Faith, Trust, & Foster Pups

Helping dogs on the road to forever, forever finding ourselves as we walk that road with them.


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Dear Balton: One Year In the Life of You

Dear Balton,

It’s been a full year now since we welcomed you home for good. Unbeknownst to us we had made you part of our family well before we signed your adoption contract, but we had a lot of learning and soul searching to do before could make it official. I don’t know if you knew that something had changed when we went from being your foster family to your forever family, but I like to think you did.

There was a cautious uncertainty you came to us with, mixed with some (rather trying) awkward adolescent behaviors of jumping, mouthing, knocking down your food bowl with excitement before it could even touch the floor, and exploring the contents of my purse and attempting to eat my pens if I left you for a moment. There was the immediate love and want to trust and be protected by your people, but there was a scariness about the unfamiliar people  and what their presence might mean. There was the overwhelming sense early on that we were not the right home for you to be in long term (and sometimes, even in that moment). But then over time, there was the overwhelming sense that you were right where you belonged…one of the most surprising and delightful things that strikes me today.

The purse explorations and food bowl knocking (thankfully) came to an end, but we’ve still been through a lot this last year – hard work, exciting adventures, frustration, joy, and love. So much love.

Life with you Balton has taught me how to be a kinder, more attentive human. I’m so grateful that you have sparked in me a need to share in each moment so fully with you, and to know that our learning together will never be done. I am grateful for the time I have spent training with you, and that it has motivated me to give Ollie that same time so I could build a stronger relationship with both of you.  I have learned to be fully present and celebrate every little victory that may seem invisible to the outside world. I have learned how to set boundaries and to listen to your needs. To make sure you believe me when I tell you “it’s okay” and that you don’t need to be afraid. That I will protect you, and keep you feeling safe through and through.

I have learned how to be a better human to other dogs altogether, and you have driven my motivation to help other humans do the same. You’ve helped me to help other people with reactive dogs. To help them see that their dogs are good dogs, even when they share some bad moments. I only hope I can continue meeting the standard that you have so unwittingly set for me. When we started on this road together, I said we were doing so with the same cautious uncertainty you had when you came to us 8 months earlier, but always having faith. And so we walked, one step at a time, with a lot of treats, a lot of courage, and a lot of motivation to learn together.

Seeing you today, and enjoying in your snuggles and smiles each and every day, gives me one of the greatest comforts I have known. That those snuggles and smiles become more and more prevalent as your confidence and sense of belonging grows, reinforces my belief that we belong together. The path is still uncertain in so many ways, and sometimes it involves several emergency u-turns and detours, but the scenery along the way sure has been pretty and become a lot less scary. From quiet moments at home to wild moments of exuberant play, I am so grateful that we found one another and that the dance continues.

baltonnala

I love you, sweet boy. So very much. Thank you for being you, and helping me to be a better me.

Love,

Mom

 


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Thirty Days of Thanks: The Lucky Ones

This Thirty Days of Thanks Series seemed like a really good idea at the beginning of the month. Signing up to complete my one or my BSN program pre-reqs in an 8 week Oct-Dec class also seemed like a really good idea when I registered for the class. Unfortunately, both were pretty ill-timed with an event at my day job I’d been tied up with and losing sleep over for awhile. So between that and then trying to get caught up on Stat studying and homework upon its completion, the typical snowball effect of losing some momentum, plus a couple sprinklings of petsitting and keeping up with my own family’s needs, I got a little bit behind on my notes of thanks. I promise I’ve been counting my blessings though and just keeping my thanks up in my head and down in my heart. Sometimes something’s gotta give, and in this case the blog had to take a backseat to life and other grown-up activities.

I guess I could even argue that it’s something to be thankful to have a life so full that you can afford the luxury of having to prioritize and take a break from writing. Nevertheless, I have a bit of ground to make up, and so over the next few days I’m going to try and offer up some multiple thanks on things while I celebrate this Thanksgiving weekend with my family.

Today, I am going to share some of the work of others to give thanks to the rescue world I hold close to my heart, and to promote something that will do the same.

So, it may already be abundantly clear that I’m a big fan of Jessica Dolce’s Notes From a Dog Walker blog. Her clever, witty posts are always enjoyable reads, and so very often are helpful to caregivers for DINOS, which I sort of signed on to become some time ago without entirely realizing what I was signing on for. It’s worth mentioning that I am SUPER thankful for all the resources I have found incredibly helpful and inspiring through her writings.

