dog rescue, Dogs with Issues, foster fail, fosterdogs, fostering, heartworms

A Sick Foster Dog Changes Everything

You know what they say about plans?

Okay, I think that is actually assumptions.

And maybe I was naively assuming our plan would work.

When our newest foster dog, Tito (OPH Lieutenant Howl) arrived last week, two things became instantly clear:

My kids loved him.

He needed a lot of work.

Full confession: I asked to foster Tito because I was hoping we could foster fail with him.

Upon meeting him for the second time in a decidedly different situation, I realized that might not be the best idea. I am about to launch a new book and am working furiously on my next novel that is (finally) set to release in January 2021. Our lives are packed full (as is our house).

Adopting a dog that needs an immense amount of training and care at this point in my life is not just unwise, it borders on crazy.


The kids scoffed at all my excuses, so I left Tito in their care and headed to our cabin in Virginia with Fanny to hike, catch my breath, celebrate my birthday with friends, and get ready for the crazy that comes with releasing a new book.

My plan was this—the kids could have Tito to themselves for five days. They could experience what it’s like to care for a dog who has not lived indoors or walked nicely on a leash, has only one setting (full ON) and obsesses over food, and then maybe they would see my point of view.

Tito with bone puppy face
photo by Ian Achterberg

Or not.

Or maybe they would make some headway on Tito’s training. Either way, I win, right?

The plan was for Nick to bring Tito to the cabin on Thursday and we would introduce him to Fanny and see how he handled living in such tight quarters. If he is to be our dog, this is his future.

That would leave us with just a few more days to make this HUGE decision. I could only ask OPH to keep him on hold for us for a week and then we’d either have to commit to him or let them offer him to the long list of waiting adopters searching for a dog.

No pressure.


The kids texted me pictures of Tito playing with a soccer ball, lounging on the couch, hanging out in the kitchen. Nick also reported on the accidents in the kitchen and in the crate.


On Wednesday morning, Nick called to say that Tito wasn’t himself. He wasn’t interested in going out or eating his breakfast. He was lying in his crate moaning. He and Ian took his temperature – 103.5. Not good.

Tracy, OPH’s medical coordinator scrambled to try to find a vet who would see him. No one had any openings. She called every OPH vet she could find in the area. It was looking like I would have to send Ian to the Animal ER with Tito, where I knew they would sit for hours since Tito was not bleeding. I’d gone to that same ER with Daisy B when she was running a temperature well over 105 and was pregnant and we’d waited for hours and in the end gotten no real treatment.

I asked Nick to contact our neighbor, Chris, who is a vet. I try very hard not to take advantage of Chris, only calling him when we are in desperate straights. Which we were. Nick texted Chris and told him about Tito’s situation. Chris text right back. Bring him over in 15 minutes.

Friends, people. They are important in life and in rescue.

By the time Chris examined Tito, his fever was 105. He ran tests and prescribed an antibiotic. While the tests didn’t tell us what was causing the lethargy and fever, they did tell us something important—Tito is heartworm positive.

He tested negative prior to coming to OPH, but that doesn’t always mean a dog is truly negative because the worms could be in a different stage and only emerge in a detectable stage later (sometimes up to seven months after they were infected).

Or, if after they tested negative, they were housed in a shelter or rescue that does not administer heartworm preventative, they could contract heartworms at the shelter or in transport before arriving with OPH. (That wasn’t the case with Tito though because the rescue we pulled him from does give heartworm preventative.)

It wasn’t a false positive, because Chris looked at the blood sample under a microscope trying to sort out the current problem and saw the tiny microfilaria that indicate he is indeed heartworm positive.


Instead of Tito coming to the cabin on Thursday as planned, I went home to help care for him. Tito’s fever and lethargy continued, and he began to have blood in his stools, so Chris added a second antibiotic and finally on Sunday, his fever broke and Monday there was no longer blood in his stools.


It took three more days to resolve the gastro issues. But this morning he is back to full Tito-speed, barreling around our kitchen, joyfully greeting all people and animals that venture near, and shredding the newspaper left within his reach.

As of yet, he hasn’t met Fanny other than a lot of smooching through the gate. We wanted him to be feeling 100% before they have their first real romp. And, since we now have an entire month while we treat his heartworm to figure out if he is a fit, there is no rush. This decision is mostly up to Fanny, anyway.

I hope that whether he stays or goes, this month will also give us time to work on manners. He is a bright and eager guy who really wants to please. His house training has begun to gain traction and he is making progress on the leash. He understands he shouldn’t jump on people in greeting, but sometimes he can’t contain his joy. Tito is a work in process. Aren’t we all?

I suppose I should have known my plans would be sideswiped. This entire year has been that way. (Not that I’m taking the pandemic personally!)

Stay tuned—I’m sure you will ge to know Tito quite well in the coming month!


Thanks for reading!


If you’d like regular updates of all my foster dogs past and present, plus occasional dog care/training tips from OPH training, be sure to join the Facebook group, Another Good Dog.

100 dogs coverFor information on me, my writing, and books, visit I have a new book, One Hundred Dogs and Counting: One  Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues, coming out in July. If it sounds like something you’d like to read, I’d be beyond grateful if you’d consider preordering it. Preorders contribute to the success of the book, not only giving me and my publisher some peace of mind but hopefully attracting media attention.

And if you’d like to know where all these dogs come from and how you can help solve the crisis of too many unwanted dogs in our shelters, visit

Our family fosters through the all-breed rescue, Operation Paws for Homes, a network of foster homes in Virginia, Maryland, D.C., and south-central PA.

Another Good Dog coverIf you can’t get enough foster dog stories, check out my book: Another Good Dog: One Family and Fifty Foster Dogs . It’s available anywhere books are sold.

I love to hear from readers and dog-hearted people! Email me at

13 thoughts on “A Sick Foster Dog Changes Everything”

  1. It is so great your family is fostering him. Someone with less experience might have thought he was resting after wearing himself out.

    Was his illness connected to the heart worm? Microfilaria is the early stage, yes?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We don’t know if his sickness is connected to the heartworm, but it could be. It’s actually a blessing that he got sick – otherwise his heartworm (which is early stage) might not have been detected until he had another test usually given yearly next spring.


  2. Tito is a handsome guy and is very photogenic! Hope Fanny enjoys her new playmate. Tito looks like he can withstand the endless romps. Time will tell. Guess that’s what the doctor ordered too…time. By way I did preorder your book. 😃

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Time is exactly what we need and while I’m not glad he has heartworm, I am glad for the additional time with him to sort this out. (and THANKS for preordering – it really does help the book’s success!)


  3. Sorry that things got to this point, but I know you’ll do your best to help him get better. The once wild dog my mom agreed to take in in 2005 had heartworm too, and once his treatments were over and the worms were gone, he was a lot more energetic than he initially was. Looking forward to reading more about him. And good luck with getting your newest novel ready for next year’s release.


  4. I’m so sorry about the heart worms! That’s exactly what happened to our dog, Finn. He had tested negative for heart worms twice, but then a year later he tested positive at his annual check up. Since he’d been with us that whole time and on heart-worm preventative that whole time, we knew it wasn’t a new infection. But the vet said that in the very early stages, the tests can come back negative. So that’s what must have happened. The good news is that Finn is done with his injections and has only a few more weeks of exercise restrictions. I hope Tito’s treatment goes well too!

    Liked by 1 person

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