Somewhere down the road, fostering went from being a thing I did to help get a puppy fix, to being something I felt compelled to do for the dogs that I really felt maybe needed it a little more. It started with a shy Chihuaha named Star, who needed to change fosters and go to a place with a second confident dog. Consequently, she got adopted two days later, but within 24 hours I could see a turnaround in her demeanor, and it warmed my heart. Once all 9 lbs of Star went onto her forever home, I found myself agreeing to take a 55 lb Rottie mix who had needed to have her eye removed. Sweet Loopy was a total lamb, a goofball and a complete awkward young adolescent with boundless energy. But all this was irrelevant when I agreed to take her home, for all I knew was she couldn’t go to doggie daycare because of her recent medical procedure.
After Loopy, there was Suga, Seth, and Cora Beth – all painfully shy and all needing a human willing to earn their trust. I learned a lot about how faith in humanity can be lost, and how it is a slow path to restoring that faith – if not in the whole of humanity, than at least in the couple of humans that occupy their world. Seth also offered the profoundly painful learning experience of how to pick up the pieces when the life you hoped to bridge to a long life of happy ever after, goes instead to the rainbow bridge.
My time cut short with Seth has taught me to learn that, well, there is always something to be learned, but you just need to sometimes dig a little to find the lesson. I think my fosters have come into my life at specific times to teach us what we need to learn at that given moment. They move on when they are ready to, and when they think they’re ready for us to move on. Timing seems to be everything.
So, as I reflect on the last 6 and a half months, I find myself asking what Balton is trying to teach us? Clearly, we haven’t yet graduated his course in foster continuing education, since he’s still here. There are days when I feel and see the progress we are making, and other days where I really question if I’m doing things right. I’ve had the question asked a few times about how a dog like Balton could ever successfully transition into a forever family, given his stranger danger how he shows his fear when situations make him uncomfortable.
I see forward progress through small victories, such as being able to let people bypass on the trails with less distance, bit by bit. Or recovering with more ease from the stress of children running and yelling outside our front window. But there are things that still prove to be a struggle, such as inviting guests into our home. To some degree, we have learned how to manage these interactions, but it’s still hard. Someone outside his circle of trust moving around or creating any sort of a “disturbance” is incredibly stressful for him, and so for two consecutive weekends when we had visiting guests, we tried to minimize stress (for Balton and the guests he kept barking at) through trips to the dog park and walks together, through marrow bones and high value treats, through baby gating, crating, and time away from the action.
So often I wish I could get into his little doggy brain and understand why certain triggers and certain environments make him feel and act the way he does. And while that may not be possible, I have learned ways to help him feel like he can take things on with greater confidence, and that he can trust the people who care for him to know that someone’s got his back. Developing a strong, trusting relationship with Balton has been but one layer of setting Balton up for success, but it’s the foundation that all his other training rests upon. I’ve been grateful to learn about relationship based training in the resources provided by Suzanne Clothier, which consistently makes me now ask the question “how is this for you?” when working with Balton. Now, we are working on giving him some more tools to help him to give more polite cut off signals to people who make him nervous, thanks to the support and guidance of Grisha Stewart and BAT.
It’s been speculated by some that Balton has already found his forever home, as those of us in the rescue community can’t help but think after a foster dog hangs out in his foster home longer than the average bear. While it’s a thought that has crossed my mind on a few occasions, I look ahead, as I always do, when thinking about “foster failure” and what it all means, and consider if I can offer long term what is needed 15 years down the road (as we ask all prospective adopters to). Until I can definitively say yes to that question I ask myself, I know the right thing to do is to continue fostering and ultimately pass the leash when he and his forever family are ready for it and find each other. While there are challenges, and their are always lessons to be learned, we get to enjoy in the daily experiences of the happy, contented, sweet and affectionate dog you see below.
I don’t know how or why Balton got dealt the hand he was dealt before he came to Lucky Dog, and why his fears didn’t emerge until a time where Cora Beth conveniently got adopted, and the stage was set for him to move in with Nick, Ollie and me. I also don’t know how long he will stay here until the right forever family comes along. But I do know that forever family exists, and they will be very lucky to have Balton be part of theirs. I find encouragement from things I happen to read at just the right time, like this great piece on “Leash Gremlins” in all their forms, and how reactive dogs are not unadoptable dogs, they just need those right tools to be successful, and allow their humans to understand them a little better.
Balton is helping us understand a little better.
I also find myself encouraged when I get notes from our Dog Walker, Alex, from Good Dog Pet Care – who was very patient in working with us over the course of about 2 and a half weeks, when Balton vehemently objected to a stranger walking him mid-day. Time, patience, compassion, and the help of a doggy friend has helped build their relationship, and we are fortunate to chronicle Balton’s journey on a daily basis from a different set of eyes. Today’s mid-day note, a teaser for tonight’s journal entry, reads, “What a lovely day! They boys did great. Nothing was too disturbing or strenuous. Awesome.”
To adopt Balton, visit www.luckydoganimalrescue.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org