Anyway, this time of year, as many people are working to help give gifts of forever homes for the holidays, there are a special crop of people that  I want to acknowledge and say thank you to, who don’t often get the thanks they deserve every moment of every day. And because Jessica honors them so well, I want to credit her tributes and thank her for writing them. I have provided excerpts below from each entry, but I encourage you to click through to the original post to truly have your heart touched.

Each dog takes a journey on their way to forever, and has many touch points along the way. Their first touch point is usually at the hardworking and ever gentle hand of the shelter worker.

“They stand at the doorway each morning and take a deep breath. The dogs, recognizing that they’re no longer alone, have erupted in a cacophony of demands for food, bathroom breaks, attention. Overwhelmed by the noise, hearts pounding, trying to pick a direction to go in first, they say, “I’m coming just as fast as I can everybody. I love you all this morning.” And then they start running…

…They are a vital part of our community. The safety net for our pets. The beating heart deep in our collective hope for a better world for our animals.

They are the magicians, the master jugglers, the contortionists, working endlessly to pull one more miracle out of their bag of tricks. One more life saved by their weary hands. They are the underpaid, overworked operators working the lines until there is a happy ending.”

Pictured here are just a few of the ladies who are the miracle workers of Lucky Dog Animal Rescue, and the heroes I hold responsible for both Ollie and Balton coming to my my life. Stephanie, Tiffany, and Pam are three of the most dedicated ladies who work with two of Lucky Dog’s shelter partners, and countless lives are owed to their dedication down in the trenches (photo credits to Lucky Dog Animal Rescue, Cris Ghillani, and Virgil Ocampo).

The next touch point a shelter pup finds holding its leash on the road to rescue is the volunteer.

“They are the worker bees, absolutely essential to the bustling hive that is the shelter. They work together towards a common goal: saving lives.

They discover that they themselves have found a home among the temporarily homeless.

The work is tough, but they feel uplifted, empowered and proud. They are contributing to a cause, making a difference in every single life they touch. A community is discovered, new friends are made, a purpose is revealed, a fire is lit!”

Volunteers make their impact down in the shelters where Lucky Pups come from, and once they arrive here to the DC area, Lucky Dog volunteers come in many forms: drivers, handlers, home visit volunteers, adoption coordinators, event team members, weekly volunteer email composers, community members like trainers, groomers, boarding facilities, veterinarians, dog boutiques, and photographers who donate their services in order to make a difference for one lucky, precious life at a time (and as I write this, Lucky Dog’s volunteers and the 6,000+ lives they’ve saved are thanked in this lovely guest blog post featured in NovaDog Magazine’s blog!). We’re not kidding when we say it really does take a village, and there can never be too many volunteers. Below is a sampling of LDAR volunteers from all walks of life at this year’s Strut Your Mutt walk with Best Friends Animal Society, who collectively raised over $18,000 to help more even more pups, and had fun doing it. Many hands working hard, making great things happen. That’s what volunteering is about.

symteamphotoAnd in the world of rescue, the final bridge on the road to forever tends to be the foster family.

“They do their best to balance holding tight and letting go. It is a tricky dance to care so deeply for a guest, since dogs stay forever in our hearts. But when people tell them, “I couldn’t foster because it would be too hard to give the dog up.” They say, “How can it be harder than knowing a dog died because no foster home stepped up?” And that is why they do it time and again.

And while they worry they might not be strong enough to let this one go, something special happens: The right adoption application arrives!

They lifted a single soul up, out of the crowd and floating on their hands, their foster dog arrived in the arms of the family that has been searching for him. It was all worthwhile.”

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Fosters Angel and Allison with their now-adopted-former-fosters, Randy and Wilson

In the new year, tribute will be paid to the touch points that act as stepping stones on the Lucky Dog journey, thanks to a documentary being created by Creative Liquid Productions called “The Lucky Ones.” The film will premiere in January 2014 here in the DC metro area, but the trailer can be viewed on “The Lucky Ones” landing page now. Check it out, and stay tuned for premiere details as they become available!

PS – In case anyone is counting, this brings today’s not-too-shabby thank you tally to 6:

  1. to full life
  2. to Jessica Dolce/Notes from a Dog Walker/Dogs In Need of Space
  3. to shelter workers
  4. to volunteers
  5. to fosters
  6. to Creative Liquid Productions

By my count I still owe at least 7 extra thank yous to get caught up, but I will get there!


