Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Fostering Love

Fostering shelter pets is inconvenient, in the best possible way. Since I'm currently embracing inconvenience, I figured, hey, now is as good a time as any to finally write about fostering. So here are the stories of all of my fosters. You should know, though, that these are more than foster stories. 
                                                                                                                                                              They are, all of them, love stories.

Pinto, The Pony!
Little Pinto with her
dashing new daddy
One hot summer day, three dogs ran out in front of my car. Two adults and a tiny puppy. I watched the adult dogs dash across the street, while the puppy lagged behind, nearly hit three times. I pulled over, put on my hazards, ran out into the street and scooped her up. Her mother came barreling up to me, barking; then looked at me as if to say, okay - take care of her! - before running off. I took the pup home, gave her a bath (the dirt! the fleas!), and introduced her to my husky Sofia. D took pictures of her and put them on his MySpace page.* 
Pinto & Tallulah
Big girls now!

She was cute. Really cute. I got several inquiries, and took her over to my top-pick family. They asked me how big I thought she'd get. I told them that the mother looked about 20 lbs, sort of beagle-ish. Perfect! They wanted a small dog! They named her Pinto. And she grew to be the size of a horse. (Oops.) Miraculous coda: soon after they adopted Pinto, her new family found something in the bushes: another identical puppy! They kept both big, beautiful, be-speckled girls.

My Sofia (RIP) with little Gus.
Gus & Puck - "The Boys"
In late summer 2009, there were raids on several puppy mills, and suddenly, shelters everywhere were even more over-capacity than ever. I started getting all sorts of email requests for fostering dogs. One request forwarded to me was from ARF (more on them at the end of this post). I saw the cute, tiny face of a little tri-colored puppy and thought, I can foster one little dog. I called the rescue group, connected with a woman named Kathy, and went to her home to pick up my foster pup. But when I got there, two little puppies were waiting for me: the tri-colored one (Gus) and a black-and-white one (Puck). Uh-oh. Then came the request: "So, we were hoping... well... can you please take both of the boys?"
Gus today, with his mom,
studying The Law.

We had many adventures with "the boys," including Puck's bout with Parvo (he was nursed back to health by ARF's awesome executive director, Pippa Jackson). Gus was adopted by a lovely young couple who totally fell in love with him -- and now, more than two years later, he lives with them up in Madison, Wisconsin, where, as you can see, he helps his mom study to become a lawyer. Puck stayed with me for longer, about another two months, which blew my mind because he was so stinking cute.

Baby Puck....
So. Stinking. Cute!
By now, he was also housebroken, and had stopped chewing up my phone chargers (we went through three). One of my best friends showed his picture to her sister, a great woman with a firefighter husband, two awesome kids, and an interest in the impish, loving Puck. As you can see, he's part of the family - exactly where he needed to be.

Grown-up Puck &  his gorgeous family :)

Riley / Gryf - "The Straight-A Dog"

Little "Riley"
After the boys both found homes, I was planning to take a break from fostering, but that's not what the universe had in store. I was driving home in a crazy autumn storm when I saw something small and furry run out in front of my car. I hit the brakes, put my emergency flashers on, and got out. There, waiting for me in the street as if she knew I was coming to save her, was a little Australian Shepherd-looking puppy - drenched, thin, and with a child's elastic hairband wrapped tightly around her neck, making it difficult for her to breathe. I took her home, called ARF, and was told they'd get her on their adoptable list, but had nowhere to keep her, so... I'd need to foster her.

Gryf and her boys today.

Little Riley was sweet, sweet, sweet. And luckily, I had a target for her adoption: a coworker had promised his two boys a dog, contingent on their grades: if they got As, they got a dog. He'd almost adopted Puck, since the semester was going well and Puck was, well, so stinking cute. But in the end, he held firm that Thanksgiving was the very earliest for dog-awarding. I found Riley in October. And in November, those smart boys earned their dog. They named her Gryffindor, in honor of the noble Harry Potter house, but they call her Gryf for short - 'cause, y'know, it's more feminine.

