Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What our foster dogs have taught me

Di and I began fostering in October 2010. Since then we have provided a temporary home to 16 foster dogs. Each dog has been his or her own unique experience for us. Some have tested our patience, some have made us laugh uncontrollably, and some have made us exceedingly proud and happy to have met them. All have been a learning experience for me - sometimes I learned what to do, sometimes I learned what not to do.


Our first foster was Bonz. Bonz was a year or so old shepherd/lab mix. Bonz was very scared when we picked him up and he sat like a statue in the back of the car. The transport bringing Bonz up was very late so we didn't get home with him until 1 in the morning. We snuck Bonz into the house without Pepper and Shadow noticing and just prayed that he didn't bark. He didn't bark. I took it as a sign that all would go well, and it certainly did. Bonz taught me that I had a love for animals beyond what I expected. His first night with us I snuggled him, kept him warm, and showed him that he was safe. Bonz also taught me that male dogs, like guys, bond. Bonz became Shadow's buddy and the 2 of them spent countless hours laying side by side in the yard.


Our next foster was Buddy. Buddy was a sick, unloved, raggedy papillion mix. His owners literally did nothing to care for him. We only had Buddy for a week, but in that short time we turned his health around, showed him love and affection, and bathed him to soothe his skin more times than I care to count. We showed him it would be OK. Buddy taught me about trust. Even though Buddy had been mistreated by his former owners, he still trusted us.


Our next foster was Stacey. Stacey was an extremely playful and down right nutty young border collie mix. She had a boundless supply of energy and would run with Shadow all day if we let her. We had Stacey for about 3 1/2 weeks and as she got more comfortable, she began to enjoy things like leaping onto the bed with us - from across the room. Stacy taught me to enjoy life, just like she did.


Next came Zoey. Zoey was a shy little lab mix. It took her a while to warm up to us, but she took to our dogs right away. Zoe was immediately picked by a young family who really needed some joy. We had Zoe for 2 weeks, and during that time her new mom would come over to see her - she couldn't wait for the day she could take her home. Little by little Zoe, warmed up to her new family. The shy, timid little pup turned into a sociable, happy girl. Zoe taught that good things are worth waiting for, and change can happen.


Our next foster was Shiloh. Shiloh was a border collie/lab mix who was quite the character. The first few days we had Shiloh she liked to put all of the dogs' toys and food bowls in her crate. A few days after that, she started piling all the toys on the dog bed she had claimed (Pepper was gracious enough to let Shiloh take over her bed). Shiloh was feisty. She liked Shadow, but she had no problem telling Pepper the alpha to back off. The fosters always liked Pepper, but Shiloh did not. Shiloh taught me an important lesson: not all people who say they are experts have any idea what they are doing. She taught me to trust my gut and challenge when I don't agree.


While we had Shiloh, we also had Red. Red was a 2 year old red golden retriever with boundless energy, and a recent history of heart worm. Red wasn't allowed to run and play, which Red really didn't agree with that plan. Red was a wily, playful nut who was more than we could handle - thankfully Red got adopted right away. Red taught me that sometimes it's OK not to do what you are told.


Bear (formally known as Opus) came after Shiloh. Bear was a beautiful shib ino (or something) mix. In the beginning, Bear was very interested in playing with us and our dogs, so much so that we considered keeping him. And then he discovered our cats. He really, really liked our cats. He would sit and stare at them all day, if we let him (I think "stalk" may be a better word to describe his behavior, actually). So adopting Bear became a fleeting thought and off he went to his new home. Bear taught me that all important decisions require careful consideration.


Next up was Duchess, a husky/corgi mix. Duchess was a sweetheart. She was easy, calm, and all around a good dog. My cousin adopted Duchess, which made us very happy. Duchess taught me that some things are just meant to be and that there is someone for everyone.


Evan, a spaniel mix, came right after Duchess. Evan was a big, floppy Muppet-like dog who would jump up in front of me and hand me his paws. Evan was goof, in the nicest. The one thing about Evan that was challenging was that he didn't like his crate. He didn't like his crate so much he would bark and whine when I put him in it. All night he would bark and whine. Even when I slept on the couch next to his crate to he knew I was close by, he would still whine. Even taught me patience and compromise. His last night with us we compromised, he slept in his crate, which was in our bedroom instead of the downstairs hallway.


Gurdy was spaniel mix (I think). Gurdy was a pistol, small but mighty. Gurdy thought she was 100lbs. She is also one of the few dogs that escaped our fenced yard. She pulled her jail break so that she could chase a big husky. Gurdy taught me I can find faster than I think I can.


Ah, Harris. Harris was a shepherd/hound mix who arrived with a bad case of mange, among other ailments. Harris also had no concept of manners or how to be a good dog. Harris was a hot mess. We had Harris for 7 weeks, long weeks. Sometimes fun filled, mostly challenging weeks. Harris taught me compassion and to ask for help when I need it.

Tara and Sara

Tara and Sara, terrier mix mother and daughter, were a trip. Sara loved to run and play, Tara liked to be the mom to all 3 of the other dogs. Little by little Tara relaxed and joined in on the playing too. Tara and Sara were sweet, cute, and fun to watch. Tara and Sara taught me that little dogs are hard to walk with big dogs, and 4 dogs is too many to walk at once.