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Sophia Yin Seminar Prelude: Fear, Aggression, Foster Dogs, and Me

In September, I had the opportunity to attend a two-day seminar with Dr. Sophia Yin, veterinarian, animal behaviorist, inventor of the Manners Minder/Treat & Train, and pretty cool lady. Dr. Yin began studying animal behavior after spending time in the veterinary field, after realizing during practice that more animals were being euthanized for behavior issues than for medical issues.

Since then, she has authored many articles and books, spoken at many seminars, and continues to provide resources to the pet owning, pet training, and veterinary community through her continued research and practice in the field.

I attended her September seminar on Fear and Aggression on behalf of Lucky Dog Animal Rescue, in order to bring back what I had learned and present it to the rescue volunteers in a way that would be worthwhile for them. Since much of my personal life (and thus, this blog) has become dedicated to creating a better understanding of fear, reactivity, and how they affect dogs in the shelter and rescue system and the people they connect with, I wanted to share some of my learnings here over a series of entries. This is a really tough issue when it comes to rescuing dogs, and one I am passionate about.

Best Friends Animal Society reports that 9,000 dogs die daily in shelters across the United States.  And the infographic below helps outline a few important points:

1. One of those most common reasons is for behavior problems
2. Public perception of how many animals die in shelters on the daily: 5% of what it actually is
3. 90% of those dogs that die in shelters are adoptable, or can be with care and treatment.

savethemallinfographic

Image credit bestfriends.org

Save Them All. It’s a powerful idea, and one worth pursuing as a collective rescue community. But for those of us who spend any length of time in the world of rescue, we know it’s easier said than done. With limited resources (space, funds, appropriately matched foster and adoptive homes, hours in a volunteer’s day) and way more dogs going into shelters than heading out, “saving them all” isn’t so easy.

Coming up with clear points that identify the 90% adoptable vs. the 10% unadoptable is another issue that has many more layers of difficulty. Sometimes, a dog may pass all standard behavior tests in the shelter. They may adapt well (or well enough) to different living environments, over and over again, or up to a point. Well meaning volunteers or adopters may push that dog further than it can adapt to, or not recognize warning signs of behavior challenges until they escalate to a point that become more stressful or difficult than they could or should have been.  In fact, this issue is partly addressed by Dr. Yin in her article “Adopting a Dog: Some Dogs are Easier Than Others”  as she writes “passing a shelter evaluation doesn’t mean a perfect pet.”

Dogs with certain behavior challenges and fear based issues can be placed, and I love seeing those hard-to-place dogs go home, to the right home. In my volunteer experience, Lucky Dog has successfully screened homes for and placed MANY fearful dogs, and they thrive in those homes with patient and loving adopters (even if they spend several months or more than a year looking for the right forever). But, as someone who has screened many adoption applications over the years, the #1 behavior issue adopters identify as a deal breaker is aggression. I can count on less than one hand the number of applicants that do not readily and adamantly admit that aggression would be grounds for a return. And I don’t blame them for that.

What I do ask is that we speak honestly about the known and unknown things about their potential new family member, in order to determine if it’s an appropriate match, and I ask that they make an honest commitment to understanding and training their dog as much as they commit to providing necessary medical care. I ask them how they will work with their dog to prevent aggression from developing, and explain the importance of taking a proactive instead of reactive approach to training. I get frustrated (or downright angry) when people adopt a dog with the promise of giving him the best life possible, and then break that promise by not supporting their physical or behavioral health. Adopters who do not address behavior issues early on, allow them to escalate, and then wash their hands of the promise they made frustrate me. But if someone determines prior to adoption that a dog’s overall needs don’t fit their lifestyle, or if after adoption they really, really try to give them that dog but are unable, I can only thank them for sincerity and honesty, and show support in compassion, problem solving, and identifying the right resources and next steps for them. In some cases, this means a dog doesn’t get adopted, or a dog gets returned, and it’s the best thing for that dog.

In a Dogster article by Sassafrass Lowrey on adopting “imperfect” dogs, her words resonate as we work to place dogs in homes where they will be able to stay and thrive. She writes, “I want people to rescue dogs, but I also want rescue dogs to get forever homes — not experience one more rejection. I believe part of that winning combo is transparency about what an individual dog has: their strengths as well as their struggles. Then, the prospective adopting family needs to do thoughtful self-analysis ensure they aren’t just falling in love with a cute face but can and will handle everything about this dog. Don’t judge yourself if the answer is no, this isn’t the right fit for my home/lifestyle/family/wants. It doesn’t make you bad to realize those things; it makes you responsible.”

