Fostering dogs from shelters, as a way to get them into a home setting while they wait for their forever family, used to be a rare occurrence. Many years ago I remember hearing about a shelter whose policies prevented workers and volunteers from taking dogs or cats home with them, even for brief periods. The most common exception in times past were pregnant bitches, who could be taken home to whelp in the comforts of someone’s back room.
Now, of course, fostering dogs is a common practice, and yeah for that. Even the best of shelters is not an ideal environment for many dogs, and is downright destructive to some. However, (there is always a however, isn’t there?), the multitude of foster opportunities means there is a vast range of knowledge and ability of people and organizations doing the fostering. I’ve met foster caretakers who were brilliant dog handlers, and I’ve met well-intentioned people who knew so little about dogs that I feared for everyone’s safety, both two and four-legged. Mostly I’ve found that foster homes are full of wonderful, hard working people who are well motivated, have a moderate amount of knowledge about dog behavior, but are always in need of all the help that they can get. That’s why I’m so happy to see a new book by Pat Miller on fostering, How to Foster Dogs: From Homeless to Homeward Bound.
The book is full of useful nuggets of information, here’s a sampling:
*** A comprehensive list of what to ask the foster organization you’re considering pairing with (ex: whose insurance pays for a dog bite if the dog your fostering goes after the delivery person?). This section is vital, be sure to read it before starting with an established foster program.
*** A short but oh-s0-important section on the importance of taking care of yourself and your own dogs first. I’ve seen way too many fosters who are exhausted and overwhelmed to not beg people to be thoughtful about whether to take in “just one more dog.” As importantly, what about the effect on your own dogs? I well remember taking in a troubled Border Collie for several months while I worked to keep him alive (His name was Blaze, you can read more about him in For the Love of a Dog.). I had four of my own dogs at the time, and they were absolutely paw-perfect with Blaze, but it took a toll on them, and when our visitor left I think the very house we lived in sighed with relief. Pat writes that she’s met with numerous clients whose dogs developed serious behavioral issues after foster dogs flowed through the house like a river overflowing its banks. Neither of us are saying “don’t foster,” not at all. We are saying, “First things first,” and “first” needs to be you, your family and your family of resident dogs.
*** A solid section on the the logistics of bringing the new dog into your home. No matter how often you’ve done it, it never hurts to review the basics here, from preparing the house (an oft-overlooked task in my experience) to introducing the dogs. The latter, dog-dog introductions, can be so complex and variable that it is impossible teach someone how to do them correctly in a book, but this is a good start. Some other resources are the ASPCA Pro webinar on Introducing Dogs, and one I just did recently for them, Multi-Dog Households (soon to be available as a recording, go to ASPCA Pro Webinars for more information.
*** A large part of the book relates to “Care, Behavior and Training,” and problem solving, most of which is good advice, but not necessarily specific to a foster dog. There are good sections on fearful behavior and separation isolation, problems that appear to occur more often with foster dogs than others and without question deserve their own discussion.
*** The book ends with a short but compelling chapter, “It’s Okay to Cry,” about the day your foster dog leaves your home and goes to his or her “forever” home. It’s beautifully written and is sure to bring a tear to the eyes of some.
*** I wish…. The last section, compelling as it is, begs for another scenario, the one in which your foster dog goes off to a new home…. and then comes back. We all know it happens often, and it’s hard, Just plain hard, no way around it. Pat does briefly discuss the “worst case scenario” in which a dog has to be euthanized, but in my experience one of the toughest things for fosters to deal with is a dog who just can’t quite seem to settle into a permanent home, but isn’t the right dog for them to adopt themselves. That’s a tough situation for everyone, and not uncommon I’m afraid.
What about you? Have you fostered a dog, either as an official representative of an organization, or casually because a dear friend desperately needed someone to take on a dog until it could find a new home? I’d love to hear about your experiences, I’m sure we could all learn a lot from them. But I’d especially like to ask foster families one question: What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first began to foster dogs? I look forward to your answers.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: We’re not doing any fostering right now, but I am trying to get qualified to be a volunteer at the American Family Children’s Hospital with Tootsie in the Pet Pals program. Tootsie passed with flying colors, but me…? I’m still working on it. The challenge is that so many of the children are immune compromised, and so it is essential that the volunteers aren’t bringing in any pathogens that could cause havoc among a vulnerable population of children. And so, after a mandatory evening program about volunteering at the hospital, I began filling out the required health form. Have you had a flu shot? Well, I hadn’t, I don’t usually, but okay, got one. Check. Next: “Please provide exact dates and proof of vaccination for measles (both red and German), mumps and chicken pox.” Exact dates? I’m 65 and my chance of finding accurate records of vaccinations from 58 years ago are, uh, small. So I got a blood titer test, waited for results, and discovered that I’m immune to all but red measles. I suspect no one even knew about ‘red measles’ in the 50′s, and so I was probably not vaccinated for it.
“Can I get vaccinated just for red measles?” Nope, it comes in a one-size-fits-all package. So soon after the flu shot I got vaccinated for 4 different diseases. Next question: “Provide dates for two TB tests, each one administered and then read about 48 hours later, done within the last three months.” Okay, I drive in and get a TB skin test, drive into town again and get it read. Negative. Great. Now I drive back into town with my health form and vaccination proofs, to turn in my form, get a second TB test and schedule an interview.
“Oh dear. You can’t have the TB test within a month of the MMRV vaccination,” said the woman at the office. Oh. I’d had the first test (and MMRV) done at my own clinic, and they’d never heard you had to separate the 2 by 30 days. Okay, so first TB no longer valid, need two more. Given that all these tests result in stimulating the immune system, I was reluctant to have yet another set of immune challenges. When I asked, I discovered that one can have a TB test through a blood draw, so back I went to the clinic to have that done. Still waiting on the results. Whew. What happens then when I finally get to the interview and they discover I was a Go Go girl for one poorly considered evening when I was 18? Will I be tossed out on my ear? Stay tuned for the next exciting episode of “Trisha and the Great Volunteer Adventure.”
It was a gorgeous weekend at the farm, after a nasty ice storm on Friday night. I’ll just leave it that our car appeared to be the only one that made it over the steep hill a quarter of a mile before the farm, at least judging by the car in the ditch and the 5 other cars parked on the side of the ice skating rink-like road. So we made it home from a movie and got to enjoy the warm weather (3o’s!) on Saturday. The sun even came out on Sunday, and I got to go outside and play with my camera. Polly thought she’d accommodate me: