Do You Think You'd Like to Foster?
People foster animals for a lot of reasons... if you're looking for your next companion, it can be a great way to 'try on' a dog to make sure that the personalities mesh... a lot of shelters and rescue groups will allow a 'foster to adopt' agreement. I've had some tell me that they foster because of something that happened when they were younger.. so they work with animals to help work through some of that. I've had people tell me that they're looking for a 'heart dog' (that's what I call it), and so they're 'trying on' dogs until they find that perfect fit. Since I work with dogs, it was an easy decision for me to help make the dogs more adoptable by taking them in one at a time, and working with them so that they'll be a more companionable pet.
I've had dogs all my life... I've been working with dogs for over 30 years, and I haven't been without multiple pets (dogs & cats, sometimes as many as 7 dogs and 1 cat, once I had 4 rescued parrots that I fostered for over 2 years) in my home. To me, nothing feels like HOME like a dog running to greet you at the end of the day. Don't get me wrong... I adore my Hubby... we've been happily married for over 30 years. But he's not a dog. <g>
So, when Tory's health got really bad, I started to think not only about how devastating it was going to be to lose her, but also awful it was going to be, not to have a dog in my home... and what I could do about it. I wasn't ready for another friend... Tory and I spent a lot of time together, and I didn't feel like I could 'fill the hole' she left. Not yet. But I also know the power of working with a dog to help it be more adoptable... Tory was one of my rescues, and I adored her.
Fostering is helping me deal with my grief. I'm enjoying myself. I still miss the Crap out of Tory... just as I still miss Cis and Zoe, and Geezer. And Popeye. And SheenaTheBunnyDawg. Jax. Pita. And Harley, Bitser. And now Kirby, and Jinx. Eevie. All of the dogs I've loved in my life. It's never going to end. But I don't feel so hollow now that I have an outlet for it.
Whether or not to foster
Fostering is a very personal decision in one respect, because you give everything you have to making sure that the animal you're working with will be the forever pet of someone's dreams... it sounds corny, but it's not. They're not just *living* in your home (they can LIVE in the shelter)... they're learning to be a part of a unit... your family. In another respect, it's a decision that has to be made by every person in your home... because they'll provide history too, for this animal to take to their next home... so it has to be history that, at the very least, won't skew that history in a direction that might make it harder for them to love someone new. This history is what will allow this dog to be able to bond to their new home. They've probably already got that bad history from the previous home... your job, should you choose to accept it, is to give them reason to expect the best in their new home.
Taking in a dog to foster
Most of the dogs you'll meet in a shelter are dogs that no one took the time to train... they chewed on something (or several somethings)... or they peed on something (or several somethings)... or they barked too much, too often, or at the wrong time of day, or any of 100 other reasons. As a foster home for sheltered dogs, it's our job to ensure that there's nothing going on outside the norm to cause any of these issues, and if there is, to find the KEY to make it easier for the Forever Home to be able to LOOK PAST any 'shortcomings' the dog might bring to the table. If he's chewing inappropriately, maybe he's got a bad tooth bothering him... or maybe he needs some time on the umbilical leash with someone who knows how to interrupt behavior in a way that won't scar him for life. If he's peeing in the house, maybe he just doesn't know how to let someone know that he needs outside. If he's barking too much, maybe he's bored, or just never been taught how to turn it off for reinforcement. There are more ways to teach these things (and most things) than just one... and I'm not talking military-type training here, so that you end up with a robot. I'm talking about simple manners training using positive reinforcement that might take an hour a day, broken up into 5- or 10-minute sessions throughout the day. This manners training will go a long way toward easing the burden of any 'short-comings', so that the new family will be more inclined to seek help, rather than chain him out back, or return him to the shelter.
What to teach, and how to teach it
The most efficient way I've found to do this is to take the first couple of days to see what's the priority... make a list of the behaviors you think might be problematic. Then, across from that, make a list of behaviors that you'd like to see replace those problematic ones. Now, number them in order of importance. Ask me, if you don't know where to start. If you see any leanings toward aggressive displays, let the Foster Coordinator know. If it's not aggression, it's 'fixable'... look here on the website for help. If you don't find what you need, text, email, or call me. I'll help you, and so will many of the other fosters in the group.
What to feed, what treats to use
Again, the foster program that I work with defines 'what to feed'. I feed what I'm given to feed them... and I add to it, especially if the dog seems underweight. I also share food from my plate, and I actively teach all my animals (including the foster) that mannerly behavior gets rewarded -- not pushy behavior. I also use human food for the most part as reinforcement for learning (and sometimes just for being alive).
I've kept a lot of dogs over the years, that I'd started out intending to find a new home... this is what happens when you get to know them. In my case, I kept the ones that I couldn't train NOT to do those Doggy Things that got them tossed in the first place... I had a dog whose bark was like a Hot Knife in your forehead... I kept him, rather than sending him to a home where they might not know how to mitigate that kind of jubilance. (I had 6 other dogs at the time... I was used to barking -- his was WAY over the top! lol) That bark only got worse as he got older... and I adored him for his lifetime (but not because of the bark! lol) Whether or not your dog is a 'foster failure' depends on your definition of 'failure'... when a foster home KEEPS a dog that they were intending to send to a new home, they generally term it this way. It might be termed a failure because that foster home will no longer have that spot available for foster dogs in the future... but it's NOT a failure, in the dog's eyes.
If you think you'd like to try fostering a dog (or going in once a week to play with the pets), call your local shelter... I sent emails to 6 shelters before 1 answered (maybe they didn't have the time to answer, I don't know.) There are rescue groups who need foster homes, too... keep looking until you find what you need.
Meet my foster Kirby, and see what changes we wrought in only 10 days!
Meet Evie, 8 mos old coonhound/GSD mix... changes are happening quickly!