If we ask adopters to be responsible, we as members of the rescue community need to ask the same of ourselves. And so, there is a delicate line that is toed regularly in the world of rescue: the line between saving all and assessing risk. Sara Reusche of Paws Abilities wrote a very good piece on Responsible Rescues  which addresses some important guidelines which outline the characteristics of a responsible rescue (if you haven’t read it, take a few minutes to…it’s very good). In short, these characteristics are:

1. Focusing on making good matches between animals and adopters
2. Not making excuses for their animals
3. Caring as much for the safety of the adopter and the community as they do their animals, and not placing dangerous animals
4. Working within their means
5. Improving the animals in their care
6. Following up

So, in following these guidelines, and the guideline of “Knowledge is Power,” I’m on a mission to offer some access to educational opportunities that will allow a volunteer-run, foster-based organization to follow these guidelines.

It’s important to recognize the very nature of being a foster dog is stressful, and our role as fosters or rescue volunteer is to “do no harm”. Dr. Yin addressed this in her seminar, and in her book to the veterinary community on Low Stress Handling, Restraint & Behavior Modification of Dogs & Cats. Additionally, Debbie Jacobs of Fearfuldogs.com recently started a series on “Fostering Success” through her blog, and she explains, “The most important role a foster caregiver can play in the life of a dog in transition is to ensure that the dog, at the very minimum, does not develop new fears, concerns or reasons to distrust people. Every dog in the rescue system would have a unique tale to tell, were they able to do so…when these dogs roll the dice they may not be expecting lucky sevens…a foster home should prove to these dogs that their luck has changed, that betting on people being good to them is worth the risk. And there are the dogs who despite everyone’s good intentions remain wary and unsure.”

Dr. Yin said at her seminar, “every time we interact with a dog, we learn something and the dog learns something.” The question then is what are we learning, and what are they learning? In our lessons with dogs, are we teaching them we humans don’t listen to them, and therefore can’t be taught or trusted, or are we ultimately helping them learn the crazy human world we’re asking them to live in is a good one?

Even if we provide positive experience in a foster home, it’s also important to consider many foster based organizations also rely on weekly adoption events to showcase dogs in their care, since they don’t have shelter visiting hours. These events can be super stressful for dogs who are greeted by would-be adopters and random people on the street who can’t resist the cute factor, but may be clueless/rude in the way they greet dogs. This can lead to the development or exacerbation of fear issues in dogs. Dr. Yin says fear is a precursor to aggression, and most dog bites are attributed to a fear response (which we’ll address in some more detail later). Aggression is a normal fear response for a dog, but in our human world, it is inappropriate. A dog who bites, regardless of reason or emotional state, is considered a liability.  Volunteer and public education on recognizing signs of fear and how we humans make fear worse is critical by virtue of this fact alone, as improper greetings and failing to recognize early signs of fear can literally put dogs’ lives at risk.

wronggreet2

Image credit drsophiayin.com

It seems fairly obvious that animal rescues want to rescue animals, and that rescue volunteers have kind hearts and good intentions. Unfortunately, kind hearts and good intentions aren’t enough to prevent or resolve behavior issues, as I came to learn with Balton. I had to get smarter to learn how to work with him and address his fears, and I did (and continue to). Unfortunately, while I was learning how to address his fear, he was learning that behaving aggressively makes scary things go away, and practicing that behavior. Sara Reusche addresses the “practice makes perfect” idea in this post on reactivity, stating “the more your dog engages in any behavior, whether you approve of that behavior or not, the better your dog will get at performing that behavior.”

Seeing how good Balton was with the people he trusted (namely, my husband and me), I was his biggest cheerleader for adoptability to the right home for many months. Then we had a behavior assessment done, and the professional assessment told us otherwise. Our trainers told us in kindness and honesty after observing him “you’re great with him, but you’re not normal.”

They further told us they felt great confidence in my ability to provide him a full life and keep him and others safe, but if asked would they be comfortable with their next door neighbor adopting him, the answer would be no. His social drive was low, his warning system was poor, and despite his tolerance,  acceptance, and eager-to-please affection for those he trusted, he was too quick to bite the people he didn’t. He would require a lifetime of training and management, and our assessment report stated “management is very hard and most people don’t have your level of skill…he is sweet dog, but a project, and likely will be for life.” If we couldn’t adopt him, it would be understandable, but the kindest thing for him would then be euthanasia.