We took a break from fostering after Tara and Sara. We adopted our 3rd dog and wanted to give him time to settle in. When we returned to fostering, we could not have asked for a better foster than Liam. Liam was a golden retriever mix who absolutely tugged at our hearts. He was housebroken, happy-go-lucky playful dog who was totally enamored with us and our dogs. He especially loved Bear. We considered keeping Liam, but decided we need to work on Bear and our dogs, and he was also a bit too interested in our cats. Liam taught me that to appreciate what I have.


Bethany came after Liam. Bethany, a 6 month lab mix, was the life of the party. She loved to play with Bear and run with Shadow. Bethany was very trainable too. She loved to learn new things. Bethany taught me not to leave my iPhone where foster dogs can get to it.


Our current foster is Lady. Lady is happily little papillian mix. Lady was surrendered by her owner because she was too sick to take care of her (and couldn't afford to) - either way, Lady went from what I expect was a comfortable home life to a scary shelter. And then to us. Lady is a people dog. She likes to be with us all the time. Bear likes Lady too - she looks like a smaller version of him, actually. Lady taught me that dogs get sad too (we think she misses her family) and she also taught me that you can start again. Lady is still waiting for her furever home.

Fostering dogs has been one of the most rewarding and challenging things I have ever done. I have learned so much from these homeless pups, and I hope I have taught them a few things too. I have no doubt that one of our future fosters will join us forever, and hopefully when that happens I can convince Di to keep fostering (c'mon - 5 dogs in one house isn't too many :)!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Dogs coming and going, and some staying...

Our world has moved on a bit since my last blog. A few foster dogs have come and gone - Tara and Sara and most recently Liam (the foster that almost didn't get away - he was a sweetie - almost kept him!) And we added to our pack in that frame as well. Our newest pup is Bear, a border collie / "some kind of herding dog" mix (direct quote from our vet), and he has been something else. Bear was a stray who had to be trapped by animal control to get him off the streets. Then he endured heart worm treatment (under the care of a great foster mom at her kennel - lucky him!) and managed to make it through with flying colors. Bear came to us a bit scared and unsure, and it took him about 2 months to learn "sit". Bear seems to have endured some not very nice things prior to being picked up, but he is bouncing back really well and now trusts us more each day.

Bear gets along great with our guys and our cats - which is a huge relief. We said we wanted to adopt Bear sight unseen. Something about his picture just spoke to me. His name at the shelter was Asia, and I just couldn't resist him. He and Shadow had the usual dust ups in establishing which male was tougher, Shadow won, but I'm pretty sure Bear threw the round because he doesn't care to be tough or dominant. Works for me. Pepper really likes Bear too, to the point that she lets him snuggle on her. And no one ever, in all the 15 or so that have come through our house, has ever "snuggled" on Pepper. I get a real kick out of watching the two of them snuggle, and play, and then the three of them play and at the end there is black fur everywhere to the point where our tan carpet looks gray/black. Furry carpet is a cheap price of admission to watch these three knuckle heads wrestle - I love it!

Bear, like every other dog we have had in our home, has a few issues. When we leave the house, he gets destructive if we don't crate him. Now, that may sound horrendous - you leave home and return to destruction. But really, it has been kind of funny. The first time we left he ripped apart a book that I had been putting off reading to "develop my career" (yawn, won't miss that one!) and a few magazines that I had no real intention of reading anyway. He also chewed on a chair in our living room, the same chair that Shadow had his way with a year ago. So all in all, he's destroying things we don't really want, or should throw away anyway. No big whoop in my book. So far. Given that we purchased new leather furniture for the den not too long ago, we now crate him when we go out and are working with him on very short time away (like when I go to the mailbox, the one at the end of the driveway, and sometimes I even jog there - and don't crate him).

Why does any of this matter? Because problems more mundane than this get dogs in trouble with their owners, and that trouble sometimes lands them on death row. Right now shelters are bursting at the seams with dogs are no longer wanted, or their owners can't afford to care for them, or their owners just can't be bothered. These dogs aren't perfect. Some need obedience training, some need to learn in home behaviors, some just need to expend lots of energy to be happy (gee - this sounds like some kids and adults I know - and love :) Some just need love, like the aforementioned kids and adults (I'd do another smiley face at the end here but I'm afraid I will get virtual rotten fruit thrown at me for being too cutesy :+9)

Anyway....given that June is National Gay Pride Month, what can you do to help shelter dogs? (Yes, I know the two aren't actually related, just wanted to throw it in here and to see if you were still paying attention :) What can you do to help these death row dogs? Volunteer with a rescue - foster a dog or help at meet and greet events. Volunteer at a shelter - or donate to a shelter or rescue group. Or adopt a shelter dog. Or tell your friends about these rescues that need fosters and adopters. Anything like this is a huge help, it doesn't take a lot of your time, and - bonus - it makes you feel good. And who doesn't want to feel good? So, what are you going to do?

PS - Friday is National Take Your Dog to Work Day. I am trying to get Di to take Shadow to work with her - I think he would love it, don't you?