dog rescue, foster dogs, fostering, Gala, Uncategorized

When Your Best Isn’t Enough

It is possibly Gala’s last week with us.

I say possibly, because we’ve been here before. Time and again, we’ve had a plan for Gala and it has not come to fruition. My family only rolls their eyes at me when I tell them Gala is leaving on [insert fairy-tale date].

This time she is set to move to another foster home which is much, much quieter than our home. She’ll live with only one person, one cat, and no other dogs. Only one person to take direction from. Only one person to love on. Only one person to worry over. Her stress level should plummet. Maybe the worry lines on her forehead won’t be permanent.


I’ve been reading The Education of Will by Patricia McConnell. McConnell has written several excellent books on training dogs; she is an animal behaviorist and a trainer who specializes in reactive/aggressive dogs. Her newest book is different than her others, though. It’s a memoir.

The education of Will by Patricia B McConnell

She shares the story of a border collie named Will and how his fears got tangled up in her own. The book is raw in places – McConnell baring her heart and soul and painful history. Her dog is reactive and fearful and she is, too. She needs to help Will manage his fears, but in doing so, she is also forced to face her own.

As a writer, I’m impressed with her courage. It’s not easy to be that vulnerable on a page, to trust the reader with the inner workings of your heart in all it’s embarrassing, messy, and sometimes ugly truth. She weaves her own growth narrative with Will’s and it is instructional and inspiring.

As I read the book, I thought a lot about Gala.

Gala is fearful also. She watches everything happening around her. She worries about me and Nick and Ian and Addie and Brady and Gracie and Frankie and our cat. She even worries about the horses in the field and the chickens in the barn. She needs to know where all of us are and what we are doing. I think she considers it her job to take care of us. She scuttles around the house, keeping an eye on everyone.

When Gala encounters other dogs, she reacts to them as a threat. McConnell’s dog has the same problem and she methodically works through Will’s reactivity with knowledge and patience—two things I do not possess.

I grew up with dogs but have no recollection of ever having to housetrain a dog or teach it to come or sit or walk on a leash. (I’d never even picked up dog poop in a bag until I had a foster dog.) We never owned a crate, the dog just slept in the laundry room. When the dog wanted to go out, you opened the door (or if it was summer, he used the dog door). The dog roamed the neighborhood and came back when it was hungry.

When one died, we got another. Mostly, we ended up with strays or dogs someone else didn’t want anymore. I don’t remember that we ever went to the pound or the pet store, the dogs just found their way into our lives – Spot, Candy, Scamp, Meeko, and finally Fluffy (who helped me through young adulthood).

Prior to Gala, we’d had pretty straight-forward foster dogs, and a lot of puppies. Fostering didn’t seem that difficult. I had lots of questions, but there were plenty of people with answers. I made mistakes, but more or less bumbled along doing the best I could. I would never claim to be a dog expert, in fact I’d say I’m closer to the other end of the spectrum. Mostly, I’m a dog lover. I’m good at loving them, I’m not good at making them behave.

Gala adapted as best she could to our gates and rules and crates, but it did not still her soul. Instead she’s grown more anxious and more reactive to people and dogs. Despite all the love and affection we’ve poured on Gala, her fears have grown during this year with us.DSC_9624 (2)

I realize now that while we did our best we could never have helped Gala because it wasn’t us, necessarily, it was the environment. There are simply too many people, animals, activity, and frequent visitors in this house. More than her heart could manage.

She went for a test run at her new foster home and everything went well. When she returned, I saw a marked difference in her for the first few hours, she seemed like a different dog – relaxed, calm, and instead of inspecting the house, she lay down on the Frank bed for a good twenty minutes.

But then the house got busy, and she went back to work—protecting all of us, monitoring our activities, her brow wrinkled and worried. It’s only when she plays with Frankie or the two of us go for a walk around the pasture, that I see the puppy hidden inside her. She pounces and runs and smiles.

Trying to figure out what is going on inside that beautiful head of hers has consumed many hours of my life. She is a conundrum made up of biology and a history I’ll never know. No doubt her year with us has added to that history. How much of her anxiousness is nature and how much is nurture is hard to guess.

I don’t know what the future holds for Gala. I’ve already shed plenty of tears over our inability to help her find her forever home, but I’m a person who likes to learn from failure, so I’ve been thinking a lot about what she’s taught me.

She’s taught me that love is not always enough; knowledge can only take you so far, and mostly, trust your instincts.

Only a month or so after Gala arrived, I felt she should move to another home. She was too much dog for us and our home stressed her out. When another home didn’t readily appear, I didn’t push the issue. Next time, I’ll trust my instincts. Next time I won’t keep soldiering on with a dog who needs more than I can give her.

I don’t know what the purpose of Gala’s year with us was, but I’m gonna trust that someday it will be clear. She’s made me laugh and made me cry and driven me to the edge again and again. I’m done. This is my last dog. My family could tell you how many times I’ve said that.

