For four years now, I’ve marked the period around June third with some remembrance of my sixteen-year old Weimaraner named Yeager Meister, the very first Dog who permanently shared my life. On that day in 2011, I was lucky to be home and holding him on his favorite old blue lounge chair, as Nature simply took him, without pain or need for medications. I’ve tried to use it by noting some aspect of our life together likely to be of more universal interest. This is the first in a series of three articles on fostercaring Dogs.
In 2001, I’d finally decided to act on a lifelong sense that my life would be enhanced by sharing it with a Dog. I’d heard that fostering was the best way to experience it without having to make the lifetime commitment of adoption.
For a number of reasons I was drawn to the Weimaraner breed and found Friends For Pets, the no-kill southern California Weimaraner rescue.
Certainly the Dog with whom I first experienced this process, six-year old Yeager and I both mutually benefitted from the fostering process, but it was cut short after just two months. I adopted him. At one point, while Yeager was serving as the home’s top Dog, I also fostered a young, energetic Weim.
After Yeager died in 2011, I returned to fostering rather than adopting another Dog.
For thirty months, I fostered five Dogs until again stopping abruptly to start a permanent life with the last of these fellows, eight-year old Hudson, my current pal.
Fostering is a crucial stage in the process of helping any Dog get adopted by anyone, yourself or others.
More sobering, however, is the fact that fostering Dogs is now a vital component in the process of successful adoptions and at least reducing the horrific numbers of them who are annually killed by cities and towns across the country, their lives ended by lethal injection or suffocation by poison gas.
According to the ASPCA, 1.2 million Dogs are put to death in animal shelters every year.
Yes, it is true that not every one can be saved.
What most people fail to realize is the other truth: the lives of more Dogs can be spared by permanent adoption if they are first temporarily fostered.
The grim irony is that so many people patient, affectionate, sensitive and compassionate towards Dogs don’t merely fear trying to foster but resist even learning exactly what’s really entailed. Why?
“I Couldn’t Part With A Dog I Foster….”
Universally, the reason so many otherwise ideal caretakers won’t entertain the idea of doing so is a conventional belief that, after opening their home to a needy rescue Dog for several weeks of attention and guidance, they’ll become incapable of turning over the fostered animals to a permanent adopter.
Its a valid emotional reaction and if the foster caretake can adopt their ward, there’s a good chance they might. I certainly did that with two of the seven Dogs I fostered.
If a person is truly longing to share their life with a Dog, there’s usually good reasons why they aren’t.
It may be due to the inevitable costs necessary to maintaining a Dog’s health for what can be more than a decade, or holding a job which has them on the road or out of the home for long hours, or being already committed to caring for other people.
At a certain point, they’ve ruminated enough to face the fact that their current lives or future plans aren’t conducive to adoption and that fooling themselves to believe otherwise will likely shortchange the Dog.
Nobody who truly intends to make a Dog a priority will chose to neglect their long-term physical and psychological needs.
Granted, not every Dog-lover will consciously recognize the risk of emotional reasoning.
Yet even they can’t ignore a basic numerical reality. Over the course of one year fostering potentially offers one single caretaker a chance to help put about ten Dogs on the path to permanent adoption.
It comes down to this:
Will someone who can foster avoid doing so out of fear of feeling some temporary sadness by entrusting a Dog they helped to a permanent adopter?
Or will they play a central, active role in the larger effort of reducing the obscene number of non-violent, innocent Dogs that are annually killed?
Who Can Foster?
An erroneous belief that only trained animal behaviorists or experts are qualified to foster deters many from even exploring the possibility of doing so.
Sure, the more anyone knows about anything makes the first try easier, but if nothing else is offered, providing them with the common denominator all abandoned, rescued, abused, homeless Dogs need: attentive companionship.
If all you can do as a foster caregiver is to give a Dog the sole focus of attention, encourage them to follow you about, trust them to explore the house, and gently speak to and pet them, you’ve given them a wondrous relief from life on the streets, or even in a shelter or rescue, where so many other needy Dogs in close quarters make it louder and stressful.