When I first set out to foster Balton I was adamant that we were an okay home for him in that moment, but not for the long haul. He was doing well in our care, and so I while I knew full well his adoption window was small, I thought his love for “his” people would eventually triumph over his challenges. Well, it did, but not quite as I had thought it would. Ultimately, when faced with the decision on how to move forward, I believed Balton had not reached his full potential. I believed there was more for him than months and months of hard work together, scratching the surface of progress made, and a young life cut short. Continuing to be his cheerleader, I believed he deserved better, and I adopted a dog who had been assessed as unadoptable.

My admission of adopting an unadoptable dog is simply that: an admission of a fact. It’s not a bragging right, nor is it a confession of some sort of sin. Some people might celebrate it, some people might condemn it. I’m sure there are a number of good points to argue either. The point is I knew who this dog was, what he needed to be successful, and how to offer it to him. After a series of early mistakes while fostering Balton, and learning from those mistakes, I wanted to do right by him, and felt capable of doing what was necessary. He is so much better than he was a year ago. Our relationship, and the way he and I partner together to handle his fears, has improved by leaps and bounds and taught us both so much.

Having said that, he will always have challenges, and I will never force him to be a dog that he isn’t or fit a mold that others may expect he should fit as a “good dog”. I know he is a good dog, but I also know it would be irresponsible to pass the leash to someone else, given the level of training and management he would require. I was prepared to provide him that training and management, but if I was not, it would also have been irresponsible for me to adopt him.

With Balton’s adoption, I am currently one less available foster home, which may have helped to provide shelter and development to countless other dogs. However,  I also have a much greater knowledge and desire to learn about dog behavior than I had or could have expected before he came to me. I don’t take for granted how little I knew when we started off together, nor do I consider myself an expert today by any means (you can find some experts on my resources page though). Still, I continue to believe Balton came to my life to teach me things, and I don’t want to keep those lessons to myself if they can somehow help other rescue volunteers and the dogs in their care.


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Foster Flashback Friday: Environmental Management

Managing a dog’s environment is something that can lead to great success and great fails (not in the cute happy ending way that Balton likes to talk about either). We’ve seen our share of both, and sometimes even good management can fail (so it’s often wise to have multi-management systems in place). Fostering has taught me there’s a human learning curve when dealing with many dogs, with many individual personalities and their own doggie learning curves for training progress.

Sometimes, you forget that with a new dog, you have to hit reset. This is true for adoptive homes and the perpetual revolving door for foster parents. Bear in mind that even though your last dog or foster dog may not have never chewed anything or required minimal exercise, for example, the new standard of living is going to be different with a new dog. Perhaps if more people went into adoptions with this one thing in mind, we would have fewer dogs being returned to rescues or being dumped at shelters (article credit Dogs Out Loud).

One lesson in environmental management that I often reflect on comes courtesy of one of my favorite fosters, Loopy the one-eyed Rottie mix.

Loopy - Adopted December 2012

There’s something incomparably lovely about a dog who always is winking at you.

Loopy liked to play, run, and cuddle.

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15 lbs of dog underneath 55 lbs of dog. Seems reasonable.

We learned pretty soon after her arrival that she also liked to chew. Her most favorite snacks were rolls of paper towels or toilet paper, and electronic cords. In the 3 weeks we had her, I said sayonara to one cell phone charger, one laptop cable, and almost one vacuum (fortunately we have a handy friend who was able helped us fix the vacuum).  All of these items could have been saved if I had been a little more diligent on management.

I knew it didn’t take long for Loopy to find something “delicious” to snack on – we came in from a walk on day one when she dashed into the kitchen and went to town on a paper towel roll that had been left on the floor. 2 seconds was all she needed to destroy stuff. And yet, I somehow was surprised when I took a short break from vacuuming later that day to do some laptop work at my dining room table while Loopy rested near me in the living room. Within minutes, the vacuum plug I had left unraveled on the living room floor was being chewed just outside my periphery.

She was IN THE ROOM WITH ME and I didn’t see it happening. But why did I think that it would be reasonable to just leave the vacuum plug lying on the floor with a known chewer? Well, maybe because I didn’t think she would have an appetite for plugs. So I’ll let myself slide on that one.

Later that day I had to take a shower. While I am a huge fan of crate training (and Lucky Dog requires it when foster parents are out of the home or sleeping), I somehow thought that this lovely dog who had already shown a predisposition for chewing non-food and non-toy items would be okay for the 10 minutes I was indisposed and unable to watch her. Thus, the demise of my laptop cable. What the heck was I thinking by not crating her?