I mean, come on.
Dov (AKA The Muppet, The Bug, Show Me Your Junk Dog, Ewok, Old Man, my little heart)

Okay, I thought! I'm done! The universe cannot send me any more puppies! That's when I got suckered into fostering Dov. He wasn't a puppy. He was an old-man-lookin' muppet, who stole my heart. He was a foster for about four hours before he was just "my dog."

But I'll tell his whole sad story another day; I'm putting you through enough already. And you can rest easy knowing he gets a very happy ending ;-)

Zinnia, The Delicate Flower
Zinnia's is the story that still breaks my heart, because she is still seeking her happy-ever-after. Zinnia was a special-needs-foster: whether from abuse or being hit by a car, she had a spinal injury, and mobility issues. She was shaky on her feet, and frequently fell. Her head tipped to the side. When we got her, she had just spent a week at USM Vet School, and had (as the picture shows) many shaved patches, where she had been poked, prodded, MRI-d, all in hopes of finding some way to steady her.

Sweet Little Zinnia
Despite all this, she remained the happiest dog ever. She'd bounce around on her Bambi-like legs, fall over, grin, get up, fall over again, keep grinning.

We kept her for three months. She was in and out of the vet, on and off various meds, and threw up - a lot. We finally had to bring her back to ARF, because when she was there, she threw up less, and we'd begun to suspect there was some allergen in our house that triggered her nausea. It broke our hearts to return her, without having found her a forever home. She's a sweet girl who deserves someone who will love her, and be inspired by the pluck and positive attitude she exudes.

Hopeful note: She is still available for adoption, and she's steadier on her feet now, too, though still needs TLC. Email arfms@comcast.net if you think your home and heart has room for Zinnia.

"Princess" Gertie
If you're still reading, and not out of Kleenex yet, it's time for Gertie's story. Gertie is a gorgeous purebred Brittany Spaniel... which is exactly why she wound up exploited. She was owned by a backyard breeder, who recklessly over-bred her - including to her own offspring - and when he couldn't sell off a litter, dropped her and her puppies on ARF.
Once, a Put-upon Princess. Now, a Grateful Gertie.

Her name was not Gertie then. It was Princess. Oh, the irony!

An ARF board member took in the puppies. D and I volunteered to foster "Princess." Since the good people at ARF informed us that she didn't respond to "Princess" at all, we renamed her Gertrude, in honor of another troubled mother - Hamlet's, of course. Gertie, for short. We brought her home, and she swiftly proved to be a sweet, loving dog ... who did not do well living with our cat. We knew we needed to get her placed, and quick, but luckily I knew exactly who needed her.

We have a friend who had just survived a heart attack. Who has red hair, like Gertie's. Who is a runner, like Gertie. Who is a dog lover, but whose pets were now living with his ex. They needed each other. They found each other. And I'm so grateful for Gertie's happy ending - especially because her entire litter of puppies wound up having distemper, and each of the poor little babies had to be put to sleep. Those poor babies never had a chance; thank goodness Gertie, at least, got a second one. Lesson to all: don't buy from backyard breeders. EVER. Adopt, adopt, adopt.

Chewie, the Wookie-Dog
From skittish to smiling
And finally, there's Chewie. Chewie came into our house in late July, just as we were entering tech week for a play ("Assassins" with Fondren Theatre Workshop - which was awesome, by the way). NOT a convenient time to take in another four-footed friend. But are you ready for her story?

Her evil former owner had two neglected dogs, and one day, he decided he was just going to get rid of them. He found out that the city pound charges an "owner release fee," so rather than finding a no-kill shelter like ARF, he decided to let his grandkid shoot the dogs.

You read that right. Grandkid. Shoot. The dogs.

Luckily, a neighbor saw the kid pursuing the dog, gun in hand, and offered to take the dogs. (Probably much to the disappointment of the armed grandchild.) The neighbor brought the dogs to ARF, and ARF gave us one of the dogs, "Bitsy."

