Give it UP for: Sharon Bednar of Swedesboro, N.J.
Nominated by Linda Mills of Mullica Hill, a longtime friend and client of Bednar’s dog-walking service, Bednar’s Critter Care. Bednar also runs a pet-therapy nonprofit called Furever Friends and volunteers with the Salem County Humane Society, for whom she fosters “special-needs” animals, like injured or pregnant dogs and cats, as well as newborn kittens and puppies.
“She is such a compassionate, empathic person,” Mills said of Bednar. “She puts her own self aside, because it’s the animals that count."
In her spare time, Bednar, 56, a former MRI technician, fills baskets with leashes, treats, and puppy outfits, and donates them to local animal shelters to raffle at fund-raisers. And she is a devoted caretaker of her husband, John, who suffers from a rare autoimmune disorder.
Bednar rises most days at 6 a.m. to feed her foster animals and her own seven pets, and then begins walking dogs for neighborhood clients.
In the evenings, she runs to one of the five branches of the Gloucester County Library System or to the Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del., with two of her dogs and two of her cats to provide pet-therapy services.
Throughout many nights, she bottle-feeds her tiny foster puppies and kittens, who wake every few hours (for ease, she sometimes sleeps in the same room with them).
And — day or night — when it’s time for her pregnant foster pets to deliver, she helps with that as well.
Despite all of this, Bednar jokingly refers to herself as “a proud foster failure,” as she has sometimes failed to find new homes for her foster animals. Why? Because she keeps them for herself.
For example, she adopted two dogs and a cat that she fostered for a few months because it was just too hard to let them go after caring for them.
“Some of these puppies are just so stinkin’ cute,” she said.
What makes fostering so rewarding, says this full-time animal guru, is watching puppies and kittens grow into well-trained, happy pets, and nursing injured animals back to such good health that they’re more likely to be adopted into good homes.
Like the 12-pound, 6-month-old female Boxer mix that was found malnourished on the streets of Pennsgrove.
“She was skin and bones. You could see every rib,” said Bednar.
After only a few weeks of Bednar’s special brand of TLC, the pup was a plump 20 pounds and playing friskily with the other dogs Bednar cares for. She was adopted about four months later by a Pennsville Township family.
“That I found someone to adopt her after I got her back to health,” said Bednar, "that’s what this is all about for me: knowing I saved a life, and knowing I found a great home for her.”