Thankfully, a little collateral damage was all that came from this great day of learning, and Loopy was unharmed. I take full ownership of being a poor environmental manager, and became a lot more diligent about managing Loopy’s environment. I later had the good fortune of completing her home visit with her forever family, and spied a laptop plugged in on the floor. I cautioned they would want to pick that up, offering what I had learned the hard way as a preventative tip for the new adopters.

cb51d-loopyholly

Loopy (now Leela) in her new home with her Pomeranian mix sister (keep an eye on the laptop in the corner!).

It’s important to note that when something gets destroyed or impacted by the result of poor management, it’s not really the dog’s fault. Let me repeat that. When you fail as a manager, it is not your dog’s fault. It is your fault, human. I’ve seen more than a few situations of adopters getting mad at their recently adopted dog when he shows destructive behavior. Then I come to find out that dog was left unsupervised and uncrated (when the dog had been crate trained and was perfectly comfortable in a crate). I’m sorry, but there is no excuse for blaming a dog for the fact that you set up his environment to fail. Mistakes happen. Accidents happen. But we humans are the ones who control the environment and teach our dogs what behavior is appropriate under our supervision. Eventually, those dogs learn and can be entrusted to less supervision. But until they do, we cannot expect them to know what they have not learned, and have no right to get mad at them when we are the ones who screwed up.

Environmental management is obviously not a substitute for real, honest to goodness training, but it definitely can save shoes, cables, and other casualties of dog boredom (or in some cases, anxiety) as you work on teaching a dog appropriate behaviors and building trust in one another.

For a few more good pieces on management, check here (credit Paws Abilities), here (Fearfuldogs.com), here and here (Eileen and Dogs).  In dogs with more serious behavior issues (like our Balton), you can see a few more flashbacks of management in action herehere, and here.

How about you? Any management tidbits that have been helpful with your past or present resident dogs? Or hard knock lessons that resulted in improved management?


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Learning “Forever”: by Balton

This past weekend was Wags n Whiskers weekend, a big dog event that happens in Shirlington every year…I remember it well, because it was the last weekend I went to Lucky Dog adoption events before they got hard for me.

Wags ‘n Whiskers is also where I met my “forever” family. When I moved in with this family, they signed a form and got me a new collar and leash, and an ID tag with a new name. I figured this place would be special because it was so official looking with the paperwork, and I wanted to hold onto it for as long and hard as I could.

I think maybe I tried to hold on too hard, and I got to be really scared of the things outside my “forever” home. I got scared the scary things would hurt them, or that they would hurt me. The “forever” family took me to a vet who kept touching me in ways I didn’t like, and strange people kept coming up to so fast that I didn’t know what to do but bark and lunge and tell them to please give me space. The vet called me some choice words, among them that I was “aggressive toward everything” and “aggressive without warning”. He said that I was “dangerous to my family and to the public.” He said things like that I shouldn’t be allowed to go to the dog park (one of my favorite places on Earth) and that I should not be approached when eating.

That A word was used a lot, and if I’m being honest, it still hurts my feelings when I think about it.

My “forever” family kept trying to force me to meet new people after a few days. I kept getting scared and asking the new scary people to go away as loudly as I could. I thought maybe the “forever” family couldn’t hear me or didn’t understand me, so I yelled louder. My “forever” family said they were afraid of me, and the scary vet called them to say they should return me. He said that I would turn on them without warning. I didn’t know how to show them that I was really the most afraid of all, and just wanted for them to help me feel safe. They started calling me the A word that the scary vet did, and they said they couldn’t keep me anymore.

I started to think forever wasn’t really anything special. Or maybe I just didn’t understand forever after all.

I got bounced back to the foster care system, and after a few days in doggy daycare, I got picked up to go to another house by a lady, a man, and a little dog.

I worried that like the homes that came before it, I wouldn’t stay very long.

But I stayed. I stayed longer than I ever had stayed in a home before. It was a foster home, but it felt the most real out of the other homes I went to before. When I barked and pulled to get at the scary things so they would leave us alone, they didn’t act afraid of me. Instead, they tried to help me learn that the things weren’t scary, but until I could really learn that, they would work to protect me from them. When they brought me to daycare to play with friends, they came back for me.

Sometimes they made mistakes, but I forgave them. Sometimes, I made mistakes, but they forgave me.

I started remembering that smiling is my favorite.

