Most charities ask that you give up either a little time or a little money to support a worthy cause. But there’s one form of aid you can give that doesn’t really require either of those, at least if you already have a pet. It’s animal fostering, and it is such a roller coaster ride I had to write about our experiences with our first one.
Fostering is extremely important in helping animals because sometimes a shelter just won’t work, and they need a place to stay until they can be adopted, otherwise they might not get a chance. Shelters are overcrowded (or like for our rescue, may not even exist), or an animal might be too sick or stressed to stay in one. In providing a foster home you’re making sure the animal can be in a normal, loving home environment where they can be comfortable, recover from an illness, or learn some new skills to impress potential new fur-parents.
We adopted our dog Lulu from the Manitoba Pug Rescue, and she had been in foster care for a very long time. The girl was an already mature papillion and seriously emotionally damaged from having lived her entire life as a breeder dog in a Missouri puppy mill. She was simply not a normal dog, a lap dog breed that would freak out at the slightest noise or possibility you may try to pet her. To this day I instinctively tell everyone her history so they don’t think I’m the monster who made her like this, and they can understand why she’s acting so weird. She spent her whole first visit with us shaking like a leaf with her tail between her legs. But I have a soft spot for the under dogs, and I couldn’t deny her a chance at a loving family. She wasn’t perfect but that’s why we had to take her. We would just have to be very patient. She still shits on the kitchen floor and cowers when we try to pick her up, but now she plays and smiles and there are moments you would almost think she was normal. There’s a light in her eyes now that wasn’t there before.
We joined the rescue’s page on Facebook to keep up with dog play date parties (a great way for the dogs to socialize and to create a supportive community around them) and last summer I saw the call go out for foster homes urgently needed for some dogs on their way up from a kill pound in Indiana. I knew Mike was seeing the same message and would ask if we could volunteer. He did. And though I was hesitant, I agreed as long as it wouldn’t be for too long and because who better to help teach Lulu how to dog than a little dog friend? She needed the company, because she sure as hell was not finding all that much comfort in us. I can’t imagine what that would be like, surrounded by nobody but the “enemy” and cats.
So we took in Blaze, a puggle, and on the ride home he lay his head in my lap and that was that. I became this sweet little guy’s best friend.
Blaze was awesome from the start. He was fully trained, never once peeing in the house, extremely obedient, and because he’s a beagle he talked, just like Snoopy. He loved snuggling under blankets and didn’t care much what he was doing, as long as it was next to me. He was the perfect dog, so we found it strange that nobody snatched him up right away. In fact, it took about two months. What the hell? And the longer it took, the more attached we got. People told us all the time that they would love to foster, but they just couldn’t give them up. And let me tell you, it’s not that foster parents are any stronger or less emotional about it. It still hurts like hell. But it’s that we want to help SO much that we’re willing to be a little sad about it. It’s worth it. The sadness in a way is what we’re giving of ourselves to help.
But here’s the thing, It’s not even just about being sad, you expect that. It’s about how willingly saying goodbye to someone you love knowing you could have held on to them goes so far against nature and every instinct you ever had. That’s the worst part. And it makes you almost doubt your sanity. I was in complete terror of losing him forever, sad knowing it had to be done, confused wondering if it really did need to be done, guilty, both for letting him go and considering keeping him, which would reduce the number of available foster homes for other animals by one, afraid again that no dog would ever be as awesome as him and we will have missed our chance, in yet more fear that his new family somehow wouldn’t love or appreciate him as much as we did (how could they not?), guilty again that he would think we abandoned him, and excited that he would find a forever home and we could then help another dog. This shit can fuck you up. Say, where are my pills?
They say the first one is the hardest. I hope that’s true. Not that it stopped us from doing it again anyway.
What I found helped enormously was the day he returned from the last adoption event, being told how much he fell in love with this prospective couple, and hearing about our next foster dog. To me this was incredibly important, and helped me to move forward and be reminded of why we were doing this. I would highly suggest anyone going through this to do that – go check out the other animals that need your care. It’s one thing to know there’s a need, another to put a furry (or in our case, balding) little face to that need. You need to focus on the positive aspects of letting that fur-baby go instead of on how much you’ll miss them. Need more words of encouragement?
-It’s almost impossible to fear this animal will think you’re rejecting them, however dogs in particular love easily and live in the moment. They look to the future far more than the past.
-Your foster pet is going to LOVE their new home. Really, they’ll be ok.
-There ARE animals just as cool as this one. You just haven’t met them yet. How are you ever going to if you can’t move on to the next one?
-There is always a need for more adoptive parents, but FAR more need for more foster parents. By keeping this one, there might be one less space in your home for more, meaning one less foster home where animals in need can stay. This can also mean less money (through adoption fees) for the rescue, money they very much need to continue the good work they do and to provide medical care for the animals they’re currently supporting.
Are you hesitant to foster because you don’t want to go through the heartbreak? Now here’s some encouragement for you.
-It’s SO worth it. Totally serious.
-It’s a great way to experience the joys of a pet on a temporary basis. Maybe you travel for part of the year and a pet of your own is too much of a commitment. Fostering is a great idea! Maybe you think you want to adopt but aren’t really sure if it will work out in your home or what kind of pet would suit you. Well, what better way to try it out?
-Want a pet but can’t afford one? When you foster, all the expenses related to caring for the animal are covered through the rescue. Food, toys, vet, everything.
-Ever go through a shelter and say “I wish I could take them all!”? Well, fostering is the closest you can get to that. Where adopting allows you to care for a limited number of animals, fostering multiplies that number like crazy without turning you into an animal hoarder. Some people can help hundreds.
-Love puppies and kittens, but hate that moment when the little bastards grow up? You could have puppies and kittens in your house all the time!
-Does your current pet need a buddy? Ours did. Fostering can give temporary company to a pet who might be a little lonely and need someone to play with, or as in our case, be a real confidence booster for a pet with emotional issues. After hosting Blaze, Lulu is a changed little woman.
-If you don’t want any/more kids, but your hormones are plenty active, it’s a great outlet for your need to nurture. Especially since so many foster pets need a little extra TLC. Go nuts and put a dress on that four-legged little girl. I won’t judge.
So we bit the bullet and said goodbye to Blaze. I handled it much better than I expected I would, and I bet he handled it even better. The very next day we picked up Fabio, a surrendered boston/beagle mix with a skin infection and a broken foot, and he could not be sweeter. I love him too, and I’m really grateful for the opportunity to care for him for a little while.
Fostering will break your heart. But it will also make it swell up so much. This is a really great thing that you can do that won’t cost you anything and will barely take any of your time. Everybody benefits. If the only downside is you cry a little because you got to experience all the love this animal could give for just a little while, you’re still coming up way on top. Besides, half those tears will be tears of joy.
~In loving memory of Lulu, 2006-2014~