Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I could never foster! I'd keep them all!

I hear it all the time. It follows, 'You're an angel!' and precedes a little self-indulgent laugh.

That's not what kept *me* from fostering, back when I was kept from fostering. (We'll get to other reasons people who love animals don't jump in.) But I'm finding it's a hugely popular sentiment.

Yes, it's really, really hard to love a dog and then let him go. There are fosters whose leavetaking I have mourned for months.

But the fact is, if I didn't take in those dogs, and no one else took in those dogs, those dogs would be euthanized. Way I look at is it's a helluva lot better for me to be missing some fantastic canines who are now with others who love them than for me to not get involved, and my heart to be unbruised, and those fantastic canines to be dead.

Sometimes it's not easier -- for me, the person, who lives, regardless--but it's always better.

"To close your eyes will not ease another's suffering." ~ Chinese Proverb

And another thing. You *wouldn't* keep them all. Some of them are difficult. Some are difficult before they are fantastic. And as much as you care for them, you remember the difficult times (which may not, in fact, be completely behind you) and wish the dog the very, very best in her forever home.

Besides, you value your space. Are you going to stack dogs floor to ceiling like some crazy hoarder? Because then, yes, donating to your local rescue group or shelter would probably make more sense.

And by letting one go, you get to save another.

The fact is, the dog (and cat--I mean cats too every time I say dogs) you foster is going to a screened home, to a person or people who love him and have been waiting for him. If you hadn't taken this dog into your home, giving him a place to feel safe and calm and bloom, and then taken him to that adoption event, it's possible that his Forever Family wouldn't ever have met him. And his FF has been waiting for him.

I know, because the people who adopt my fosters email me and tell me so. They also say they can't imagine their lives without him. And they send pictures.

So yeah, you can let 'em go.

Why is fostering needed?

According to 2007 statistics provided by the American Society for the Prevention of Animals (ASPCA), approximately 5 to 7 million companion animals enter animal shelters nationwide and approximately 3 to 4 million of them are euthanized due to lack of space or resources to care for them.

You can read the complete "Facts About Animal Sheltering" from the ASPCA here.

When a foster steps up and takes a dog or cat, a space opens up for another animal. Because, trust me, those 5-7 million are nowhere near the majority of animals out there in need of shelter.

Shelter pups can now join department of homeland security

"The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has decided to start accepting homeless dogs from shelters into its canine program. Prior to this decision, DHS had relied upon breeders who sold untrained dogs to the department at an average of $4,535 per dog, according to records from 2006-2007."
-Washington Examiner

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Hero dog of the day: Vinnie Love

"For some, it may come as a surprise to learn that this canine internet sensation wasn’t purchased from a breeder and trained from puppyhood to become a stunt dog wonder. With his own “rags-to-riches” story, Vinny Love is proof that amazing animals can be found in shelters everywhere."
-Best Friends Animal Rescue blog

Shelter Dog Trick Training Video on You-Tube

Sunday, September 26, 2010


This is a piece I wrote about Theo, the first dog I fostered. Sweet Boy #1, aka Mr. Velvet Ears, was with us for 3 1/2 months--the longest foster stay so far. (The shortest has been overnight.)

I Got Theo
When I thought about taking a foster dog into the 600 square-foot apartment I share with my four-year old hound mix Bella, I imagined the well-behaved, well-groomed lab of a family forced by the economic downturn to foreclose upon their well-appointed suburban home.

I got Theo.

Smelly, skinny, coughing, scratching beagle/basset Theo had a bb pellet lodged in his shoulder and both a heart murmur and an enlarged heart that may or may not have been the result of his heartworm. He didn’t come when called; he curled into himself and scooted forward on his butt, all but begging not to be smacked.

Lois, Theo’s adoption coordinator at Homeward Trails Rescue, met us in a local playground—‘neutral territory’ for Bella— weighed down with treats. Anytime Bella—friendly to some dogs but known to bark, ‘Get the hell off my street!’ to others—so much as looked Theo’s way, she was rewarded with one. Back in my apartment, Lois took my measure as a foster mom, exuding confidence in my non-existent ability to control the whirling dervish who knocked over the garbage repeatedly as we went over the paperwork. When she left, I drew Theo a bath.

That first night I lay awake in the dark as he snored, pinned to the universe in a way I had never achieved in formal prayer. This creature had been slated to die and he was here—loudly—with me.

I was less spiritual in the morning, when Theo joined our once-peaceful walks. He pulled me down the street, loudly baying. Whenever a man walked by, Theo dove belly first to the pavement and tried to slink away.

