This gorgeous little brindle babe is Stella, and she is my 13th foster! I have had dogs that I thought would be adopted within days, but I had them for months. And dogs who I thought I’d have forever, but they’ve come and gone to perfectly wonderful homes. Throughout these fosters, I have been asked these questions over and over…”how can you say goodbye?” and “don’t you want to adopt him?”
So I thought I would try to explain why I foster, how I can handle having multiple dogs at once, and why I can say goodbye without shedding a tear (ok, I’ve shed tears only twice…I’ll let you guess who those were over!).
-I treat each and every dog as an individual. Just because the dog is young, old, dog-friendly, kid-friendly, it doesn’t mean that he/she is not freaked the F out! I always have my dogs put up (Oscar in his crate, Lucy gated in the kitchen), and I let the foster dog come in to explore. I know my dogs very well, and that allows me to introduce them to the foster dog at the right time, to keep everyone happy. I love seeing the new dog become comfortable with my perma-dogs. Sometimes it takes just a couple of hours, sometimes it takes days. It doesn’t always mean that an instant friendship is formed, like Oscar and Apollo had. But there is an understanding between everyone. My dogs seem to know that this is a new dog, a dog who needs space, and lots of love. The new dog seems to understand that Oscar and Lucy are to be respected, and looked up to.
-Having a young child around the house is another great reason to foster. If you are anything like me, you have looked for community volunteer opportunities for kids, and found pretty much nothing. My kiddo is 7, and the age for volunteering is usually much older. Fostering is a great way to teach Jayden about giving back, and helping those less fortunate. He learns what it takes to care for a pet, and that we have to be committed to them, no matter what issue they may have. Now when he sees a stray dog or cat, he immediately wants to rescue it. He is frequently heard saying things like “Why don’t people keep their cats inside where it’s warm?” and “Don’t people know that dogs can get hit by a car if they aren’t looked after?” He also loves to visit the shelter to give the homeless animals some attention. It truly warms my heart that he is this compassionate and kind!
-Fostering is also a great learning experience for me. I have always had dogs, my whole life. But there was so much I never knew! The most interesting things I’ve learned are behavior related. How to introduce dogs correctly, how to read dogs, what can be stressful for even the most confident laid back dog. I’ve learned about health issues, and how to listen to what a dog is so clearly telling me. I’ve also learned some great lessons from these dogs. Things like the past is just that, the past. Get over it and move on. Don’t hold grudges. Love the ones you’re with. All of those things that make dogs so amazing, us humans could learn so much from them!
-Now for the part that makes it hard to say goodbye, yet it’s exactly why I can. The bond that forms between me and the dog. I love seeing the foster dog relax and open up. I love when they look to me for answers. When the people came to meet Toby for example, we were all sitting in my living room, talking. He kept walking over to me, standing in front of me, as if to ask me if I was sure it was safe. It made me feel so good that this dog, who had been uprooted from the only home he knew, was now trusting in me to keep him safe. When I drop a dog off at an adoption event, and I return to pick him/her up, they wiggle and smile with happiness. No matter what their past has held, they realize that I am a “good guy.” Depending on the strength of this bond, it can be really hard to say goodbye. But I go into the “relationship” knowing that there is an end in sight. I know from day one that there will be a break up. I know that I am just their bridge, helping them go from their past to their future. The fact that I can say goodbye doesn’t mean that I don’t love them. It means that I love them enough to give them up. Plus, I am not equipped to have more than the two dogs that I have. I don’t have the space, the money, or the time, to have more than two permanent dogs. My household is on a very strict routine, and my dogs fit perfectly into it. There’s no telling what a third perma-dog would do to that routine!
-Speaking of my dogs, fostering is great for them! I have had foster dogs of all breeds, sizes, and ages. I’ve had a handful of puppies, young adults, as well as full grown adult male dogs, like Hambone & Petey. My dogs have had to learn to adjust their energy, and the way they play, depending on what the foster dog needed from them. Oscar is my go to guy for first introductions. He is a total love bug, and he’s all about play! Lucy is confident, and a social butterfly. She is high energy though, so sometimes she has to be introduced slowly, as to not scare the new foster. Bringing foster dogs in also strengthens my bond with my dogs. Because there is a never ending stream of random dogs coming through my door, I make sure that both Lucy and Oscar get special alone time with me. I also make sure that they get individual time with the foster dog, as well as time together. I love how much their bond has grown since Oscar’s arrival. Now every single night, they can be found cuddling next to each other, snoring away. They play perfectly together, and understand when the other needs space.
-Finally, the thing that makes it all worth it, are the adopters! They (usually) are wonderful. As the foster parent, you get to be a part of the process. You do meet and greets, sometimes several of them. And the most important thing I think all foster parents should know, is that it is ok to say no. Sometimes the dog is just not the right fit for the particular family. Sometimes the adopters are not fit to have any dog! But you love this dog, and you know and understand this dog, and therefore you get to be a part of their forever story. I truly love when I leave a meet and greet thinking “Those are good people.” I always try to keep my distance after an adoption, to allow the new family to bond and move on with life, but I cherish those that welcome me to stay in touch! Sometimes the adopters refer to me as the first mom, or foster mom, or the other mom (I’ve been called all three), and it really means something special to me. It makes me feel like they realize that I truly loved the dog that is now theirs.
Well my friends, I hope that at least one of you will be inspired by something I’ve written. Even if you can’t permanently foster, many rescues and shelters need temporary fosters. People who can only commit to having a pet for a few days at a time. If you can’t foster at all, go visit a shelter on your next day off. When you see a stray animal, stop and see if you can help reunite him/her with an owner. Share my blog (#shamelessplug)! There is always something you can do. Always.