By Alicia Dziak

As we head into the season of giving, there are so many local organizations that would love some help, whether it be with donations of money, supplies or time. With so many to choose from, picking the right one might be a matter of proximity or something close to your heart.

Last year, my family decided to work with Empire Animal Rescue Society (EARS) as part of a school project my daughter was doing. EARS is based in Salamanca, has helped hundreds of animals find their forever homes over the years.

Thanks to Courtney Valent, who, along with a dedicated group of volunteers, runs the foster-home based rescue, numerous cats, dogs and other animals are matched up with foster families, who make sure the animals are loved and taken care of until the perfect family is found. Potential adopters fill out an application, and Valent and her team carefully go through each one, making sure the right family adopts the right pet.

My family loves animals, and over the course of the last school year, we fostered and helped find homes for 13 dogs, two of which ended up as permanent residents in our house. Some of them stayed for only a few days, others a few weeks.

This week, with a little more time on our hands again, we eagerly started back up with fostering. Our newest house guest is Lacey, a medium-sized mixed breed dog who arrived in New York after being in a high-kill Kentucky shelter. As with all our foster dogs, EARS provides the food and other supplies if needed,  and our job is to love her and take care of her until she can be paired with her perfect family.

Foster families also serve as a great tool to let potential adopters know more about each animal. Are they good with other dogs and cats? Are they house trained? Are they crate trained? Do they have endless energy or do they prefer to chill all day? These are all questions that foster families can answer.

Along the way, we’ve learned a lot about different breeds and their characteristics, and as a family, we’ve all pitched in to make it work, even finding it gives us additional time to bond as we pick out new fosters or take dogs to vet appointments. Fostering animals is a fun way to give back, and EARS is always looking for new foster families. They are currently in dire need of families who can foster cats.

If you are looking to help, but can’t commit to adopting or fostering an animal, there are many other ways you can pitch in. EARS is always in need of food (Purina brand), kennels, dog houses, towels, bleach and toys. The cats love any type of canned food and any kind of fun cat toys and treats. EARS is also always in need of cat litter, and will accept any brand at any time. Financial donations are accepted as well. Donations can be mailed in or made via PayPal and sent to

See all the adorable pets EARS has up for adoption at, or check out their Facebook page ( for all kinds of great info. Message them through their page if you can help.