Despite the lousy time he’d had of life so far, Theo never showed aggression. But he gobbled his food so fast I feared he’d choke, and drank the entire contents of the water bowl no matter how many times I filled it (that little comedy routine ended with my realizing I needed to cut him off at 8 pm so we could all sleep through the night). He abruptly left the room if Bella tried to play.

For more than a week, I took on all of Theo’s stress. I rushed home from work to take him out (even though the dog walker took them both at lunchtime) and woke to the slightest noise, worried that he was hurt or peeing. Possible adoptive families were scared off by the heart issues and it looked like he would be with me awhile; my mother told me too many times she didn’t think he’d ever find a home.

One particularly exhausted morning, one arm stretching to accommodate Theo’s pace and the other close to allow Bella’s constant sniffing, I stubbornly—and fleetingly—threw up a white flag. I was in over my head. I work too hard, I told myself. I have no patience. One dog is plenty.

That evening, we three were back out when a crack of thunder sounded, far off. Theo immediately slunk down between a car tire and the curb and refused to budge. After I coaxed him home, he retreated to the closet for the duration of the storm. I sat just outside, my arm threaded between and under my suits and dresses. One hand firmly resting on his shaking flank, I promised him I wasn’t going anywhere.

With two heaping bowls of food a day and three treats for every one I gave Bella, Theo added six needed pounds to his scrawny frame. Indefatigable Lois carted him to the vet, returning with meds and advice. Antibiotics cured the cough and Benedryl subdued the sneezing jags and itching til eliminating corn and adding fish oil supplements relieved his allergies altogether. Lois brought over a wee purple harness and Theo learned to walk on lead. After several homecomings to strewn garbage, this old dog finally bought a smaller garbage can and parked it on the stove.

I took to stroking Theo’s long velvet ears and promising him no one would ever hurt him again. In really no time at all, he was walking with his tail held high. And one fine morning he saucily leaned back into a play bow, inviting the eager Bella to play.

Before my eyes, Theo had become “adoptable” and I finally got it. In agreeing to take Theo, I wasn’t just a way station between a shelter and his forever home. I was giving this dog a safe place to blossom into his true self so his family would recognize their newest member.

After about three months, Theo found his forever home. After even less time with me, so did each of my next two fosters, Win and Blue. Theo and Blue’s families still send grateful emails and photos of the dog they “couldn’t imagine our lives without.” (Win came and went in a week; I haven’t heard from his mom.) Bella and I now care for Mikey, who is pretty much the dog I imagined when I first agreed to foster. He’s a ten-year old black lab with the sweetest face and a stuffed squirrel he carries around in his mouth. He walks beautifully on lead; he’s never had an accident in the house. He didn’t lose his family to foreclosure, though; his owner died and Mikey was surrendered to a shelter. Used to living in a house and being someone’s best pal, Mikey fell into a depression, and the senior boy didn’t appeal to a single adopter. Homeward Trails swooped in before his slated euthanasia and, not to put too fine a point on it, saved his life.

And yet I feel like I’m the lucky one.

Dogs are good for your soul

To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring - it was peace. ~Milan Kundera

"Happiness is a warm puppy." ~Charles Schulz

"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read" ~Groucho Marx

"A good dog never dies, he always stays, he walks besides you on crisp autumn days when frost is on the fields and winter's drawing near, his head within our hand in his old way." ~Unknown

"No Matter how little money and how few possessions you own, having a dog makes you rich."
~Louis Sabin

"There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face." ~Ben Williams

13 and Counting

Last Sunday Bella and I said goodbye to the last of the three puppies we fostered (one at a time, with a wee bit of overlap). Before Pip, Percy & Jill, the youngest dog I'd ever taken in was about 10 months --and the oldest was ten years. It was great fun to have such bouncy, unfettered happiness around. Also exhausting.

But mostly amusing.

In order, I've fostered:

  • Theo

  • Winston

  • Blue

  • Mikey

  • Johnny

  • Skinny

  • Jasper

  • Henry

  • Mini

  • Pip

  • Percy

  • Jill

I'll share more about each over time. Next up is Jack, who I'm hoping to rename. Depends whether it's the name he's always had and/or prefers or if it's just another case of a Jack Russell being dubbed Jack at the shelter. I (re)named Blue, Pip, Percy & Skinny.

(Note to shelters: I'm available to name your dogs. )

I'm tempted to name him Russell, just to mix it up a little. I got a vote for Monkey, which would open a whole new world of names. The trend now seems to be pinning dogs with human monikers, but what if we veered off into naming them for other animals? Monkey, Giraffe, Shark?

For those of us (me) tired of "Jack," it's something to consider.