A couple of weeks ago I made a trip over to Portland to pick up my newest foster dog, Prince a 4-6 year old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. I am a volunteer foster home for the fantastic nationwide Cavalier Rescue Group, Cavalier Rescue USA. Prince is our 6th rescue from this group. As I made my way over to the West side through the snow and the fog (side note: If March could improve its attitude weather wise I would appreciate it...) I was thinking about how often I get asked about being a foster home, why I do it, how do I do it etc. I guess it could be interpreted as an odd behavior, taking in dogs that aren't yours especially when you already have a permanent number of dogs that is considered "above the average number", one of whom is a 9 month old we are currently trying to civilize. Taking care of them and evaluating them, sometimes rehabbing behavioral issues or giving them a place to recover from surgery, then going through the process of finding them an ideal forever home. One of the most common questions people ask is "How do you give them up?" The simple answer is that there is no way I can keep all of them myself without developing a social label that I really don't need, obviously. The more complex answer would be along the lines of having a niche of skills that suits me to having multiple dogs and while extra dogs do add some stress to our lives it is something I can do to help in a way that is unique to my temperament and skill set. That being said, most volunteers are not canine professionals. Most are just people who have a love for a particular breed of dogs or dogs in general. I am an unapologetic dog snob and passionate about the breeds of dogs that I share my life with so finding nothing short of perfect homes for the ones in need is not even a question for me. I care about the kinds of homes people offer their dogs, I care about the care they receive I care about providing that to my own animals and any that come through on their way to their forever. I get an enormous amount of satisfaction from bringing a dog home and setting to the task of making that dog better off physically and mentally. I think that is true for most rescue volunteers, at least it is true for the ones I have come to know.
Fostering has been part of my life with dogs for pretty close to 20 years now. I started out fostering shelter dogs that needed a little more evaluation than the shelter I was involved with could manage in that environment. The first organized breed rescue group I fostered for was Col. Potter Cairn Rescue Network, also a fantastic group! What drew me to the type of groups that I have ended up fostering for was their dedication to the ethical placement of the dogs in their care and dedication to the breeds they are involved in. The process to adopt was extremely thorough, designed to accomplish more than due diligence when determining the needs of the individual dog, finding the ideal home environment, making certain all medical needs were met, providing excellent nutrition, making sure all potential adopters were screened and interviewed and that all information was provided on the individual dog's health, temperament, and needs to ensure as much as possible that when dogs were placed they were set up to succeed in their new homes. By volunteering with groups such as this I have always felt that the investment of my time into a dog was well worth it because my ethics and that of the group married up well and I knew the only option for my foster dogs would be to go to the ideal home for them. Unfortunately, there seems to be a growing trend known as retail rescue. These types of groups are more about getting dogs in and out for the most money possible and the least amount of expense put in. It is an increasing problem in the US and many people are suckered by the terminology they use. These are far from ethical and I would have nothing to do with those groups. I recently had a man call to inquire about classes for a dog he had just adopted from one such local "rescue". The dog was sexed as a female and turned out to be an intact male. The dog was not neutered prior to being adopted, was not vaccinated, was not in any way checked out (obviously) Do you know it's not difficult to identify testicles on a dog? That is just one example of many I could point to but maybe I will save that for another post. My point is that if you are choosing a group to work with check out their process first and make sure you feel comfortable with their mission statement.
When dogs arrive at my home the first thing we have to do is the introductions. Over the years I have come up with a way of introducing new dogs to the ones who live here with minimal drama. This involves the new arrival hanging out in an x-pen in the garage while the resident pack can come and go and check the new guy out until everyone is bored with everyone else. State of arousal greetings are not a recipe for success. Once that has happened my dogs go into the garage and the new dog is brought into the house on a leash to check it out. This helps me determine if they are going to mark a behavior I am very motivated to not have occur. Then they go out and check out the yard. Once all stimuli has had a chance to become less interesting I will begin introductions to the dogs minus the fence. My current dogs get through this process super fast since new dogs are not that interesting to most of them. Sybbyl and Clementine are the most likely to cause some brief drama (girls.) Once introductions are out of the way I limit the access to the house to try to stay ahead of any house training indiscretions. Depending on the time of day the dog arrives I may groom them right away or I might wait until the next day, but it gets done pretty much on arrival. Once the initial introductions and grooming are out of the way we get to the process of integrating the new dog onto our schedule. Dogs need time to adjust to new environments. I find that this usually takes between 2-4 weeks depending on the dog. After that I really start evaluating their behavior profile and analyzing the dog I am now living with with the dog described on the intake paperwork. I start working on any behavior issues. In Prince's case he is deaf and barks when he wants things (super). Which is a lesson in patience for me since listening to dogs bark is one of the most irritating things in the world for me. I am happy to report he is slowly improving. He also has a general lack of manners and impulse control so I am working on that as well. Prince also arrived with no vet history so he had his initial exam this week to determine what state of health he is in and how to proceed based on the findings. The initial exam indicated some Mitral Valve Disease (a common genetic issue in Cavaliers) and a combination of things that indicate a possible thyroid issue, he will also need to be neutered and have a dental after that. Once we have all the information that will go into his profile of needs and information for his eventual new home. The process of finding a dog's new home can take 3 months plus depending on several factors such as the dog's health and behavioral needs. I have had foster dogs stay for almost a year in some cases. Bringing new dogs in is always a process but it seems to go pretty smooth for us after so many years.
Fostering will disrupt your life, will cost you some sleep, frustration, chaos some money occasionally and you will cry. To date, I have found no remedy for that. One day those dogs you have welcomed into your home will go to their forever home. When that day comes someone who you have spent a lot of time talking to and getting to know as the person who will best suit this dog will come to your house and that dog will leave with them and you will likely never see that dog again. You will put that dog into their adopter's car and they will look at you and wonder what is going on and off they will go looking back at you from the car window and you will loose it but you also know that you wouldn't have let that dog go with that person unless you were confident that that person could offer that dog the best life possible and that will be worth it and you will do it all over again because in some strange way that moment of heartbreak will be far overshadowed by the gratification of knowing you helped and you were a part of something good.