By Kathy Callahan, CPDT-KA
Alexandria, VA – It’s 2020, and it’s not a stretch to say we could all use a little more of these two things:
● Everyday joy.
● Evidence of good in the world.
Might I suggest fostering a rescue dog? It may seem small at first, but small steamrolls. Trust me – our family is on foster pup #175, and my book about those adventures just got published*. Not only is fostering fun, it’s addictive.
Of course, bringing any dog into your house right now adds a welcome dose of life, companionship, and comfort. (Hello, “pandemic pup” phenomenon.) However, when that dog is a foster, there is a deeply satisfying extra layer on top. With each seemingly insignificant interaction – a treat, a cuddle, a walk – you’re helping a fellow soul who’s down on his luck. Day after day, those moments add up. The dog starts to blossom, and you start to feel oddly joyful.
Soon enough, the right adopter magically shows up. Three days later they are texting you amazing photos of your now-so-confident foster dog happily draped across two smiling kids. The people keep thanking you, and telling you this feels like it was meant to be, that it was just what their family needed.
Do this enough, and you begin to feel a shift in perspective, an everyday grounding in good. Somehow, amid all of the troubles in this world, the tiny act of taking in a dog manages to be amazingly powerful.
What Is Fostering?
Fostering is a critical piece in the rescue dog puzzle. At any given moment, there are thousands of perfectly adoptable dogs trapped in rural shelters. They have virtually no hope of finding a home unless a rescue group brings them to a more populated area – but that can only happen if there is a place for the dog to go. Foster homes offer a comfortable landing spot until the rescue group can find the right forever home.
As one of the few things in life that’s actually easier and more fun in a quarantine setting, fostering has soared in popularity over the past six months. Whether it’s for a few days or several weeks, foster volunteers suddenly have an interesting, rewarding household activity on tap 24/7. If you’re one of the many now toying with the idea, here’s what to consider.
Am I a good candidate?
Asking if you’re a good candidate for fostering indicates that you’re likely a good candidate! It means you’re interested, but you take it seriously enough to know that it’s not always easy. In addition to that, a few key things always come in handy:
● Some basic dog experience
● Keen observational skills
● A love of problem-solving
● Tolerance for a bit of disorder
There’s a good doggy fit for almost any situation. Sharing your couch with a friendly house-broken beagle is very different from playing with two darling-but-peeing puppies in your kitchen, or rehabbing a resource-guarding shepherd. Wehave wonderful rescue groups in our aea, and you can lean on them to guide you to the best experience for your household.
What kind of dogs are the easiest to foster?
Hands-down, my suggestion for a first-timer is to take a smaller dog who’s just been given up by an owner for a non-behavioral reason, like allergies. In that case, you’ll have a manageable, house-broken dog who’s used to living in a home. You’ll have plenty of info on whether the dog is good with kids, other dogs, cats, or whatever might matter in your home. Odds are you can just pop them right into your house and enjoy them.
Fostering puppies can also be an ideal introduction to the whole shebang. I’d suggest that first timers offer to foster a pair of littermates who are about 8 weeks old. They’ll be darling, happily containable in a pen, and amused by each other. They get adopted very quickly at this age, so your stint would likely be just a week or so.
How do you find homes for them?
Some potential fosters fear that they’ll be stuck with a dog forever because they have no idea how to find an adopter. That won’t happen! When you foster for a rescue group or a shelter, their resources are put to use in the search for a good home. Of course, if you take great photos and videos, and you’re not shy about sharing, you’ll dramatically speed the search. (Quite possibly, your neighbor will adopt that dog!)
What about saying goodbye?
Every new foster’s biggest fear is about saying goodbye. I won’t lie: It’s not easy. But there are two things that help.
The first is staying in touch, because getting a happy update video does wonders. Years later, I sometimes get texts with a cute photo and some key line like: “We just can’t imagine life without her.” It’s a strangely intimate, unfailingly positive connection to somebody who was previously a stranger. Add a few of those together, and the world starts to feel brighter.
The second thing that helps with that goodbye? It’s when that next foster – the one who was shaking in fear in a loud shelter just days ago, waiting for a foster home to open up – is happily cuddled in your lap.
*Editor’s note: 101 Rescue Puppies: One Family’s Story of Fostering Dogs, Love, and Trust, was just published and is available wherever books are sold. Kathy Callahan is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in puppyhood coaching in Alexandria, Virginia. Learn more at www.puppypicks.com.
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