Hello Lucky Bloggers,
I realize that things have been pretty quiet here for the last few weeks. I’ve come back to this space a few times trying to figure out how to tap into what I’ve been doing here and how to communicate with the community that has been following along our foster journey with us. The last few weeks have been challenging, and I have debated long and hard whether or not to talk about those challenges publicly. But in creating a public forum to talk about the wonderful fosters that come into our home while they seek their forever homes, I realize there is a responsibility to be transparent and honest with the people that come into this space in hopes that we can learn and grow together.
A few weeks ago I wrote about the line between loving and letting go of our fosters: loving them as hard as we can to provide them the best home they can get before they move onto their best home, their forever home. Never in my writings did I expect that letting go would come to mean something completely, unexpectedly, and horribly different in the days that followed, when Seth suddenly passed away in our care. When on a trip to the dog park with Ollie (our own dog), Ivy (a Lucky Dog recently adopted by my in-laws who we were dogsitting), and Seth, my husband had Seth securely tethered in the back seat and wearing his martingale collar, the window partially open. This was like every other trip to the dog park we had taken, and we had come to learn Seth liked sticking his head out the window during car trips and smelling everything outside.
On this particular day though, while driving down a local county road, something caused Seth to climb out the window. We will never know what it was, or how a series of freak events could happen so quickly and end so terribly. Seth’s collar snapped, and though Nick pulled over immediately to get him back in the car, Seth ran into the next lane of traffic and an oncoming car, unable to stop quickly enough, struck him. He rushed him to Crossroads Animal Care Center, our vet 2 miles down the road, who said there was a faint heartbeat and sent us to Woodbridge Animal Hospital, the emergency vet 10 minutes away (very kindly keeping Ollie and Ivy with them in the mean time). They conducted CPR at Woodbridge, but Nick was told air was not going into Seth’s lungs because he had suffered trauma to his trachea. They could conduct a tracheotomy, but in all likelihood he would be brain dead. He contacted Mirah, our Executive Director at Lucky Dog, to find out what to do, and given the circumstances, it was determined that the most humane thing would be to let him go.
I got the news while in the middle of my Saturday summer session class, and went into immediate shock and hysteria. As Nick recounted the events and told me what happened, I broke down into sobs and started pacing around campus, eventually finding a bench where I sat down and a million thoughts went through my head. The only one I can really remember is “Oh my God, we killed our foster dog”. I felt lost and horrible, not knowing what to do or where to go. Feeling as though somehow we had ultimately failed Seth and the second chance he had been given at life, and failed Lucky Dog as volunteers.
I talked first to Mirah, then to Pam, who is our South Carolina volunteer who actually brought Seth up to DC. All I could think to do was apologize and take the burden of blame for what had happened. But both of them gave me a reassurance that I didn’t expect, saying that they didn’t blame me or Nick. Everything that is asked of us to keep our fosters safe was done, as was everything to get Seth immediate vet care after the accident. It was a freak accident, and there’s just nothing we can do about those. They told me in his final days and moments on this earth, Seth was a happy dog who got to know love before he left it. He had come from a world where people were awful, where his previous people had moved from their home and left Seth behind in it. It explains so much about why people were so scary to him, and why when we went away for a weekend he was so excited that we came back for him.
I had seen the progress that Seth had made in the six weeks he was with us, in learning to trust, love, and find out that strangers aren’t so bad. It continues to break my heart that his progress was cut short. I’ve been trying to make sense out of everything, and still find myself grasping for answers as to why this happened. While I think I am going to be searching for answers for awhile, I have found comfort in my Lucky Dog family and the kindness they have offered. We talk about the human side of fostering, but I’ve seen it in full force with the outpouring of love and support offered. I was worried that people would judge and blame us in the way that I immediately took self blame, the way that Nick has replayed in his head what happened that morning over and over again. But instead I have found empathy, love, and grace. I have been reminded that this bad situation doesn’t make us bad fosters. In fact, we received flowers and a card from all of our past fosters telling us they loved us (whichever pup coordinated that effort effectively turned the waterworks on hard for me). I have rediscovered a lot of faith in the human spirit amid what I can only seem to describe as a foster’s worst nightmare.
I have been told by many of my foster friends that this could have happened to any of us, and as I keep thinking about it, grieving, and letting go little by little, I know they are right. And maybe that’s a part of the reason why I am writing here about it.
With most things in this life, when I don’t know where to turn I google search to point me in the right direction. But when I googled “what to do when your foster dog dies” I was met with articles, blogs, and rescue sites that talk about what happens to dogs when they don’t find a foster. How fostering is the thing that helps save well-deserving pups from “doggie death row”. They don’t talk about the 2-shot puppy whose delicate immune system, despite taking all precautions and working to keep them safe, contracts Parvo virus and doesn’t make it. They don’t talk about situations like what happens with Seth. Or the dogs that have behavioral issues from their pre-rescue life that, despite all efforts, are too far gone to be saved and present a threat to the world around them, and the kindest thing may be to humanely let them go (an interesting and reasonable article on this is on behaviorist Jim Crosby’s blog).
The hard side of rescue is knowing that we can’t save them all from the shelter, at least not yet. The longer we keep educating the public about the importance of spay/neuter, why to opt to adopt rather than shop, and how to be responsible pet owners, we will hopefully continue to see progress. But with 9,000 animals dying daily in shelters across the country, we still have a lot of work to do.
The last few weeks have come to teach me about another hard, but less visited side of rescue. It involves that tiny population of the dogs saved from the shelter, but for whatever rare and unforeseen circumstance, are unable to be fully saved for a long second life beyond its walls. So you have to make peace with believing and knowing you gave those dogs the best life you possibly could for as long as you could, so that they do leave this earth knowing they were loved. I believe Seth knows that. I believe the other fosters and volunteers out there, who have loved and lost in a similar way, know that the moments spent with those dogs, while maybe too brief, were precious.
And because we still have so much work to do, I owe it to Seth to not lay down in grief when I have been given so much grace. I owe it to him not be too sorry and sad to help any more Lucky Dogs, but instead to do more in his memory. I picked myself up that weekend 3 weeks ago and went out to coordinate our Sunday adoption event, finding strength in those around me to not be a puddle of tears for three hours.
This weekend, I will take on a new foster, who has been waiting to come up from South Carolina for a year but has not been able to because of her shy dog needs and being unable to find an adopter willing to adopt her off transport. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t terrified, but maybe welcoming Cora Beth into our home with that fear will help us understand each other a little more, and together we can move forward into brighter tomorrows. I don’t know what’s ahead (other than that we’ll be driving with the windows shut and child locks on indefinitely), but when I think of the importance of what we’re doing, and why foster homes need to step up, I believe it’s something I need to do. I’m very grateful to Lucky Dog that they trust in us to keep moving their mission forward, and want to do all that I can to honor that trust the best I know how.