If you follow my other blog (about my writing life), you know that lately I’ve been reading extensively about the craft of writing. One thing I hear again and again is that the protagonist (main character) must undergo change for the story to have an arc, purpose, hold the reader’s interest, etc.
For the past nine months, I’ve been working on a memoir about fostering. I keep reworking and tweaking it, while I wait on word from several agents considering it. I’ve been trying to pin down how fostering has really changed me. What kind of transformation have I undergone through the fostering of well over fifty dogs?
Aside from the entire new set of friends and plentiful writing material I’ve gained from fostering and all the nice people I’ve met via this blog, how is my life different as a result of fostering?
I used to think that ‘dog people’ much like ‘horse people’ were slightly askew (that’s my polite way of saying nuts). I can’t say that by getting to know so many of them, that observation has changed, but then again, as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that most of the really interesting people in this world are a little nuts.
Every morning, after I’ve taken care of the assorted critters and made my first cup of tea, I open the paper and read the obituaries. I find them fascinating – the pictures, the lists of hobbies, and the mystery of how each person died (it’s rare that the paper just comes out and says it). In a weird way I feel like I’m honoring these people, almost all of whom are strangers to me, by reading about their lives and who they’ve left behind.
For many years, I would cringe each time I read, “In lieu of flowers, please sent contributions to the SPCA.” If you’re not a regular reader of the obituaries, let me just tell you that easily 50% of the notices each day designate the SPCA as the recipient of any memorial gifts.
The York SPCA is huge— a brand new, gorgeous building that appears well-staffed. I’d love to take a look at their budget and see what portion of it comes from memorial gifts. But I digress and besides, that’s not the point I was getting at with this post.
For many years, I’ve scoffed at the notion of people giving so much money to help animals when there are so many real problems in this world. It seemed crazy.
But the deeper I get involved in dog rescue and the more I learn, I’ve come to realize that while this problem is HUGE and at times overwhelming, it’s a problem people feel they can understand, maybe even address in some small way. It’s real. Saving a dog from death—that’s visible. It feels good.
The bigger problems in this world – and, oh my gosh, there are many—seem insurmountable. For years I was involved in local politics and issues. I wrote a little column for the paper whenever I was fired up and had an opinion to push – charter schools, local elections, irresponsible growth, etc. I was a PTO president and served on our local political committees, working the polls, knocking on doors, carting voter registration cards around with me at all times.
I found myself sad and frustrated by all my efforts again and again. Disappointed in people, politics, and what I saw as hateful attitudes, outright stupidity, and unfair policies, I finally realized that all I was doing was expending my own emotional effort and precious time on issues and people and problems that I had no hope of changing.
So, I pulled back. I escaped into my fiction writing—a much more controllable world. And then, after the loss of my dog Lucy and the subsequent fruitless search for a dog to replace her, I stumbled into fostering.
In the beginning, I thought we’d just foster until we found our dog, but then I learned about the problem of dog overpopulation, neglect, and abuse. I learned just how many dogs were being euthanized in this country (over 1.5 million). I got to know these amazingly heroic (and yes, nutso) people who were trying to save as many dogs as possible and realized that this was a problem that spoke to my heart. This was an issue that was real and one that I could have an impact on—through fostering, yes, but also through writing about it.
The people that I’ve met, the nutso dog people– the other fosters, volunteers, shelter workers, and adopter after adopter who made their way up my driveway, are people whose paths I might otherwise never cross. I’m quite certain that many of them hold very different political viewpoints than I do. We most likely don’t agree about gun control, funding education, abortion rights, the environment, or international business. We may have very different religious views, shop in different stores, eat at different restaurants, and enjoy completely different forms of entertainment.
And yet, we have one thing in common—we love dogs. Through this joint passion, we connect. We offer our respect, our stories, our mutual admiration for the canine in question.
And you know what?
I’ve liked pretty much every one of them. (I didn’t really like the one guy who ended up returning the puppy he adopted six days later, but pretty much every one else—I liked them just fine.)
It makes me wonder if we all focused on something we have in common—like our commitment to rescue dogs—if we couldn’t build a foundation for friendship that might be strong enough to allow us to hear each other on other issues.
So many of the big problems in this world seem far beyond my influence. This year’s election only underscored how tiny my one vote and one voice are, but dog rescue? I can do that. This is a problem I can deal with. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so hasty to ditch my soapbox.
And now, with this memoir that I’m trying to pull together, I have a mouthpiece to share our fostering experience in the hopes that other people will get involved – by fostering, by helping to raise awareness of the problem itself, by volunteering, by adopting rescue dogs, and yes, by donating their money.
Will my obituary direct people to give memorial gifts to dog rescue? That remains to be seen (especially since that’s one piece of writing I will be unlikely to write), but I hope my life can direct people to give some of themselves and their resources to solve this solvable problem. I hope that someday there will be no need for dog rescue. I hope we will all have to find a breeder to buy our next dog because there are no shelters and no homeless dogs.
Have I changed?
Why, yes, I believe I have.
I’m no longer a frustrated former-activist who is skeptical of strangers who hold different opinions than me.
No, now I’m one of those crazy dog people.
Fruitcake Update: Fruitcake, our swimmer puppy syndrome puppy, is walking on his own just fine on the tacky yoga mat surface in the puppy pen. He’s tackling his siblings and even running. His feet still slip sideways out from under him on the tile floor, but he’s getting stronger every day and I have no doubt that in a few weeks he’ll be careening his happy puppy self about on every surface he encounters. Thanks again, to everyone who stopped by to help with his therapy or just love on him. I’m certain that’s why he has progressed so quickly.
If you’d like regular updates of foster dogs past and present, be sure to join the Another Good Dog facebook group. If you’d like to check out any of my other writing, I’d be honored if you’d stopped by my website, CaraWrites.com.
Some of my favorite pictures of our current pups (who are now live on the OPH website looking for adopters!) –