It’s been a year since I went to my “forever” home, and for awhile after that, I didn’t believe much in forever, but the foster lady kept saying she was going to help me find it. Then one day, the foster lady came home and gave me a new collar. She said that I deserved forever, and said that she would teach me forever. For real forever. And she said I could call her Mama from now on.

dogselfie

Trainer people say that dogs learn best when you show them what you mean, and then pair it with a word after they learn the action. I didn’t understand forever at first, but I sure do understand it now.

I think maybe that’s because my family showed me what it meant before they gave it a name.


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Foster Flashback Friday: Nina’s Potty Mouth

Nina was our very first foster dog with Lucky Dog Animal Rescue. I had started handling dogs at adoption events a few weeks after going through Lucky Dog’s screening process and adopting Ollie. From there, I sort of fell into fostering. The story goes something like this:

I was hanging around at an adoption event, chatting about this old-ish Jack Russell Terrier I was handling named Rasmus. He had recently gone through Heartworm treatment, and also had bad skin, bad teeth, and no foster. I pondered out loud bringing him home, but he ended up with another foster…who ultimately later adopted him, so it worked out quite well for him. Meanwhile, I thought divine intervention had perhaps prevented me from going home with a dog that day.

Fast forward about 30 seconds to a lone dog who looked in sad shape at the foster check out table. Evidently this dog also had nowhere to go, and…well…I was there. So they asked if I would please take her. She had kennel cough, so couldn’t go to boarding, and I had effectively opened myself up to the possibility of going home with a canine friend. Saying no was going to be tough (okay, for me, it was going to be impossible), and so began my foster journey.

Following some questions about crates, food, just how contagious was Kennel Cough to my dog with his Bordatella vaccine, and some paperwork, I was putting a 36 inch crate in my car for a 12 lb dog (it was all they had), and soon after carrying a small black & white beagle with an old man whooping cough to my car (for she was too scared to walk). Her name was Nina, and she was going to be staying with us for a little while.

Scared as she was at first and on the car ride home, she came around rather quickly and she and Ollie almost immediately developed a love connection.

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We only had her for about two weeks before Nina was adopted, but they were eventful. We learned that keeping her crated in the bedroom next door, our initial action plan with the foster, was not going to be a super solid one if we wanted to get any sleep at all.

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The crate wasn’t the issue, she actually slept beautifully in it – the sleeping alone was. Cried, cried, cried her Beagle howl until someone came in for her. So, since I didn’t want to sleep on the floor for an undetermined amount of time, we found ourselves with two dogs in our room – suffice it to say this pattern pretty much stuck with future fosters.

We also learned how challenging and rewarding fostering can be – especially when you’re still working on things like housetraining with your own dog and a new pup comes in who needs to start from scratch. There was also an occasional dispute over a toy, and I found myself taking a crash course in doggy body language and understanding play styles. Much of the time I thought the dogs were fighting, they were actually just playing.

Still, there’s just something lovely about starting with a dog who won’t walk on a leash and then passing the leash of a sassy little diva dog that saunters around and wins the hearts of the neighbors. Not sure if this is the case for all fosters, but as our first foster dog, Nina was definitely the one I cried most irrationally for when she left us for her family.

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Nina also had a gross challenge that we thankfully haven’t had to address since her departure – she would eat, or attempt to eat, her own poop. To this day I am horrified to talk about it, and I felt like I was a terrible foster mom when I let it happen. Fortunately, most of the time she was leash walked and I would intercede as pick-up patrol before she could get to it. But man did she want to snack on it, I had to be quick.

But a couple of times, when I wasn’t paying close attention as I should’ve been, she would saunter up to me from a different room and her potty mouth breath would be a dead giveaway of what I had managed to miss while my back was turned. In fact, Nina’s potty mouth remains one of our final less-than-sweet moments together. I was packing up her stuff and getting ready to bring her to her weekend foster, where she would be going before heading off to her adoptive home the next day.

As I was packing up a few of her favorite toys to send with her, Nina came sashaying up to me and lovingly attempted to give me a sweet puppy kiss when it became apparent that while I was upstairs packing and not paying attention, she was downstairs taking care of business and subsequently having herself a snack. Feeling disappointed in myself, and equally worried and grossed out for her, I got the doggie toothpaste and quite literally washed out her potty mouth just before her sendoff.

On out way over to the weekend foster, Nina laid in the back seat – looking a bit sad. I suspected that of course, she was as irrationally sad as I was that she would be leaving us and not coming back.

