Friday, December 3, 2010

My First Foster

     Fostering rescue dogs is one of the best decisions I have ever made.  The woman who runs our local Schnauzer Rescue is a wonderful, caring person who truly loves helping dogs.  When I first expressed my interest in fostering, she interviewed me extensively, with caution, to make sure I would be a fit and caring foster mother.  After learning the important do’s and don’ts of fostering a dog, I waited patiently for my first dog.  I prepared a nice crate and made sure everything was in order to receive a dog.  As I waited for my first rescue, I daydreamed about what the dog I’d be getting would need; food, water, patting, kind words.  You know, the usual things you would think of to be a good doggy foster mom.  I also prepared my dogs for a newcomer.

    The call came—my first foster dog!  I was excited to start this new adventure.  It was a rush deal.  I needed to pick the dog up at her home right away.  Having received directions, I jumped in my car and drove to the address given me.  The people who were giving up their dog were nice, and this puzzled me.  Their house was immaculate; the dog was a beautiful white Miniature Schnauzer who was impeccably groomed.  It was obvious that they loved the five year old dog, and the dog loved them.  I was having a difficult time understanding why they were giving the dog up.  I listened as they explained that in this difficult economic time their son and his family would be moving in with them.  The dog, Sadie, was not use to young children.  In trying to protect her masters from rowdy children, she would growl and had even snapped at the children.  Sadie had been protective of her masters since a young dog and they had encouraged the behavior, thinking it was cute.  Now the only solution they could think of, sadly, was that Sadie had to go.  Their minds were closed to all other options I suggested.

    Being new at the job, and not knowing what I know today, I reluctantly left with Sadie.  The lady put Sadie in my car without difficulty because she loved to ride in cars and thought she was going for a ride.  As we drove to my house, Sadie began to realize something was not right, but caused no trouble.  I didn’t have any struggles getting Sadie into my home.  She jumped out of the car anxiously, looked around with her tail and head down, and followed me into the house quietly.  I wouldn’t see the happy, bouncy Sadie that I met at her previous home again for several weeks.

     I showed Sadie the family room, kitchen, washroom, water, food, and her crate.  She gladly went in the crate and lay down with her head on her paws.  The crate door was never closed, but Sadie had no desire to greet my dogs.  They, sensing this after the first initial sniffs, left her alone.  As Sadie watched our family activities the remainder of the evening, I could see that she realized she had been cast away and was in disbelief and despair.  The pain in her eyes cut through me as if I had been stabbed with a knife.  I had not daydreamed this scenario.

    Over the next few days, Sadie familiarized herself with the house and backyard.  She became acquainted with my dogs, Danny and Little Bear, and my two red point Siamese cats without incident.  My dogs tried to encourage her to play and eat, but Sadie kept to herself in the crate most of the time, crying.  Not whining, but an almost silent crying with deep sighs and soft groans.  I could see that her eyes were watery.  She ate very little; even when I tempted her with Vienna sausages (her owner had said they were her favorite treat).  Danny and Little Bear would bring her toys, to no avail.  When that didn’t work, they would lay beside the open crate with her as if to show caring and support.  Even the cats would lie on top of the crate and softly purr, trying to comfort her.  Sadie was heartbroken.

    I was pretty worried and called my vet.  She said, “I have seen behavior like this before and not to worry.  Give Sadie a week, and if she isn’t eating by then, bring her in.”  As accurate as the vet’s words were, they gave me very little comfort.  For the next few days, Sadie suffered the deep emotional loss of her beloved family.  Her love and devotion to them was almost unbearable to watch.  It made me reevaluate and have a deeper commitment to my own pets.

   Realizing that my true job (not my daydream) in fostering a dog was to help them through whatever trauma that had brought them to my home, and prepare them for a new and hopefully better forever home, I was unsure of how to go about it, so I took my lead from my own dogs.  I started to lie on the floor beside the crate with my dogs, patting and talking to Sadie.  When she would come out of the crate on her own, I would pick her up and sit in the recliner chair holding, patting and softly talking to her.  Each day she would come out of the crate more, and by the end of two weeks she was eating and jumping up on my lap for her pats and loving.  Over the next few weeks, her crying during the day stopped as she became involved in our family activities.  She started playing happily with Danny and Little Bear in the yard.  She would follow me around the house.  By all outward signs, she appeared to be making a good transition to her new life, but at night I could still hear her soft sighs and groans of crying.

    Sadie stayed with us for a couple months until the lady from the Schnauzer Rescue found her the perfect forever home.  Having Sadie brought a whole new reality to my world.  My dogs were always happy.  They have been safe, well protected, their trust in me never broken, and had never faced any hardships or heartbreaks.  I had viewed dogs’ and cats’ lives through my pets’ eyes.  Oh, yes, I have read or heard on T.V., or had people tell me sad stories about animal abuse, but never imagined that a dog or cat, or any animal, could feel such emotional pain and sadness.  The reality that they do suffer such pain like that opened my eyes.  Yes, I understood the physical pain and suffering from cruelty inflicted on them from abuse, starvation and injury, but I had not truly realized the depth of their ability to have feelings and go through emotions as humans do.  They can’t express it in a language like humans; therefore to many humans, it must not exist.  I now know this is not true, it does exist.

    I have heard that dogs live in the moment, and I believe that is true.  They have a far greater ability to accept their circumstances and go on with life than humans, because they are pets and have no other choice.  We humans control their destiny and they know it.  They have to accept life’s course of events and move on, but that does not mean they don’t feel deep sadness and emotional pain.  It only means that their question of “WHY” is never answered.

     As for Sadie, each day at my home she slowly adjusted to her new life and grew to accept her fate.  After many weeks, I saw the bouncy, happy Sadie that I had met the night I picked her up return.  Yet, there was always a hint of sadness in her eyes that had not been there before.  I believe she will always remember her first home and wonder why they let her go, but, fortunately for Sadie, she has a wonderful loving forever home that she is very happy in.  Over the years with her new family, the sadness has left her eyes.  Her new family helped her overcome her bad habits and she now loves and greets children happily.  They state that, with doggy obedience training, Sadie has become the perfect pet.

     I have had many little rescues since Sadie.  The joy and love that each of them has brought to my life is unexplainable.  It is always hard to let them go on to their forever homes, but when they come to you sad, broken-hearted dogs and leave as happy, playful dogs to their forever homes, it’s such a great feeling.  My volunteering friend sent me on a journey that has truly been a blessing.  Fostering rescue dogs has given me a greater depth of understanding the true meanings of unconditional love, loyalty, responsibility, and trust.