LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) — Lindsay Terwilliger said animals have a tendency to “choose” their owners, which she believes all of her animals have done with her.
“I have always said, if it works, it works, and if it doesn’t, I’ll know,” said the Amherst County resident, who has been fostering and rescuing animals for 15 years now. “I want the animal to choose me.”
In her Amherst County home, Terwilliger currently has a rescue pit bull, Dallas; two Great Danes, Theia and Pearl; a dachshund, Helmet; a Shih Tzu, Sukha, who lived with a man who died and needed a new home; a white rabbit; an old hound dog named Random who showed up about 12 years ago; a cat named Biscuit who was just hanging out at Peaksview Animal Hospital; and another cat named Coffeepot because he showed up at her house with the handle of a coffeepot around his neck. Last — but not least — the family also has a horse named Smoke.
“My husband tells me all the time we would have money if I didn’t have so many animals,” she said.
Terwilliger graduated from Virginia Tech with a degree in agriculture business. It was at Tech that she met her husband, Craig; the two have three sons ages 8, 6 and 3.
She is a stay-at-home mom to her boys and a foster mom to a house full of various animals along with the animals she owns. She also runs her own pet-sitting business out of her home.
Terwilliger also worked at Peaksview Animal Hospital for about 12 years as the kennel manager and plans to return to work as soon as her sons are out of the house.
She fosters with both the Central Virginia Regional Rescue and the Humane Society of Amherst County and estimates to have fostered about 30 animals in the last 15 years.
One foster that sticks out in her mind is Ransom, a pit bull who came from Lynchburg and hadn’t been fed. She fattened and fixed him up and found him a home about a year and half ago.
She said it’s the best feeling in the world to take a scared or sick animal, help restore it to full health and have it put up for adoption.
“It’s hard. There are times that I wish I could have kept many of the dogs I have fostered, but in reality, I can’t keep them all,” she said.
In return, the animals bring her so much joy and she has enjoyed earning their trust.
“Once an animal is terrified and could start out aggressive, the more time you spend with them, you have to earn their trust,” she said. “As I’m sitting on the floor of my kitchen, hand-feeding dogs that don’t want to eat, and they slowly start coming around and eating out of their hand, that’s when you know you’ve earned their trust and they love you, and those are the hardest ones for me to get rid of.”
Dr. Al Henry, a veterinarian at Peaksview Animal Hospital, said Terwilliger has always been a “fantastic animal lover.”
“Some people are great workers and some people are fantastic with animals and Lindsay was always kind of both,” he said. “Her passion was always making sure the animals were OK and she adopted countless animals from clinic when she was there.”
He said Terwilliger’s main goal is to give these animals a life that is enjoyable and rescue them from suffering.
“I’m so happy she’s given these animals a chance,” Henry said. “It’s been phenomenal what she’s done.”
He will often work with her animals at a no-charge basis. He said he feels so lucky to have worked with her and to know her.
“I think what she’s doing is a calling and I have the utmost respect for her,” he said. “She has this endless capacity to give.”
The Terwilliger family just bought a farm in Elon. Lindsay Terwilliger’s goal in the next two years is to build a new home with separate spaces for the animals she boards for her pet-sitting business and for those she fosters.
She said she will only take one foster at a time unless it’s a mother with its babies.
Once an animal she has fostered can go back up for adoption, Terwilliger will go to great lengths to find it the best home possible and tries her best to stay in touch with the adopters to this day.
Terwilliger’s biggest advice to pet owners: spay and neuter your pets, and help out with other animals in any way possible.
“If you can’t foster but would like to get involved, there are so many ways,” she said. “Transporting animals to vet appointments, donating food to rescues or humane societies or volunteering by cleaning or taking a pet out for the day.”