I’m pretty sure I’ve lost count of all the dogs I’ve fostered over the past 8-ish years. Not to say that I don’t remember each and every one of them, and have pictures of each and every one of them. But there’s been so many sweet dogs in my life, and fostering becomes a delicate balance of wanting to both remember and forget.
For me, fostering dogs means giving my entire heart to care for each animal as though I’m keeping them forever, and then having my heart ripped to shreds when they are adopted because it feels like I’m losing my child. But that’s what being a foster parent is. Any kind of foster parent. It’s taught me about letting go and not being afraid to have to go through the whole wonderful/painful process all over again for another dog in need.
With each dog there are snuggles to be had, potty accidents to be cleaned up, injuries to be tended, and countless kisses. Like, so many kisses ? Good times, great times, rough times – they’re all worth it. Below are just a few of my special foster babies and the life lessons they have taught me.
How to Be Selfless
I’m not really a puppy person. I like playing with puppies and snuggling with them, but I’d much rather bring home an older dog. Obviously then, my last three foster dogs were all puppies under the age of 6 months old. Funny how that worked out, right? And they ended up being the hardest foster dogs I had to say goodbye to when they were adopted. I was very certain that Parker (who I’ll talk about below) and later, Cleo (the gal above), would end up staying with me permanently. “Foster fail” is the official term for it. I’m not sure if it had to do with the fact that they were both in really bad condition when I began fostering them – Parker had a severe neck injury, and Cleo was so weak and emaciated I wasn’t 100% sure she would live – or if it was how they both sunk right into my arms the first time I picked them up, but it was love at first sight.
They both had very interested adopters come forward out of the blue and both adoptions were a whirlwind. With the blink of an eye, Parker and Cleo were gone. I fostered Parker over a year ago, but I still think about him all the time and how I couldn’t hold back tears as I handed him over to his new mom. Even though he was going to a good family that was smitten with him, I didn’t know if I was doing the right thing. I wondered this for weeks after, and at one point I even felt it was a mistake to let him go. I can’t help but worry if they’re really going to a nice home. With Cleo, named after Cleopatra because of her beautiful green eyes, I was crying so much when she was adopted that her new mom started crying too. Cleo was adopted almost two months ago, and I still miss her like crazy. Her adopters gave me their contact info and told me they would send photos and updates if I wanted. But I never contacted them. I rarely contact adopters. I always want to, but I have to trust that my foster dogs are in good hands and living the lives they were meant to.
I think letting go of someone you love is the most selfless thing you can do. We hold on because it’s what we want, not what’s best for the other person. If you love someone and want to hold on to them forever, but instead allow them to move on and give someone else the chance to love them, that’s real love if you ask me. As a foster, I did what I set out to do. In some cases, I save the dog’s life because I rescue them from a busy intersection or some other dangerous situation. In all cases, I provide them with the love and support they need before they transition to their new home, so they don’t have to sit in a kennel alone at the shelter. Letting go of these beautiful little creatures that I grow so attached to is devastating sometimes, and I feel like there’s a hole in my heart, but it’s what I’ve signed up for and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I do it for them, not for me.
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
I’ve talked about Ollie before on my blog. He was trying to run through the door of a Mexican restaurant in Beaumont, Texas as I was walking out with friends. He must’ve smelled something good! I immediately snatched him up and noticed a huge wound on his back. Someone had poured acid on him. He was only two months old. But Ollie didn’t let that get him down. He was always happy and had SO much energy. Plus, he was teething, and his favorite activity was chomping down on my hands and feet with those tiny little spear teeth. It didn’t matter how many times I told him no, he still kept doing it. He wasn’t potty trained, either. He took up all of my attention and I couldn’t let him out of my sight. It was very stressful at times.
Olllie, and every single dog I’ve fostered, has reminded me of the importance of patience. Dogs are pretty smart, but they don’t speak human, and it’s not fair to get mad at every little “wrong” thing they do. They don’t do it on purpose. My dogs have taught me to pick and choose my battles. When they have an accident, is it really that important to get all upset about it? No. If I’m bringing a dog into my house, then I should expect there to be accidents. No dog is perfect, and neither am I. My foster dogs have been extremely patient with me. When I’m getting upset over the small things, I know I need to take a step back and let it go. I don’t want to regret being upset all the time over things that didn’t matter. It’s something I still need to work on a little… okay, a lot. A LOT. Luckily, all I had to do was look into Ollie’s soulful eyes or appreciate the rare moments that he was calm, to remember why I put up with the stress of having the equivalent of a human toddler in my house. He was just being himself. He was being a puppy. It’s not worth it to sweat the small stuff.
Appreciate the Little Things
When I foster a dog, it’s the little things that I remember. Like with Max (pictured at the top of this post), my most recent foster who was just adopted this past weekend. I found him when I came home one day; he was covered in mud and chasing the neighbor’s chickens. He was causing such a commotion that I called him over and he slipped through the fence into my yard. I gave him a bath and fed him and my neighbor convinced me to keep him. He was very reactive to other dogs, an escape artist, stubborn, and didn’t like listening to me, among other less than stellar qualities. But he was so sweet and just wanted to play with me 24/7. He made progress little by little, and in the mean time, no matter how much he often frustrated me, I always enjoyed the little moments with him. Playing fetch outside and watching him race towards the ball and leap at it, how excited he would get every time I gave him a treat, seeing his little under-bite, watching him run circles around the living room, and snuggling with him at night. Those were the moments that mattered. They made all the stress and frustration worth it.
