I’ve tried. Hard. For the sake of my family and our new home and the holidays and my husband’s patience.
I’ve tried not to foster.
The plan we made (and I agreed on) was once we were settled in our new house, put up a dog fence, and renovated the cottage, then I would start fostering again.
So, we’re here. Mostly settled.
And the dog fence went in last week.
The cottage is still without any heat or AC. It’s missing part of the kitchen ceiling (it fell in), the doors work but cannot be locked. It’s worn out and ugly, but clean thanks to the scouring I gave it before Thanksgiving so we could put guests out there.
Two out of three isn’t bad, is it?
Moose moved in on Friday. He isn’t an official foster; he’s just here for evaluation. And help.
I met Moose a week ago. I’ve been hearing about him from a local woman who invited me to speak at our Rotary Club. Moose is the fallout left from a messy divorce.
His primary person moved out and left him in the home. His current owner struggled to manage a large dog with very few manners. She worked long hours, leaving Moose home alone. The family called the shelter and were told that if they surrendered Moose to the shelter, he would be euthanized. So, for months Moose spent his days on the couch, going outside in a small yard, kept in by an invisible fence.
That should tell you something about this big boy right there. Having only housed him for five days, I’m amazed and not amazed that an invisible fence could keep this 95-pound creature contained.
Let me tell you about Moose. He needs to lose about 25-30 pounds. He is shorter than my dog Otis, who weighs 68 pounds. The excess weight means that he pants whenever he exerts himself in any way – walking around the cottage, trotting across his little fenced paddock, and any time he gets excited (like when Ian, Nick or I arrive to feed, walk, or visit with him.
Moose is a lot of dog. So we are not just putting him on a diet plan (exercise plan will begin once I teach him to walk on a leash and not simply haul me from place to place), we are also working on de-stressing him.
When he arrived, he was naturally VERY stressed. New people (still not his person), new place, new smells, new sounds, and oh, buddy, now you get to stay in a crate (not on a couch).
We immediately started a shut-down period for him. Shut-downs are something I learned fostering for Operation Paws for Homes. When we brought home a new foster, we kept their world as small as possible so they could basically reset after the stress of a shelter and transport.
In a shut-down, the dog is kept in a crate or on a leash or in a confined space. Quiet, no new people/dogs, no excitement, no serious training, just structured days and rest. It works wonders, allowing a dog to truly relax and learn he can depend on a human to care for him – feeding him, walking him, loving him. A shut-down can be two days or two weeks. Whatever the dog needs. For Moose, it’s going to be two weeks. But the magic is already working and in less than a week, he is a new dog.
When he arrived, he overreacted to every touch – jumping and then turning to lavish his gratefulness on you in the form of sloppy kisses and dog hugs (nudging or leaning into you). He was stressed out and pacing, panting, drooling, moving from chew toy to chew toy, looking out the windows at every sound.
I am no expert or dog-trainer, so I’m simply trying a few things when I’m with him. I’ve discovered that Moose calms to classical music. After two days of pacing and stressing, he finally sat down and then lay down beside me. Three or four times a day, I simply sit with him in his room and play classical music and read books on my phone, petting him whenever he stops his pacing to visit me. For the first few days he paced for a while, stopped next to me for pets, paced again. Then he would pick up a chew toy and frantically work it.
Yesterday, though, he lay down beside me with no toy and let out an enormous sigh. That sigh spoke volumes. He lay there while I stroked his back for a while and then he calmly got up and went into his crate and lay down.
This was a huge break through. HUGE.
I thought Moose didn’t like his crate because I had to lure him in it the first few days. Unlike some other resistant fosters, with his size, there was no ‘putting’ him in the crate if he didn’t want to go. Once in, I gave him a few small treats and lots of praise and petting, but no matter what after I left, he would sing his sad song. The length of that song has shortened every day, but he still sings.
After only two days, he began going into his crate voluntarily to relax. This makes it clear that it’s not the crate, it’s the being left alone. He hates it. And that breaks my heart because this dog has been alone for months.
Moose is a project. Sure, I’d love for an adopter to step up, but for now, I will keep helping him learn to feel safe by himself, and to know that his needs will be met. He’ll get attention and affection, chew toys, and opportunities to play in the grass, and sniff to his heart’s content. We will get some excess weight off of him with a healthy diet, vitamins, probiotics, and eventually exercise.
Moose has a lot going for him – he’s a gentle giant for one, very affectionate, and eager to please. He is easy to train and quite smart. He’s got a rock-star solid ‘sit’, a decent ‘down’, is already mastering ‘stay’, learned to sit by the door to go out and to wait calmly until I open it and invite him outside. I’ve been introducing a head collar harness to him and he’s doing really well with it. I can point to the crate and he goes right in, turns around and waits for the treat he knows is coming.
Now that I know him better, I’m not surprised that he was intimidated enough by an invisible fence to not cross it (although I don’t recommend them for any dogs). Moose deserves the happiest of lives which for him would mean a person or family of his own, a nice chew toy, and regular attention.
If you or anyone you know is interested in adopting this sweet guy, please reach out to me directly. He is also available for foster-to-adopt, as we want to be sure the next home he lands in is his forever home.
Until Each One Has a Home,
For information on me, my writing, and books, visit CaraWrites.com.
If you’d like regular updates of all our foster dogs past and present, plus occasional dog care/training tips, and occasional foster cat updates (!) be sure to join the Facebook group, Another Good Dog.
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 WhoWillLetTheDogsOut.org and subscribe to our blog where we share stories of our travels to shelters, rescues, and dog pounds.
If you can’t get enough foster dog stories, check out my book: Another Good Dog: One Family and Fifty Foster Dogs. Or its follow up that takes you to the shelters in the south One Hundred Dogs & Counting: One Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey Into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues.
I love to hear from readers and dog-hearted people! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.