In fact, the two simple acts of providing a sustained level of attention and scheduled meals, is often all a fostered Dog needs to begin displaying an immediate boost of confidence and trust.
Often, but not always.
Caregivers may also immediately detect that a Dog taken in as a foster is, at first, unaccustomed to attention and thus remain wary for some days.
It may be due to a past history of abuse and neglect by people.
Or it may be due to never having been around people.
Or it may be they’ve never been permitted indoors.
One may never learn the facts which led to any one behavior of rescue Dog.
However, the act of discovery by making note of subtle patterns and habitual reactions to, for example, whether they dash through or hesitate when the front door is opened, or whether they roll over or run away when a hand reaches out to pat their head, is the core task and ultimately most significant aspect performed by those who foster.
It is also what makes the process especially fascinating to anyone interested in these familiar yet often mysterious beings. A foster caregiver does best when they are curiously engaged and alertly observant.
Two other practical factors need be addressed, and the answer will vary based on the Dog and the place they are coming from.
Certainly, the home must be absolutely safe. There should be no way for the Dog to find any possible way to escape, either from inside the residence or an outside area, if they are given access that it through a safe doggie door. With high-jumping, curious Weimaraners, for example, a six-foot high and secure fence is necessary – many can clear jump anything lower than that.
The second factor is whether the fostered Dog must always be in the home with you, every hour of every day. If they are a puppy, the answer is yes. Otherwise, its certainly reassuring for them to know you are around in the house over the first few days. Many foster caretakers also find crating helpful, though depending on the Dog’s often-unknowable history, they may not react well to this.
While they’re falling into the groove established by a scheduled time to rise, eat, walk and sleep, its wise to begin stepping just outside the home a short distance from the entrance, so they can’t detect if you are there or not, and extending the distance and the time you’re out.
It’s a good way to ascertain if they’ve got any separation anxiety. If they don’t, being away for just a few hours will soon enough be fine. If they freak about being left home alone, then you’ve discovered a key piece of their “adoptability” factor – and it will have to be dealt with immediately.
How Long Does One Foster?
Most people who’ve never fostered are unlikely to realize there are as many viable periods of time to successfully foster as there are different kinds of Dogs in need of it.
Depending on the individual Dog and the caretaker’s schedule, that time can be as short as one weekend.
It can be a full week, when the person is enjoying a stay-at-home vacation from work.
It can be over a period of months when someone is unemployed and just during periods when they’re not hitting the pavement looking for a new job.
Or when a college kid is home on holiday break and can help out.
It can be weekdays in the fall, winter and spring when younger children are in school during the daytime hours, and can join a parent afterwards in the process. It can be every weekend for months on end.
Ideally, in order to best determine how the foster Dog responds and reacts to a regulated life of guidance, boundaries, and encouragement, a period of between two to four weeks usually permits the Dog enough time to relax in the new environment and let the best of their essential self emerge and perhaps even shine.
In fact, in instances where the Dog has not come from a permanent rescue facility, a fostering home might technically serve for however long it takes for them to be adopted.
How long is too long is also more of an individual matter.
It’s a natural human response to believe that after helping a fostered Dog develop a sense of confidence that you may be creating a sense of abandonment when they go to adopters or return to a rescue.
It isn’t, however, a Dog’s response.
Of course, they do bond close to human caretakers, but they’re also incredibly adaptable and far more resilient about change than we are – as long as the love continues to flow towards them unabated.
If they’ve been given to the right adopters, they’re going to a home of permanent love and care.
If they’re returning to their shelter rescue home, fostering has now made them all the more confident and adoptable.
What Dogs Need Fostering And Where Are They?
There is no one type of Dog that may need fostering in a home, and their age, gender, breed, health condition, and prior life experiences and how soon and for what length of time they need to be cared for is based on several determinants.