As such situations tend to go, right as Max was fully adjusted and behaving like a gentleman is when he got adopted and had to leave. Right when I was enjoying his presence the most and ready to have him with me for at least a couple more weeks, that’s when I had to say goodbye. It was really disappointing and sad, but he was there for me when I needed him most. One of the things I love about dogs is that every single time you come home, they are so excited to see you. It’s nice to be able to depend on that. I knew that no matter how bad of a mood I may have been in when I got home, Max would still be just as happy to see me. Little moments. The big moments are great, too, but they are rare. Our lives are made up of little moments with the occasional big moment tossed in. So we should appreciate the little things because they are what shape us.
Embrace Flaws, Abandon Expectations, & Don’t Give Up
I’ve also talked about Parker on my blog because, well, look at him ⤴️ Have you ever seen a more devastatingly handsome puppy? I’m convinced he was a model in a past life. If you look at his neck, you’ll notice that he’s missing some hair. After the local shelter found Parker sitting on a couch on the side of the road, they noticed a collar embedded into his neck and had to delicately remove it. It left a deep incision at high risk of being infected, so the shelter was keeping Parker in a wire crate in the garage, away from the kennels. I saw a photo of him of their Facebook page and he looked so sad and skinny. When I went to meet him for the first time, there was a blanket covering his crate, he was completely secluded. As soon as we opened the crate, he leapt out and started running around the garage with his tail wagging nonstop. After a few minutes of this, I decided to pick him up and he immediately melted into my arms. I was sold. I took him home that same day.
Most people want to bring home a perfect looking puppy with no issues, and maybe that’s why I prefer the “special cases.” I love a good underdog, and all of my foster dogs have embodied that. They’ve come to me with minor to severe injuries, illnesses, behavioral issues, abusive pasts, and other qualities that could slow them down and prevent them from finding good adopters. But the inspiring thing about dogs with disabilities is that they don’t realize they’re different from other dogs. They find a way to persevere and they are so resilient. It can take anywhere from a few days to a few years, but I’ve seen some amazing transformations in dogs. One of the most important things for me as a dog foster is not to give up in any challenging situation with a dog. Two steps forward, one step back. This is something that completely rings true in every aspect of life. I would never, ever give up on a dog that I committed to helping, and I should never give up on myself or anyone else in my life that I consider important. We all have flaws, but our flaws are what make us unique. Each foster I’ve brought home has been different with different needs. I can’t have any expectations when it comes to them or how long it should take them to heal or adjust. Same goes for humans.
Looks Don’t Matter
The final life lesson I’ve learned from being a dog foster mom goes hand-in-hand with the lesson above. Along with embracing flaws is the lesson that looks don’t matter and not to worry about what other people think. I wrote a blog post 2 years ago about rescuing Pretty Girl (Anatomy of a Dog Rescue) and the difficulties I faced in fostering her. Talk about not giving up! I managed to keep her from being euthanized just moments before her deadline. I drove an hour and a half in a terrible thunderstorm to pick her up from the shelter and drove her home. She had been hit by a car at some point and never received medical attention, so he had lost complete use of her front left leg. It dragged around on the ground when she walked. She also had a suspiciously large belly… It was soon confirmed that she was indeed pregnant, and also needed to have her leg amputated. Once her medical issues were taken care of, there was the issue of potty training (at 3 years old she wasn’t potty trained), but more importantly, my pit bull Josie did not like Pretty Girl and would initiate bloody fights out of nowhere. Did I give up on Pretty Girl? Take her back to the shelter? Nope. She stayed with me for 7 months before being adopted, and I was prepared to adopt her myself if she never found a good home.
In the photo above, you can see she doesn’t have a front left leg. It doesn’t stop her one bit. She found the perfect home, not just because I know her adopter personally, but because he’s incredibly active which means Pretty Girl is incredibly active. Her dad takes her on camping trips, rock climbing, and hiking. She looks super adorable and carefree bouncing up and down on her 3 legs. It doesn’t slow her down one bit. She doesn’t know that she looks different than most other dogs, and she doesn’t notice the stares that she sometimes gets when out in public. Not only does Pretty Girl live a happy, carefree life because of it, but it makes her endearing to most people she meets. You can’t waste time worrying about what other people think of you. It will only slow you down, and in Pretty Girl’s case, that isn’t an option. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover because it doesn’t matter what a person looks like on the outside. Outer appearances aren’t a reflection of inner qualities.
I’m still working on all of these skills, but I’ve made great strides and I’m always mindful of them, especially when I have a fur baby in my home. Fostering dogs never gets any easier, in fact, I think it’s getting harder for me because the older the I get the more emotional I’ve become. It’s only a matter of time before I’m one of those people that cries during sappy commercials. But I’ll never stop fostering because there will always be animals out there in need. And I’ll never be perfect, but by having foster dogs, I can continue to learn and grow. It’s so funny how dogs are like furry, four legged little Yodas that teach us so much without ever saying a single word.