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Dog days don’t faze kind mom

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Cindy Lou is lounging on the sofa in front of the television, and Winston, Jewel and Kyosha are out back by the swimming pool, catching a few early afternoon rays.

Barbara Conrad's brood perks up, though, when the doorbell rings. Lunch has arrived. There's nothing like a pound of gourmet chicken- and liver-flavored dog biscuits to get everybody moving.

Cindy Lou, a long-haired Chihuahua with a high-pitched bark, is more interested in Barbara's Free Lunch of pasta chicken salad and chocolate tiramisu, but she knows the odds are she won't be getting a handout.

The first thing any dog learns when it arrives on Barbara's doorstep is a few basic household manners. Table scraps are forbidden, and for a good reason. Beggars might not get their adoption papers filled out.

As head of the foster parent program for Salt Lake City's Humane Society, Barbara has cared for thousands of dogs and cats and numerous guinea pigs, gerbils and rats in 18 years as a volunteer. Almost all of the animals were adopted into good homes after they were housebroken, groomed and trained by Barbara, a big-hearted woman with a wide smile and a T-shirt that reads, "There's Always Room for One More."

That saying could also apply to volunteers, says Barbara, who is looking for more people to take in animals from the shelter until they can be adopted.

"We have about 25 foster parents but need so many more," she says, watching her foster dogs frolic outside her Murray home. "For every animal we adopt out, another is dropped off at the front counter. It's a sad thing to see so many unwanted animals come through that door."

Thanks to Barbara and other foster parents, many of the pets are saved from being euthanized. Almost every day, Barbara visits the Humane Society shelter to see which new animals would make good pets with a little grooming and a few lessons at her "charm school."

"You wish you could save them all," she says, "but there are too many. So the best you can do is have good judgment. You have to ask yourself, 'Which of these animals would somebody want in their family?' "

If a dog or cat shows potential but is sick or needs to be housebroken, Barbara will take the pet home until it's ready to be put up for adoption. Some pets stay a week or two; others are with her for eight or nine months.

"You cry when they go," she says, "and sometimes it breaks your heart. But when they're ready, you have to find them a home. There are too many other animals waiting for a second chance."

Unwanted pets aren't the only ones who benefit from Barbara's generosity. Her two children have never had to beg for a new puppy or kitten. They come home from school never knowing what they'll find curled up on their beds or lounging in the doghouse on the patio.

"They help me walk the dogs and 'pooper-scoop' the yard," says Barbara, "but now that they're teenagers, it's not quite as appealing."

It certainly takes dedication to get up in the middle of the night to feed abandoned kittens with a bottle or clean up after a sick dog. "Fostering is not for everyone," admits Barbara, "but if you love animals, this is a great way to have lots of dogs and cats in your life."

As long as people toss out pets as easily as they would an old pair of shoes, "we'll be here," she says. "Isn't it sad that we're needed at all?"

Anyone interested in becoming a Humane Society foster parent can contact Barbara at 801-261-2919, Ext. 227.

Have a story? Let's hear it over lunch. E-mail your name, phone number and what's on your mind to freelunch@desnews.com or send a fax to 801-466-2851. You can also write me at the Deseret News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, UT 84110.