At times healing comes in the form of medicinal herbs. at other times it comes in the form of a changed diet, yoga, a massage, brain surgery or a miraculous saintly visitation. and..sometimes it comes in the form of a furball with 4 legs. yes, i’m talking about a dog.
Perhaps you are aware that our culture has a mixed relationship with dogs right now. At one extreme we make them fight, at the other we coddle them, even buying diapers and babylike clothes. We value looks over health and behavior, and seek “papers” that say our dog’s daddy was good-lookin’. And we do everything possible to avoid seeing the truth of how many unwanted dogs get abandoned, gassed and just plain neglected every day. Puppies are cute, their baby faces call out to us every time we ovulate, giving us the false promise of a furry friend replacing all that we do not have.
But something goes wrong. Walking every day seems like too much work, the fuzzy puppy behavior isn’t so cute anymore at 50 pounds, and whoops we forgot to train the dog to pee outside only! Whatever happens, literally millions of dogs end up at the shelters every year. Many are quickly labeled “unadoptable”, and probably a few truly are, but most could be just fine with a little training. Others are rescued and enter the dog foster system. Many dogs on petfinder are in foster care. This is a volunter network of nationwide dog-lovers who have stepped forward to care for shelter dogs and train, exercise and love them while they wait for a new home.
Why do people foster? We are helping the dogs, and that is a beautiful and fulfilling thing. But also I believe when we care for these dogs we are helping ourselves. Yes, people, when you foster a dog you can learn about dogs, other humans, and yourself. You can learn about training dogs. You can learn about healing dogs. The love I have gotten back from my fosters and adopted dogs so far is unmeasurable. It is infinite. It is medicine.
There are myths about fostering or adopting an older dog as opposed to a puppy. Most importantly, the dog will not bond to you like a puppy. false. Guess what? AN OLDER DOG CAN BOND TO YOU. Yes, there is the possibility that an older dog will need rehabilitation. And that is not appropriate for everyone. But most just need consistency!
So–that is the why. What about the how? You love dogs, you are upset by the excess gassing and abuse, you want to help. What next?
Find a shelter or rescue in your area. an internet search or petfinder are both ways to do so. Also, check with your local animal control officer, dog trainer, pet supply store or ask around at a dog park or dog-friendly event to find recues you can work with. Talk to them. You usually have to do a basic application. You can request particular dogs, or only big/small dogs, or only males, or a specific breed that you like. You will tell them if you have kids, or cats, or other dogs. You can say “give me whomever!” You will take photos of your foster dog, take her out to the park and when people say how great she is, mention that “she’s adoptable!” You are this dog’s new agent and you promote her like a rock star.
In the meantime, you are training the dog. Assess what she needs to work on-is it socializing? housetraining? walking nicely on leash? The potential adopters will look to you for answers about the dog. So be honest and upfront about her limits-please don’t say “oh, she loves cats” —for example— but leave out “for dinner”!!
Your house and yard should be dog-proofed. I will not introduce a new dog with bones and balls lying about. Do not be afraid to use tools in the management of your foster dog. Some people use crates, prong collars, liver bits and baby gates to help train the dog. It depends on the level of training needed and your personal style. Using calm energy, anticipating problems BEFORE they happen and exercising the dog are all great free methods.
When the reality of the shelter systems is too much for us to handle, we need to ask ourselves what to do. “can i foster”? If not, what else can I do for dogs ? Support fosters! Support rescues and shelters. Offer to walk a dog, buy some dog food and share photos and information about adoptable dogs with your network. Talk to others about adoption. Do not shop at stores which sell puppy mill dogs. Talk about the realities of puppy mills. Offer support to pet owners who are struggling with behavioral or logisitical issues and considering giving up a pet.
Becoming a foster was a great decision for me. I am setting a good example for my kids. Fostering gives my own dog a job to do and a friend to play with. It is a lesson in letting go. When I see a dog who was literally cast aside like garbage running, playing and being healed by nature my heart just sings. And every time the van pulls up full of dogs, and they go to their new adoptive home or foster home, my heart is bursting with joy. It is a wonderful moment to share and i am thankful to have the opportunity and ability to be a part of something so actively helpful. Fostering dogs provides healing to ME and helps me to see what love and devotion actually looks like. It has been oneof the best experiences of my life.