Many are puppies, born as litters of street Dogs, yet many are also older, abandoned simply because they are no longer cute puppies. Others have injuries 0r become disabled, either given up by human companions due to the cost of medical care or have developed ihealth problems from life on the streets.
Perhaps the most important determinant is how and from where the Dog needing fostering come to their caretakers.
It may be that they are purchased out of local pounds where Dogs are sheltered for a limited period of time before being killed due to lack of resources to keep them there indefinitely.
Some of the most invisible but compassionate humanitarians in any given community are those activists dedicated to saving the lives of Dogs nobody has previously cared for, helping to keep down the number of those both living on the streets and being put to death.
As a saying familiar to many in this field goes, “Saving the life of one animal may not change the world, but the world will surely change for that one animal.”
And there are many such individuals, each working in tandem by performing different tasks.
There are those who search the local pounds, those who remain on call to retrieve them, those who work feverishly to find someone to immediately foster them and those who do the fostering.
Usually, such activists are part of a dedicated network functioning without the headquarters of a kennel facility.
Individuals contact fellow activists within the network by text and email blasts often on a daily basis, alerting each other about Dogs needing to be bought out of pounds, fostering or adoption. A quick Internet search can lead you to hundreds of local and regional groups.
Sometimes, it is a matter of simply one individual who has never previously been an activist or part of a rescue network. These good samaritans spot a homeless, injured, and starved Dog in danger on the street and are compelled to take them into protective, temporary custody and foster them to a state of stabilized physical and emotional health.
Many of these lone activists also personally cover the full expense of medical care, most frequently surgery for infected wounds and broken bones inflicted by acts of cruelty or being hit in traffic.
They personally assume the responsibility of also fostering the recovering Dogs, while simultaneously searching carefully for a person of proven responsibility to whom they will willingly surrender the Dog for permanent adoption.
Certainly the most systematic method of fostering is through an established rescue, many of which are created to cope with issues unique to a specific breed while also often saving the lives of other Dogs they’ve learned are in a dire at-risk situation.
I was incredibly lucky to enter the Weimaraner world through Friends for Pets.
It is not only a “no-kill” facility (meaning that even Dogs in its kennel never adopted will live and receive care there forever), but is run by its knowledgeable and intuitive founder, Diane Monahan, from whom I’ve learned everything I know about Dogs.
Diane is a strong advocate of not just the value but sometimes necessity of fostering as the venue for successful Dog adoption. Along those lines, she created an extraordinary system that makes fostering conducive to a wide variety of caretaker lifestyles.
There’s even a “Big Brother” and “Big Sister” program which enables those unable to foster during the work week to do so on weekends and holidays.
Every FFP Dog is first examined, monitored, nurtured, protected and its needs carefully met, so its fostering program is conducted with equal care, including a screening process, first requiring submission of an application and home inspection.
At FFP, as is surely true of most responsible rescues, each Dog rescued to live in the facility is given a general physical examination, given proper medical care and put on a nutritional diet.
Each Dog’s emotional stability is assessed with equal care, and none of them are made available for fostering unless they’ve met a basic standard of physical and emotional health. No known aggressive Dogs are placed into a foster home.
Further, as can best be conducted in any shelter or rescue environment, a general evaluation is conducted of each one’s temperament and reactions to men, women, children and other Dogs.
Through this process, an individual Dog is matched to the best foster applicant, based on their lifestyle, schedule and home, along with factors such as children or other animals in the home.
With approval, the Dog is ready for the ride to what may well be their very first experience in a home environment, and finally begin the process of being fostered by a caretaker.
To those who have enjoyed this and the many hundreds of other articles on Carl Anthony Online which have been provided without subscription fee since it began in 2011, please take this time to consider making a donation of any amount to The Yeager Fund for Special Need Dogs at Friends For Pets, underwriting the high costs which ensure the lifelong care of senior or disabled Dogs there who are unlikely to ever be adopted.
Next: Fostercaring Dogs: The Process (Part 2)