If we have learned anything in the past few months, it’s that each one of us can make a difference. And what a difference Hal Horenberg is making for dogs that would otherwise end up on the street or in a kill shelter. In 11 years, Horenberg and his wife, Iris, have fostered nearly 200 dogs so that they could be adopted by a forever home.
It started in 2008, when their 17-year-old dog, Honey, passed away. “I told my wife, I never want to do that again,” Horenberg says. “I never want that last day.”
As a way to avoid the pain of a dog’s last days, the Rockville couple decided a few months later to become foster parents through Pet Connect Rescue. After fostering five or six dogs they noticed that many people would foster one or two dogs, then keep one and not foster again.
“There’s a name for that,” says Horenberg. “It’s called foster failure. It’s not really a failure—the dog gets a home, the home gets a dog—but the group loses a foster home.” Horenberg and his wife were determined to foster at least 100 dogs before they “foster failed.” They haven’t failed yet.
Their positive experiences as foster parents led them to found Home At Last Sanctuary (HALS) in 2012. In addition to the 170 or so dogs they’ve fostered for other groups, they have taken in 26 dogs since opening HALS. “Each one of the dogs that I’ve fostered has taught me something, and I try to do a better job [with their placement] each time,” Horenberg says.
Covering expenses is a big challenge for any rescue group, but especially for a small operation like HALS, which is a non-profit 501(c)(3). For example, since November, the Horenbergs have been fostering Bo and Sam, two white Maltese fur balls who are up for adoption as a bonded pair. One adoption fell through because both dogs needed extensive dental work, which is now complete, and then Bo needed emergency surgery for bladder stones. The procedure cost almost $4,000, which HALS covered through personal resources and donations.
In addition to fostering, Home At Last Sanctuary provides other services, including temporary sanctuary. If a dog owner becomes homeless, HALS will care for the dog for three to six months until the owner is back on their feet. They can also provide transport service to rescue dogs that are out of the area and need to be moved to HALS, another rescue organization or a foster event. HALS has also advertised a contactless transport service during the pandemic for dogs who need to go the vet but have owners who are at a higher risk for severe illness. So far, there have been no takers.
Home At Last Sanctuary only places dogs within a one hour drive from Rockville, and the screening process for potential pet adopters is a rigorous one, including a long questionnaire and a home visit, because Horenberg wants to make sure his dogs are never surrendered again. “My responsibility is finding the right home for the dog that I have,” he says. If a potential adopter ever owned a pet, he’ll call their veterinarian to find out what kind of care the pet received. “We try to decide if they would be a good adopter and if the dog they want to adopt is a good match for them.”
Over the years, Horenberg has developed his own philosophy about adoptions and believes he has the answer for keeping pets out of shelters. “Companion animals are a lifetime commitment, and before you can bring one home you should have to have a license, and you should have to take a test to make sure you understand the minimum responsibility of a lifetime commitment,” he says.
Horenberg also wants every dog or cat bought or sold in the U.S. to be microchipped, which will allow them to be returned to their owner. These requirements, plus spaying and neutering pets, will go a long way towards achieving his goal of no animal left behind, he says.
“Companion animals depend on their family every day for their entire life,” Horenberg says. “Commit to their entire life before you bring them home.”
A version of this story appeared in the June-July issue of Montgomery Magazine.