Much like "Princess," Bitsy had no idea what her name was. So we named her Chewie, short for Chewbacca, because, well, she looks like a little wookie. For the first week or so, Chewie was skittish; if you made a sudden movement, turned on the vacuum, startled her - she'd snap and snarl. It was all just warning; she never bit either of us. She just didn't know how to trust. She got along with Dov, though, and she REALLY loved Loki, the cat. (Sometimes in a dirty way. She had a tendency to sometimes... well... hump him.) After six months of fostering, she's happy, healthy, snuggle-y - and I'm happy to report that, as this new year begins, so too does her new life. She was just adopted by a wonderful couple who are head-over-heels for her. I miss her, but couldn't be happier that she found her forever home.

So in summary, yes, fostering is inconvenient; it can be exhausting, emotionally and physically. It means extra work and extra time and often, extra patience. But it also means extra cuddles, and extra joy, and definitely extra good karma. I can think of no better way to stick it to the "culture of convenience" than by recycling love, rehabilitating abandoned animals and helping them find a forever home. Pets aren't disposable. By fostering, you prove that point. You help a pet learn to love, and then you let that love fill another family's life. Highly inconvenient, and incredibly awesome.

By the way, Animal Rescue Fund of Mississippi (ARF) is the shelter with which I volunteer. They're a no-kill shelter, and a terrific group. If you have a few dollars to spare each month, consider setting up a recurring monthly donation to help all the fur babies there. It's helpful AND convenient! And if you're ready for a little terrific inconvenience in your life, consider fostering. It can make all the difference in the world for the pets you help save.

Addendum 1/4/2011: While fostering is a challenging and emotional experience, I did have some prior experience with this particular volunteering gig. Growing up, my family not only had our own dog, a smart, loyal German Shepherd mix named Stormy, but also we raised Leader Dog puppies for Leader Dogs for the Blind. Puppy raisers for LDB are given a seven-week-old puppy, which you then keep for a year, before returning it to LDB for assessment, training, and pairing with a blind partner. Always hard to say goodbye - but another truly amazing, inconvenient, life-changing (most of all, for a stranger's life) experience. 

*Hey, remember MySpace?


  1. Wow, Beth. I had no idea it had been so many. You are an inspiration. But I'm still not ready to foster a dog. Yet.

  2. It's inconvenient to have a pet at all- and super inconvenient to foster, or raise a Leader Dog puppy, and help get the foster or the pup to a happy, healthy, *less* inconvenient stage- and then give 'em up.

    To someone who needs them.

    Yep, mighty inconvenient. And one of the most worthwhile endeavors on the planet.

    (Did the Pixie forget to mention she got her start fostering by volunteering as a Puppy Raiser for Leader Dogs for the Blind?)

  3. Nope, didn't forget - that was actually my opening paragraph in the first draft of this post, but I took it out because it was too long already...

    I'm adding it back in now as an addendum, though :)

  4. Pinto is blushing!
    Great blog!
    Thanks for connecting us.
    First they steal your heart. Then they steal your brain.
    But it's worth it!

  5. Great blog Beth! I remember all those puppies and am glad you included new pictures to show how they are now. Gertie's babies broke our hearts. I just about gave up fostering after that happened but, if we had, we would have missed out on a lot more puppy love. Thank you for all your help and support!

  6. Wonderful Beth! You've sold me on fostering, now all I have to do is convince Kev! :)

  7. Inconvenient... and INSPIRING!

  8. I love it! I have recently discovered the joy of fostering when I found a litter of two week old kittens back in May, and then three more, two of which have been adopted out already. Three are waiting on a ride to Atlanta, and two are staying put! I LOVE your blog, and I love ARF! Pippa has been a huge influence on me and fostering has changed my whole life. Getting a picture over Christmas of a cat I rescued off the street was the best Christmas card ever! It's so rewarding :-)

  9. On behalf of the Hughes Boys, thanks so much for your heart, your time, and your words. Gryf has added much love and laughter to our lives and we can't imagine coming home to anything but her sweet eyes and wagging tail. She's also become a GREAT soccer player. Yes, really. She plays soccer.

  10. On behalf of the Hughes Boys, thanks so much for your heart, your time, and your words. Gryf has added more love and laughter to our lives than I can describe. She's become a great soccer player, too! Seriously, she plays soccer. Like, really well.