I’m wrung out. Physically, emotionally, mentally…. just done. The last week was a whirlwind of activity and stress in my life – both good and bad.
My second novel released; my daughter competed in the County Distinguished Young Women program; my oldest returned from his first year in college; my youngest sustained a concussion in a soccer game; I received some tough news; Mother’s Day happened; five puppies were adopted; the dog warden was rumored to be stopping by for an inspection; and, perhaps the hardest part of the week – it was gray, rainy, and cold EVERY DAY. Gray days get to me. They make it very hard to slap on a smile and put up with the daily messes and stresses.
But, I’m grateful for the sunshine on Sunday and grateful that I still have four puppies to snuggle. In fact, despite their messes, having the puppies around during this stressful week made all the difference. They got me through. Schuyler helped some days, but she was definitely picking up on my stress level and her chewing went in to overtime – she destroyed my sandals, assorted plastic containers (left on the counter), and Ian’s football.
Still, this week has underlined what I already know – the presence of animals is critical for my survival. How about you?
Maybe you’ve thought about fostering but aren’t sure you’re ready. Let me tell you something – you’re never ready. None of us are.
Luckily, the dogs are pretty understanding and more than patient with us. We offer them stability, food, safe shelter, medical treatment, and most of all – love. That’s five things they may have never experienced in their lives.
And here’s what they offer in return –
- Unconditional and many times overly enthusiastic love. And this can’t be overstated. Time and again, I’ve been overwhelmed by the affection and devotion my foster dogs shower on me often within hours of their arrival. It does seem they are grateful even if the experts might dispute that dogs understand the concept of gratitude.
- A chance to make a difference not only in a dog’s life, but in the lives of its adopters. Helping people is healing. I’ve discovered that when I am most down, the quickest way to get happy is to focus on others. Fostering dogs offers plenty of opportunity to touch the lives of others – both canine and human.
- Exercise! There have been more than a few mornings, this winter in particular, when I didn’t want to go for a walk or run, but many of those days I had a foster dog in residence who needed a walk or run. Fostering could very well be an excellent fitness plan for anyone.
- Entertainment! Welcoming new dogs into your home on a regular basis means you’ll have a steady stream of entertainment. The antics, quirks, silliness, and fun vary with every dog. It’s also been one of the few things our family can do together. While some members are more enthusiastic than others, I’m pretty sure they’re all glad we do it – even my daughter who doesn’t always appreciate their messy affections.
- A whole new network of friends who quickly become like family. Other OPHers who also foster or volunteer are quick to reach out with help and support whether it’s showing up to help you give your first vaccine, drop off additional supplies, offer suggestions for how to handle housetraining issues, or simply cheer you on. Being welcomed into the OPH family is a huge benefit I never considered when I was making my decision to foster, but it’s probably one of the reasons I can’t ever imagine quitting.
I can hear you now, coming up with all your excuses, so let me address a few of the most common-
1)I don’t know what I’m doing. True, you don’t. But you’ll learn soon enough. I was pretty nervous about giving vaccines to my first puppies. And I wondered, how can this organization simply tell me to watch a youtube video, hand me the syringe and expect me to stick it into a squirming puppy? To be fair, I’m sure if I’d said, “Hey, needles make me squeamish- I can’t do this,” someone would have shown up on my doorstep and done it for me. But I was the one who chose to do puppies. I could have stuck with dogs and avoided the needles all together.
Watching the video and then putting on my big-girl panties and actually giving the vaccines turned out to be no big deal. I COULD do it. This past weekend, I gave ten shots (all the puppies plus Schuyler), ten bordatella intranasal vaccines, and ten heartworm pills. My husband helped hold the puppies and we did all of that in about 15 minutes. No biggie, piggie (as my dear friend Lisa says).
OPH has more resources – both on paper, online, and in person, plus conference calls and near-constant online support – than anyone could possibly need. No, you may not know what you’re doing, but OPH does and you will too, soon enough.
2)What if I get a difficult dog? OPH does a pretty good job of screening dogs and doesn’t knowingly bring in aggressive dogs. That said, if you foster enough dogs you’re going to run into an issue eventually. We’ve fostered 43 dogs (holy moly and that’s in barely 15 months!), and with no exceptions I could have easily kept every one of them.
Carla couldn’t stay off the beds and John Coffey escaped a time or two. But other than the damage to the living room carpet before we installed a baby gate to keep new fosters in the kitchen until they’ve earned their house privileges, our home is more or less unscathed. I can’t say the same for too many pairs of shoes and personal items that were not put away where they belong and there is not a stuffed animal left stuffed anywhere in the house.
I know that more challenging dogs are on our horizon, but I also know that this organization will not abandon me or any dog, so I am ready.
3)I might get stuck with a dog long term. We’ve been more than amazed that all of our dogs have been adopted pretty quickly. Carla stayed the longest (4 months), but she was a tough placement since she was a five-year-old, 75-pound coonhound with a quirky personality. (We all still miss Carla.) Our shortest foster was Tweety, who stayed with us just barely 24 hours. I picked her up from boarding one day and she was gone the next.
So, no, you won’t get stuck with a dog unless you choose to foster-fail and that will all be on you. I’ve learned it’s a very common thing amongst OPH fosters. So far, we are resisting, but it is a conscious decision every single time. We came oh-so-close to keeping Frank, but in the end he got a great forever family and I get regular updates of his happiness.
4)It will cost money. I will tell you that it won’t, but then it might. We’ve spent plenty of our own money, but we’ve done so willingly. Nearly everything we need is supplied through OPH and donations, but sometimes it’s just easier to go grab a few items ourselves. Mostly I remember to save receipts for the tax write-off, but in the end, sure, we spend some money. But who doesn’t spend money on something they love?
5)I work full-time and the dog will be alone all day. I’m lucky because I work from home and many of my fosters can hang out with me as I work. Their company is welcome. But I know plenty of people who foster through OPH and crate their foster dog during the hours they are away.
At first I thought – poor dogs, but then it was pointed out to me that dogs sleep 20 hours or more a day. (This must be where the term ‘lucky dog’ comes from!) My personal dog chooses to spend a good portion of time every day in her crate.
We never close her in unless someone is visiting (she is still learning how to NOT jump on the people she likes and NOT bite the people she’s afraid of), and still she chooses to sleep in her open crate probably pretty close to 20 hours a day. So, no, working full-time out of the house doesn’t mean you can’t foster dogs.
Ready to get involved? Fostering is a great gig. It’s such a privilege to be part of the journey of these amazing dogs. There are quite literally hundreds of dogs headed our way this summer. Consider opening your home and your heart to a foster dog. It’s awesome, messy, fun, and occasionally stressful, but the bottom line is you will get so much more than you will ever give.
Click here to get more information or apply to foster.