June is Foster a Pet Month in NJ thanks to this North Jersey teen (2024)

Over the last year, a North Jersey Girl Scout has successfully turned her passion for animals into a statewide effort to advocate for the importance of fostering pets.

Sophia Gillen, of Mountain Lakes, has been working on her gold award project, the most prestigious award a Girl Scout can receive, for just over a year. The project is called "Phenomenal Foster Pets" and is made up of various components including a proclamation from the governor and a fun patch to encourage advocacy for fostering pets.

Gillen has been passionate about animals for as long as she can remember and said that she has always wanted to try to help out in any way that she could.

June is Foster a Pet Month in NJ thanks to this North Jersey teen (1)

Today, at 16 years old, she works primarily with the Bloomingdale Regional Animal Shelter Society (BASS) as a weekend kennel attendant. She is a student at Mountain Lakes High School and has been a Girl Scout since she was about 6 years old.

"As I got older, and Girl Scouts became more relevant with the gold award getting closer, my mom brought up the idea of doing something with animals," she said. "I always knew I wanted to do something with animals, but she asked about something that we have a big issue with at the shelter. So, I thought fostering, because we are always overcrowded and that is the best way to get animals out and get more animals in from the streets."

She continued: "We get a lot of animals from Newark at my shelter and most of the time they are mothers with kittens and it's a lot. Usually you can't foster those out, but what you can do is foster out the adults that you have ... so I started talking to other shelters, asking around and seeing what they need help with, and they said fostering is the biggest issue they have right now because they need more turnover, more animals going out so they can have more going in."

Foster a Pet Month in New Jersey

One day, while working at an adoption event at Petco, Gillen came across a flyer for the company's nonprofit Petco Love. The flyer highlighted the fact that June is National Foster a Pet Month. With this, Gillen saw an opportunity within New Jersey and got to work, drafting a proclamation, writing letters to the state, and following up on a monthly basis.

On May 16, she received an email with the signed proclamation and on May 29, following eight months of effort, Gov. Phil Murphy officially proclaimed June as the state's Foster a Pet Month.

"Thanks to the advocacy of Mountain Lakes student and Girl Scout Sophia Gillen, 'Foster a Pet Month' is now a reality," said Murphy on X. "NJ has hundreds of animal shelters that offer foster opportunities - an incredible way to give these animals a temporary home."

According to the Petco Love website, the goal of celebrating Foster a Pet Month is to inspire communities to get involved and support their local shelters through fostering.

"Shelters can't control when a dog is surrendered or a stray cat with newborn kittens are found and need to be rescued from unsafe conditions," said Sherry Dally, treasurer of the Bloomingdale Regional Animal Shelter Society, who has worked with Gillen throughout her project. "Fostering a dog or cat for a few hours or days reduces the animal's stress and creates more shelter space for other animals."

She continued, "Foster families get to enjoy time with a pet and learn its personality and habits, which they can share with potential adoptive families. Everybody wins and fostering saves lives."

Phenomenal Foster Pets patch for Girl Scouts

In addition to advocating for the implementation of Foster a Pet Month in New Jersey, Gillen created an original fun patch called "Phenomenal Foster Pets" as well as a lesson that explains what fostering is and how children and teens can advocate for animals.

The patch is not yet an official Girl Scouts of America patch, but it can be purchased on Ebay.

June is Foster a Pet Month in NJ thanks to this North Jersey teen (2)

Working with Petco Love

Although she has already accomplished so much, Gillen is not done yet.

She is working with Petco Love to help teens across the country petition to make Foster a Pet Month a reality in every state.

In a recent article, which highlighted Gillen's work on the Petco Love website, Petco Love President Susan Kogut said: "Sophia is an incredibly impressive young woman. Her drive and commitment to animal welfare at such a young age are truly inspiring. We are excited to highlight her achievements and support her goal of expanding this initiative nationwide."

Gillen is also working to create a nonprofit that will allow her to reach more shelters and make her project more accessible. She plans to create a platform where people can purchase the patches and learn more about the importance of fostering, whether it be through a booklet, a program, an educational lesson or just a fun learning experience.

"There is still definitely a lot that I want to do with this," said Gillen, who will receive her gold award during a 2025 awards ceremony.

"Me and the volunteers at BASS are so very proud of Sophia and what she has accomplished with her Phenomenal Foster Pets initiative," Dally said. "Sophia loves animals and is very passionate about caring for them and finding them good homes. Sophia has been a BASS volunteer for two years and during that time has recognized the need for more foster homes and its benefits for both the shelter animals and families."

June is Foster a Pet Month in NJ thanks to this North Jersey teen (2024)
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