Photo by Jeannie Frey Rhodes

Women with a Cause 2024: Paula Schoen

CAUSE: Friends of the Animals Baton Rouge

When Paula Schoen began volunteering weekly with the East Baton Rouge Parish animal shelter, she immediately recognized the demand for volunteers and a better way to connect shelter dogs with local families. While volunteering, she noticed there were few other volunteers working directly with the animals and visitors were few and far between, which meant dogs often had much longer shelter stays. Pushed by a desire to help these animals find loving homes, she knew she had to do something.

No stranger to nonprofit work having spent more than a decade of her career as a speech and language reading specialist with the Baton Rouge Speech and Hearing Foundation, Schoen was uniquely equipped to take on the task. Now, for more than 13 years, she has helped more than 7,500 animals from Baton Rouge area shelters find forever homes through Friends of the Animals Baton Rouge (FOTABR). The nonprofit is dedicated to rescuing, re-homing and saving dogs, with a network of some eight shelters across the Capital Region, including Companion Animal Alliance (CAA).

In 2013, after years of spending every weekend shuttling dogs to Orvis for adoption events, FOTABR opened the doors of its Adoption House on Highland Road thanks to a grant by the Pennington Family Foundation. Dogs are only kept at the Adoption House during the day, then go home to be with their foster families for the evenings. Schoen describes it as a doggy daycare, but with dogs of all ages and sizes available for adoption.

An extensive network of fosters and volunteers make the operation possible since all dogs go home at night—a key part of Schoen’s mission. She points to FOTABR’s active board, dedicated employees and the volunteers and fosters for the impact and longevity of the organization.

“The community has been wonderful to us,” she says. “It is definitely a community effort, and we couldn’t do it without our supporters.”

As Schoen looks to the future, her goal is the same as it was when she started the organization: rescue, re-home and save more dogs in the Baton Rouge area.

“I’m seeing people come back for their second or third dog with us, and that makes me feel really good,” she says. “Animals were always a part of my family, and that’s what we want when people adopt. We want the dogs to become part of the family.”