. She was handed 11 American Staffordshire terrier puppies, their mom—and little direction. Creel knew she had to help these puppies; she was all they had. But how? “I felt in the dark,” she says. “I quickly realized, I don’t really know what I’m supposed to do. How are these puppies going to get adopted?”
Once the puppies were placed in their forever homes and Creel could breathe again, she realized the experience had truly been a baptism by fire.
Creel runs things differently as president of Knine Rescue, a nonprofit based in Ashton that matches pets with fosters and provides sanctuary to cats and dogs across the greater Washington, D.C., area. Through imaginative events such as kitten yoga and puppy Pilates—in addition to adoptive pet meet and greets—the organization regularly hosts lively community events dedicated to animal welfare.
In 2022 alone, Knine saved nearly 600 dogs from euthanasia, Creel says.
As a longtime foster—that is, someone who cares for an animal until it is adopted permanently—Creel knew what volunteers needed when she stepped into the leadership role at Knine in 2019. The main element: communication.
With a dedicated volunteer assigned to every case, each foster “feels like they’re supported,” Creel says. There’s financial help, too, with the organization—which is fully funded through donations—covering the animal’s food, toys, vet bills and other costs. With this assistance, the fosters “feel like they can focus on caring for their foster pet,” Creel says.
The high level of support also instills confidence in fosters. Michelle Tsiolis, a volunteer, says she’s found an extended family while working with Knine. “We share stories…and lift each other up,” she says. “It’s this group of people I didn’t know I needed.”
Knine’s efforts are urgent; the shelters they work with are often at capacity, especially in the months following Christmas, when some animals that once served as gifts are returned. According to Best Friends—a national nonprofit dedicated to helping animals in shelters—about 60,000 cats and dogs enter Maryland shelters every year. With limited resources statewide, an animal becomes at risk for euthanasia if it isn’t adopted or fostered. Best Friends estimates that nearly 7,000 cats and dogs are euthanized in Maryland each year.
That’s why Creel focuses on a “common sense” approach to getting animals into loving homes, “Sometimes rescues are so strident and strict with rules that good adopters get overlooked,” she explains.
Tsiolis agrees. “A lot of people get discouraged” when they want to help out, she says. Instead, Knine considers each person or family’s unique situation to see if they’ll be a good foster.
Through events, Knine works to build a compassionate community that supports animal welfare and spreads the joy of pets. Their most recent venture? Kitten yoga.
“We had never done it before, but we had a sold-out class,” Creel says. She considered the event a huge success, with people learning soothing yoga moves alongside kittens that were available for adoption. For other events, like Pilates with Pups, Knine has partnered with fitness instructors.
Volunteers also regularly go to schools, hospitals and workplaces to provide therapeutic fun. Creel has noticed that animals provide a moment of comfort for people with high-stress jobs. “There’s just something healing about holding a puppy,” she says.
Every event results in some adoption applications being filled out, but they’re also a starting point for kids and families to interact with the animals before deciding to take the next step.
Creel emphasizes that they welcome anyone who wants to spend time with animals or learn about Knine’s work: “Even if they aren’t looking to adopt. Even if they just want to get their puppy fix. We love that, too.”
This story appears in the March/April issue of Bethesda Magazine.
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