Friday, November 13, 2015

Fostering a dog is not the same as dog-sitting.

This is Mabel. She needs a home.
If you're interested in adopting her, contact
Mabel, above, and our foster-dog Rex are perfect examples of how fostering a dog is considerably different from dog-sitting. Let me explain.

There's no question that looking after someone else's dog, even for a couple of months, is disruptive and a little bit heart-wrenching when it's time to say goodbye. But foster dogs typically come with a few "undocumented features" as my engineer husband likes to call them.

Dogs end up in foster care for a number of reasons. Sometimes, they're strays that have been removed from remote areas where veterinary services and animal shelters are few and far between, like remote areas of Canada's north. Or they come from "high-kill shelters" where pets are euthanized if they aren't adopted within a short amount of time.

In those "high-kill shelters" a dog that can't tolerate the crowded, unkind setting of a kennel will often be left behind. That describes an awful lot of dogs, dogs I affectionately call "misfit dogs" -- like the toys from the Island of Misfit Toys in Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.

They are misfits like Mabel, who was found emaciated and with her chain ensnared in a fence. Mabel is afraid of almost everything. The vestibule of her foster's apartment building, people walking up behind her, fluttering leaves. In a shelter, she would be cowering in the back of her cage, but in a home, she's quiet and (mostly) content.

Mabel with her foster mother, Tyra.

Mabel's foster family has given her a chance at having a real life, not one where she is severely neglected. Or where her life is ended because she is considered unadoptable. Tyra has worked hard to help Mabel learn that she can tolerate stressful situations, like meeting people, and that Tyra will stand up for her, protect her, and praise her growing confidence.

Similarly, we have worked with our misfit-foster-dog, Rex.

In an earlier post, I introduced Rex and explained that he had a massive case of separation anxiety. That first night, which really called for a big dose of tough love, was a turning point in Rex's future. His separation anxiety was so profound that there is really no way he could become a family dog -- unless that family was a shut-in who never left the room. And that would not be fun for Rex. A previous foster family had already reached their wits' end with Rex's nighttime hysterics.

Last night, I texted my daughter:
I do want to see you, but the dog we're fostering really cramps my style. Can't be left home out of his crate alone (he chews stuff and invades our cat's space) and cries when left in his crate.
My daughter replied with surprise:
He seemed so well-adapted on Facebook!
Which is true. I've shared Rex's successes on Facebook (and here), and he's doing really, really well in many areas, but still acts up if I leave the house or even go upstairs while he is in his crate. It's not all the time, but it's a lot of the time. And as soon as he hears someone awake in the morning, he wants OUT. Our son, Peter, gets up at 5:00 every morning, which means Rex is ready to rock and roll by 6:30. His way of communicating this is to howl.

So I, who am not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination, have been up at 0630 for the past three weeks -- no breaks on weekends, even. (If Steve were home, he could have spelled me off, but he's in India right now, lucky bugger.)  

I've been in bed and asleep by 9:00 most nights. And during my waking hours, I've been doing my darnedest to get Rex ready for a normal family home, working on his basic commands. And his dreadful separation anxiety. 

I honestly haven't felt this kind of round-the-clock burden since my children were infants. (At least I get 8 hours of sleep in a row, which I am the first to admit is AWESOME!)

Tomorrow, Rex moves to his "forever" home, and I really, really hope he's ready for this big transition. I'll be on his adopters' speed dial if they need me at all, because I really want this to work, for his sake as much as theirs. 

However, since our rescue agency is short-handed, I'll be taking in a new foster immediately, at least for a couple of weeks. It's not ideal. We try to give foster-parents a break between dogs because we know that these "misfits" do take a little (some times a lot of) extra effort. 

Yup, that's our foster, Rex, asking for overnight privileges.

I was going to end this post with encouragement for you to become a foster-dog-parent if you love dogs, but I really haven't painted a rosy picture of it, have I? I'll make my sales pitch after I watch Rex integrate into his new home. That's when I'll have the "it was totally worth it" moment. Stay tuned.

But if you don't feel ready or able to be a foster-parent, then please do consider supporting foster agencies through donations and adoptions. It all helps.

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