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As it turns out, she was actually not sad, but somewhere between carsick and nauseated from her morning snack. Moments later, Nina hurled all over my back seat. It was the first of many foster brandings to be left on that backseat, and a hard life lesson that laying a sheet down on the spot for the dog is an excellent idea if you don’t have leather interior.

But, she did feel much better afterwards, and I heard no follow-up reports of poop eating after that event. And Nina and her adoptive family have been spotted at a few Lucky Dog events after her adoption too. So…I like to believe that maybe we helped her outgrow that phase in her life?

As it turns out, poop eating, otherwise known as coprophagia, is considered a fairly common behavior, sometimes done as the result of poor nutrition or simply because they “like the taste” (seriously). Victoria Stilwell did a short piece on it in her “It’s Me or the Dog” training tips column – which addresses some of the stuff to do about it. At the time, we were feeding a high quality diet and picking up immediately when we could – so by all accounts I can feel good about how we tried to work with the odd behavior in our limited foster newbie knowledge.

Still, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t still haunt me a little today. Maybe my public soul (and Nina’s palate) cleansing can finally give me a little closure on this chapter of my life. Have you ever experienced any gross or strange habits with in your own dogs or former fosters?


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Confessions of a Foster Failure

Hi, my name is Lynn, and I’m foster failure.

2 years and 2 months ago, I started fostering dogs. Over and over, I welcomed dogs into my home, and lovingly passed the leash onto their new happy ever after. Although I sobbed my heart out the first time I did this, with each temporary house guest that followed, we became more skilled in the art of Loving and Letting Go. I felt triumphant in the fact that while I had often considered my previous fosters were to stay with me, I ended up being proven wrong over and over as my fosters trotted off into the sunset with their new families. And I was happy about it, because it meant I could continue my foster chronicles with the next dog. One more dog saved, one more dog adopted. Just like every rescue with limited resources, I realized my own individual resources were limited within the context of that rescue. I knew if I were to adopt, fostering would have to stop.

When Balton came into our lives, I expected that he would be no different than the others. Though he was returned to Lucky Dog within days of his first adoption for bad behavior, I had met him at adoption events before and thought for sure the aggression being reported was simply misunderstood behavior. It sounded nothing like the Balton I had known. Surely in a home who had seen as many fosters to success as ours, Balton would shine once more and be adopted again in no time. So, sure, we would foster him and help him find that right fit forever home.

Little did we know at that time, we wouldn’t as much be preparing Balton go to his new home as much as we would be preparing ourselves to be it. Though we definitely gave it the old college try, and from the very beginning I had recognized his potential…and his challenges. For a dog who clearly suffered fear based issues and reacted to the world he didn’t trust because of them, he was one of the easiest dogs I’d had in the house. Almost immediately housetrained, quickly comfortable with us, and kind of a couch potato, happily napping while I worked in my home office. He easily adapted to our house rules, and both played well with Ollie and showed him respect. If he could do well in our home, clearly there must be a forever home out there for him.

Months went on. We made progress, and we backslid. We celebrated accomplishments, and then we faced new challenges that we hadn’t seen before. We sighed in frustration, we cried out in happiness. And sometimes, we just cried. Cried over mistakes made, and times I felt I failed him. Cried when I had been sure I was doing things right, and then we have an incident that makes me question everything.  But through the roller coaster of emotions that came with fostering a fearful, reactive dog, the two things that remained constant were my faith in this dog, and my refusal to give up on him.

Through this experience, I have studied, reflected, and put into practice the lessons I’d been learning about the challenging and awkward, but wonderful and beautiful, dances with dogs. And a couple weeks ago, I faced a decision point with my dancing partner. Balton is a wonderful dog, and I continue to believe in him – but my initial visions of the life I hoped to lead him to were fading, with light reflecting towards a different path. So, with the support and love of my other dance partner, my husband, we made a decision to continue dancing. We agreed to adopt Balton, knowing full well the dog he is, the dog he can be, and understanding the path between those two points is one that has some unknown turns. But, we will navigate that path as we have with fosters past – through faith, trust, and love for our pups.

baltonbigmouthWe signed the adoption contract this weekend, and Balton traded in his Lucky Dog ID tag for one of his own. I don’t know if he feels like he’s finally home, or if he had felt that way months ago. But, he’s here, he’s ours, and he’s got lot more stories to tell. So, although we’re not fostering for now, we’re still going to blog about our continued journeys, about other Lucky Dogs who we will recognize as honorary fosters, and other things we find interesting and important.

So, thanks for joining us for the ride so far, and we hope you’ll continue to stay with us!