Thursday, October 22, 2015
Thankful Thursday: In Defense of Dog Foster Volunteers
There are lots of heart breaking stories about pets needing homes on the Internet today. I think for the most part they are written to generate attention for the cause of pet adoption. It also doesn't hurt the websites that they generate clicks and thus, more advertising. The problem for me is when they get it wrong.
I was recently clicking Yahoo news stories and came across what appeared to be a standard pet abandonment story. The picture and the headline Dog Cries Out She Realize Her Family Is Gone Again caught my attention and I clicked.
The problem I had with the story is the writer clearly wanted to write a story that would inspire adoption and help people understand the needs of the animals, but missed the boat and instead completely lost the opportunity to explain to people why fostering is important for shelter animals. He left the impression that fostering in fact breaks the spirit and heart of a dog because the dog often can't stay in one foster home for the entire time it takes to be adopted. Of course no where does he mention the issues staying in the shelter crated might create. In fact he never describes the alternatives to foster care. It is as if these dogs have better choices that fostering is preventing. He merely mentions that the foster failed because the foster family lived in a high rise and the dog couldn't adapt to using an elevator. Of course, he does gloss over the behavior problems the dog had that also made this particular foster family and home not a good match for the dog. He fails to balance the story by explaining any of the benefits of fostering or the risk of warehousing dogs in shelters.
Reading the comments that followed the article you clearly understood he missed the boat on teaching people about the benefits of fostering dogs. After reading the article many still didn't understand the difference between fostering and adoption. In fairness to the readers, it wasn't well laid out in the article. While describing how heart broken the dog was when her foster family left, no where is the balance about how much the dog benefited by not living in a crate for several months with limited human contact helping her stay healthy and perhaps working on those all important social skills that prevent so many dogs from long term adoptions. In reading the comments it is also clear as I stated that he clearly leaves the impression that fostering is preventing dogs from being taken into permanent homes as if homes are waiting and foster parents are selfishly preventing these dogs from going to those homes. If you've ever worked or even talked with people who work with shelters this clearly isn't the problem. In fact fosters often help dogs to work through some of the challenges that prevent them from being adoptable. It clearly doesn't work in all cases, but the less work a dog is to take on, the easier it is to find a forever home. A dog who is in a home with someone who is walking it on a leash, teaching it not to eat the furniture, how to play with other dogs, not eat the family, etc. does become a more adoptable animal than one who has unknown qualities because it only has been walked at the shelter and never spends time in family situations.
I have many times written on this blog to thank the two foster Mom's who took in Bailey and Katy. How many people can say they got a puppy who was fully housebroken? Bailey's owners had abandoned him because they bought him and then couldn't deal with a human baby and well another furry baby who also needed help learning the basics. Bailey's foster Mom was amazing. She got him fully prepared for his new home so he had the best possible chance of a good start in his forever home. Bailey did have trouble believing he wasn't going to be abandoned when he left foster care. However, I'd have to wonder if he'd have been even more traumatized with emotional and behavioral issues had he been in traditional shelter care. Not that people aren't caring there, they do the best they can. Shelties are just very sensitive dogs. Just finding appropriate boarding care for these two can be a challenge because they hate being separated. Try finding a double room at your local kennel. However, Bailey's foster Mom had raised Shelties for years. She understood not just dogs, but his breed and was able to help him adjust and thrive. I cannot thank her enough for the time and money she spent making sure he would have a good life.
We don't know as much about Katy's back story, but I am equally thankful she was in foster care, too. It was clear that she hadn't had much experience with positive human interaction and even simple things like stairs seemed to be new to her. Her foster Mom gave her the chance to be with other dogs in a home situation. Her first experience post surrender was a positive one and it helped her to trust. I know she was scared to leave and she didn't want to leave her foster dog family. However, I think that bond helped her with bonding with Bailey when she arrived here.
Another benefit to good foster parents is the valuable information they can provide from having lived with the dogs. We are currently starting the process to add a third dog to our family using the same rescue that brought us Bailey and Katy. Already, we know of two dogs we won't be getting because based on their knowledge of the dogs they are fostering and the information we provided those two beautiful dogs wouldn't be a great match. As frustrating as it is to wait, I am grateful that they are working to provide both the dogs and us with the best forever match possible. That is only possible because of the amazing work of these foster parents who sacrifice their time and yes money to take care of these beautiful animals. It is truly a gift of time, talent, and treasure to rescue and foster.
While traditional shelters do their best, most have limited information regarding how the dog will be in a home situation, what behavioral modifications are going to be required to adjust to home life, what adaptions the house might need to make it a better working situation, correct challenging behaviors, etc. With all fairness, they have no way of observing those kinds of situations. However, if you live with a dog, looking for what kind of environment the dog does best in, you can provide information to make the adoption process work better. There are no guarantees of course, but information at least helps people make the best decisions possible for a new home. When you have a foster parent that observes a dogs behavior with other dogs, other animals, children, etc. that is likely more reliable than someone who surrenders the dog and says there was nothing wrong we just have to move. Some behaviors can be worked modified to make the dog a better fit.
For instance a dog who has been allowed to jump up on people can be broken of that behavior and thus be more adoptable given the right foster home. A puppy like Bailey is house broken and becomes the most amazing puppy in the world. As I said I'm the only person I've ever known who got a puppy that was potty trained. However, an honest assessment about behaviors that are likely not going to change is also valuable. A dog that is good with cats gives it more options. It is hard to know if the dog hasn't been with cats and you don't want to eliminate homes, but you also don't want a bad adoption because the dog is trying to kill the cat. If it can't be trained to live with cats better to know that than to have to guess.
I have the greatest respect for those who can foster. I know in my heart I can't separate myself from the dogs I bring into my home. I also know the two I have, would have major separation anxiety if we took a dog in, spent time with it, and it suddenly disappeared to a new home. It takes great courage and strength to bring in a dog in need, care for it, and just as it is starting to do well, send it on to someone else. I can only say thank you to the two women who did that for my dogs. I only hope they both realize the gifts they have given me and so many others by bringing these dogs into their homes and helping them to get ready for new ones.