RAYMOND — Riley Hardison will be a sophomore in high school this fall and, thanks to a project began at Raymond-Knowles School, she and her mom have fostered nearly 100 dogs at their home in just about a year-and-a-half. Not all at once, Riley is quick to point out!
Riley, 14, is a Yosemite High School student, where her mother, Rebecca, is a teacher. At home in Raymond, they live a doggone good life.
The urge to foster started back when Riley decided her 8th grade “Genius Hour” project at school would be to work with and volunteer for an animal shelter.
Her mom has a friend who recommended them to the Animal Compassion Team (ACT) of Fresno, a nonprofit rescue organization which exists to save as many homeless pets as possible.
The Hardisons filled out a foster application online with ACT, and soon found themselves at the shelter one evening, where Riley picked out Petey, a pit bull. Riley says pit bulls are the best breed.
He was her first foster: Riley took care of Petey for about 18 weeks, until he was adopted out to his forever home. While fostering Petey and after, the Hardisons took in other dogs who needed temporary homes.
Since then, she’s see about 96 foster dogs and counting come through the house, and even some cats.
Riley says she adores the shelter, as well as both humans and pets.
“I love working with people and placing the dogs in the home,” Riley says. “I want to do this for a living and continue to help the dogs in the Fresno area.”
In addition to the pets she fosters, Riley has a small four-legged brood of her own, and appreciates her mother’s patience when it comes to this passion.
“I am so grateful for my mom ,” Riley says. “What mom lets you have 17 dogs at the house? This is such a cool experience.”
Riley has given temporary shelter to nearly every breed you can imagine, and even two litters of puppies. Dogs placed by ACT come from a variety of locations, including the Fresno shelter.
Working with ACT is ideal for the Hardisons because the pets, when ready to be re-homed, are spayed or neutered, and micro-chipped, and up-to-date on vaccinations and vet records. The cost to adopt a dog from ACT is $185.
In addition to finding lots of furry love and affection with the animals, Riley has found a group of simpatico individuals who make up the volunteers and small staff for the shelter.
On weekends, ACT helps run adoptions at Pet Smart in the River Park Shopping Center in Fresno, where Riley says it’s cool to be part of a family bound together by fur. Amanda Allen is with sister organization, Fresno Humane Animal Services, and among the people Riley frequently interacts with. Riley considers Amanda a role model, and appreciates all the creatures she encounters.
“The people are so friendly and considerate and for me, spending every Saturday doing adoptions, it’s my happy place. It’s the environment: the dogs don’t judge you and the people are awesome.”
Besides her foster work and adoption weekends, Riley is currently training a puppy to be certified with Therapy Dogs International (TDI) and plans to work with Gail Hawksworth of MySham toward that goal.
The would-be therapy dog came from a litter of five that were dropped off in a box at the shelter. She chose what appears to be an Australian Shepherd-poodle mix with a side of Burnese.
“Her name is Pip and she is super-sweet,” Riley says with joy, “a good, calm dog.” She explains that a trained and certified therapy dog can go into public places like hospitals, schools and libraries. Those are the activities she plans to do with Pip, as well as to continue her home foster and adoption work.
After spending weeks or months caring for a canine foster, it’s nice to hear that Riley is well-prepared to give the animals she has grown to love over to new people. She doesn’t perceive it as a loss when the pets move on.
“I see it as you get to help more dogs and bring them into your life, and love them. You get them healthier, and you get to know more about them, to find them their forever home.”