Fostering has been the most rewarding, and simultaneously the most difficult, thing I’ve ever done. People always comment that they couldn’t do it because they would fall in love with the dogs… my response is always along the lines of the fact that it is hard, but it is a beautiful experience. But of course, you have to fall in love with each animal. That’s what has made us successful fosters… because we love each dog that comes into our home as if it were our own.
When I think about ‘fostering’ and having people continuously thank me… the dogs get a temporary home with a lot of love, but I get so much more out of the experience than most people would even realize. I wish I could thank the dogs.
What do the dogs get: walks, muffin bottoms & rotisserie chicken treats, couch snuggles
What do I get: exercise, portion control, purpose, love
Yes, we snuggle on the couch, we work through less desirable behaviors, we walk & run with them, we watch their interactions with dogs, we kiss their fur-covered heads, and we report back on all the reasons they would make someone as happy as they make us. And that does get them ready to find their home but what it does for me is so much more.
Quarantine, specifically, it’s been sometimes hard for me to find a reason and excitement in days that start to all blur together. These dogs have kept me in a routine with a very important reason to get outside, to still smile and communicate with others on walks through the masks, and to slow down and just sit on the couch and enjoy that moment.
I’ve laughed when they whine for more pets, cried (with happy tears) when beautiful people ask to meet them, cheered when they start learning their behaviors, and had my heart melt when they look at me with a cute wiggly tail.
Beyond the dogs, I’m so grateful for the community of people that I have met. The outpouring of love that I have seen, even virtually, from other people and other shelters and dog communities has made me feel so loved and supported through this process. The people have such wonderful hearts and are really trying to find each of their pets a happy ending.
Now… what tips can I give you for a foster or just dog sitting in general. Now, I’m no expert, but these are a few things that I have learned and been told.
1. Dedicate a space that is theirs. Whether it’s a kennel, a blanket, a bed, a toy bin… something that is constant and familiar. It was super helpful with our pups blossoming into their space. As they start to ‘own’ their space and they get more and more comfortable, we’ve gotten to watch sniffy, reserved pups switch into grumbling, wagging, drooling, cuddling dogs.
2. Understand what may be too much for them. They need to decompress. Please don’t start fostering and immediately think that they are going to restaurants, the beach, your friend’s house, a party- whatever it is, pay attention to your dog. We had one foster who came in and was terrified of trash cans & we had to schedule our walk times to avoid trash pickups. You don’t know their backgrounds and they will let you know what is uncomfortable for them if you pay attention. And pay attention- you don’t want to set them up for failure.
3. Buy a leash. They gave us leashes but have another option. You don’t totally know if you are going to have a dog that pulls or one that chews through his leash because he feels like it. There are some great leashes out there with traffics/heal handles which is something you may want to invest in.
4. Own a dog hammock for your car. We’ve had a few dogs who are amazingly calm in the car. We’ve also had a bunch of dogs who are really poorly behaved in the car- either anxiety, or lack of exposure or a variety of other things. The hammock keeps them confined and safe as you bring them on your road adventures.
5. Give them time. Dogs come from a variety of backgrounds with unknown histories most of the time. Allow them to come to you and with time, they will open up and their personalities will grow in front of you. You’ll both learn a lot.
I’ve been dog sitting for a few years. I was in Europe right as cities there were starting to experience a COVID-19 outbreak. Coming home, I realized some version of that would be coming to the United States. Trying to find out where I would be able to help, I wanted to foster. My home would be open.
In searching for a dog, I wanted in my home I had a few qualifications:
1. A senior (which is considered by the system to be 7+ years old)
2. A dog that was/had been at risk for euthanasia
3. A pup who had been at the shelter for a while
I found countless beautiful organizations who have supported shelter animals in such a variety of ways that honestly choosing which organization to work with was one of the hardest parts. We started with an organization that takes at-risk dogs and brings them into a training program to get them certifications either with inmates in a CGC program, senior dogs for senior citizens, or even training for individuals with PTSD. It’s remarkable the work that they accomplish.
We had an entirely different experience with other dogs. Our second foster came directly from the shelter. We picked him up and with everything going on he hadn’t gotten a bath in weeks. He knew the command for sit and we started with the basics the first few days- just basic leash walking etiquette, reinforcing sit, and he got groomed (bath, ear cleaning, and nail clipping).
There are countless organizations in need of good, dedicated fosters. Do you research & find one that you love. If that time and energy commitment isn’t for you- there are thousands of other ways to help shelters from transportation, to emails/calls, to social media work. If you’re interested, please reach out and find a space that is a good fit for you. Be warned though if you foster- you may end up with your new best friend.