I’m hopeful for Gala, though. I think this move is the right one. Do I wish it had happened ten months ago? Yes; but I am going on faith that this year has been necessary, if not for Gala, then perhaps for me.


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17 thoughts on “When Your Best Isn’t Enough”

  1. I am praying all goes well for the big girl. She’s a unique dog and you’ve done better than probably anyone could have done, given the circumstances.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Brave decision. I’ve had dogs over the years who soon showed me they were not for me or for my house. All of those moments were so difficult to face and, back then, there were no fostering organizations and only one place the dogs could go if I couldn’t find them homes myself.

    I think it’s a risk of rescuing dogs. The dogs I’ve raised from pups and the dogs I’ve rescued are different and their mysterious pasts are always in the background. Dusty T. Dog has been an enormous challenge and sometimes I just don’t take him with Bear and me for a walk because I need a break from the stress of the possibility we’ll run into another person with a dog. He’s made a lot of progress in his 11 years of life, but he’s still difficult.

    All the best to Gala. She’s beautiful and good and I’m sure her time with you has had good effects she’ll carry with her all her life. ❤


    1. Thanks Martha. Rescuing is a risk and I think sometimes we forget that. I guess in the back of my mind I kind of knew our time would come – we wouldn’t be able to help every dog. Kept hoping for a miracle for Gala, and I’m still holding out hope she will get one. It’ll take a special person with not just a heart for her but the right home, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m impressed with the time and energy you have put into Gala, but even more impressed with your ability to see that your household is just not the right one for her. Too often, we think if we just love a dog enough, it will be enough. But for some dogs it’s not. I hope this new placement is right for Gala….it does sound like the right environment for her!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. You didn’t do anything wrong! You had to live with her for a while to see that your home wasn’t working for her. And I think the fact that you tried so hard for so long just speaks to your dedication to helping dogs in general and to your love for Gala in particular. Plus, it is so hard to let go of the animals (and people) we love. You’ve done a terrific job with her!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I will truly miss the Gala stories but I am really happy that Gala will be happier in another foster home. I hope you still give us updates periodically as she is such a beautiful dog. I think she will grow and mature and find her forever home soon.


  5. I will miss the stories about Gala. I know the pain in your heart at letting her
    go to another foster home; but for Gala, she will not have of a lot of her fears, which will make her a happy relaxed dog being able to enjoy her life. I have a potcake that
    reminds me so much of Gala and has developed aggressive behavior and lots of fears. She is not comfortable around strangers and other dogs she doesn’t know. I have taken her to a behaviorist and
    was given a lot of insight into her fears and handling her aggression. Thanks for
    referencing this book as I will definitely read it. I’m always looking for different ways other people have handled behavior problems.

    You are such an inspiration to adopters and anyone who has a dog. Always looking forward to reading your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Cara, you know I’ve been following along on your adventures with Gala for quite some time, and I am especially moved by the post. First, I love your declaration of being great at giving love, but not at making dogs do what they should do. I would say that I share that problem, but I’m not sure I would classify it as a problem. We just want to give love! Although I understand in several foster situations there is a definite need for disciplined training, I also know that I would never be successful in that role.

    Second, I know that your heart is torn about Gala’s upcoming departure, but recognizing that your family’s environment is not a right fit for her is the best thing that you can do for Gala at this point. That poor sweetie pie needs to be able to relax and chill, but also needs to be able to have fun within safe confines (such as not getting kicked by horses multiple times because she didn’t learn the first time, lol).

    Gala, her new foster parent, and your family will all be in my thoughts as this transition is made and I truly hope you receive and share updates about sweet Gala as she settles into her new life. I personally think that the “purpose” of your time together is as simple as you gave each other love. You learned a lot, Gala- maybe not so much, lol, but overall you loved each other and I know that you will never forget her. I applaud everything you have done for and shared about Gala!


    1. I always, always, always appreciate your comments, but this one made me teary. Thank you for your warm thoughts and your wise words. It has been a very tough weekend letting Gala go and my heart is still recovering. Thank you for your kindness. And thanks so much for reading and caring.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Just read this post. Would you say that in this past year, since you wrote the post, you’ve become better at making a dog behave and follow your directions? You said that you found it easier to give them attention and have fun with them than to make them behave. Yet it sounds like you work to create and maintain clear boundaries with your dogs when they’re in your house and around you in general, be they your own dogs or ones you’re fostering. Think you’ll continue to foster for a while?


    1. Gala really tested me. There was nothing simple about that beautiful dog. It broke my heart again and again that we just couldn’t seem to give her what she needed. And yes, she definitely taught me a lot about creating and maintaining clear boundaries and rules with the foster dogs. I think I am a softie and let the dogs do more here (be on the couch, hang out in the kitchen while we’re eating) than many fosters do, but we have developed a system and it works for us. I can’t imagine ever stopping the fostering, but I do hope that someday there is no longer a need for it.


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