How TO SAVE a life through dog fostering

With Stevie on her way to her new home (we will write more about her goodbyes next week) and our big exciting announcement coming tomorrow, this seemed a good time to write about an often-asked question in our world: How do we pick our foster dogs?

So far we have picked each of our dogs individually and for unique reasons, and it’s interesting how each dog has been a good representative for a different, particular ‘category’ of good foster candidates. We always look for the ones who would not have good odds without us. Here’s a quick breakdown.

A dog that doesn’t “show well” –┬áLollie Wonderdog

Lollie may be the most charming girl in the world but at the shelter, she was getting passed up over and over. She was there for months, and although she was a favorite among staffers, there was no real interest from adopters. We think it’s attributable to her physical appearance — Lollie came in covered in cuts, scars, bruises, and sores — the girl had obviously been through a lot. People glanced at Lollie and saw not the beautiful, perky, friendly, head-stand-doing house pet that she was with us, but rather a stray dog with a lot of scars on her face who had experienced a hard and unknown life on the streets. By taking her in, we allowed potential adopters to see past her scars. Without the foster home advantage, Lollie Wonderdog might not have had a chance.

A pit bull type in a BSL town – Gonzo Bunny-Ears

Sure, Gonzo is the world’s cutest dog, but that didn’t stop him from ending up at the county shelter in a town that does not allow pit bulls or pit bull mixes to be adopted out. Gonzo was temporarily saved by being called a french bulldog mix rather than a pit bull mix, but those labels are squishy, and it only takes one complaint to put a dog’s life in jeopardy. We were able to grab him as out-of-county fosters through a rescue, thus making him safe from potential appearance-based breed profiling that rarely leads to happy endings. Without the foster home advantage, Gonzo Bunny-Ears might not have had a chance.

A lovely dog in a rural high-kill shelter – TANK

Lots of lucky dogs end up in “no-kill” shelters or other well-run, well-funded shelters with high adoption rates. But lots of dogs don’t. TANK was scooped up in rural South Carolina and sent to county animal control — an underfunded, understaffed, underadvertised facility where the only dogs who make it out are those whose owners come for them and those who are pulled by rescue. We came to know of TANK through a DC area rescue that pulls dogs from rural shelters and adopts them out up here, and after hearing about his personality and seeing that adorable mug, we knew we had to step up. TANK was only with us a week before his perfect owner found him, but if he had stayed at the shelter in South Carolina, his week would have ended much differently. Without the foster home advantage, TANK might not have had a chance.

A dog who is undersocialized and needs further assessment – Baby Blue

Baby Blue was our sad story. She was a dog who was shy, furtive, unpredictable, and not well socialized. She was not considered imminently adoptable, but it was thought that she might bounce back in an experienced foster home. She didn’t bounce back. In the end Blue’s pain and fear were too severe for her to have a joyful life in this world, and we had to tell her goodbye — a realization that still leaves our hearts aching. But many other Baby Blues — undersocialized dogs that are too risky to adopt directly to the public but can go to an experienced foster home — shine in foster care and go on to make wonderful family pets. Blue was not one of these happy endings, but without the foster home advantage, Baby Blue might not have even had a chance.

A dog that is does not shine in a shelter environment – Stevie Wonder


Some dogs do ok in a kennel environment. They are able to remain social, interactive, and by most standards, normal. They wag their tails and get excited when people come by, are happy to go out for a walk, and eat and drink without much trouble. People walking the kennel rows notice these dogs and fall in love. Not Stevie-girl. For reasons we will never fully understand, the kennel was just too much for her. She was visibly nervous all the time, and her introversion grew more intense as time went on. After a few weeks at the shelter, she would not leave her enclosure or go back into it without being physically picked up — she would just flatten on the ground. She was barely interactive at all, preferring to go sit in a corner by herself than spend time with people who wanted to love her. In her kennel, she would huddle in the back and not even look up as people passed. Looking at a few entries on our blog, it’s plain to see how seamlessly Stevie-girl came out of her shell, thanks to being in a home with a family. But without the foster home advantage, Stevie might not have had a chance.

The next frontier: an elderbull?

Stevie doesn’t yet have all four paws out the door, and we’re already dreaming of who we will save next. There are a lot of best parts to fostering, but one of my favorite best parts is picking out a new dog. It doesn’t quite cure the heartache of saying goodbye to a dog you have grown to love with great depth and tenderness, but it certainly helps.

With Elderbull month at StubbyDog and the passing of our doggie hero Sarge the Elderbull a few weeks ago, we have been swept up in elderbull fever and are dreaming of saving an older pit bull next. Just like dogs with physical and emotional scars, dogs discriminated against by appearance, and dogs who wind up at a high-kill shelter, Elderbulls and other older dogs have the odds stacked against them.

We have our eye on one in particular — a fetching, eight-year-old blue pittie with a white stripe down her nose who reminds us of Mr. B from Two Pitties in the City. She is cute as a button, sweet as can be, and despite that, she is all but doomed at our local shelter. Between her age, the rugged condition of her body after a hard life, and some kind of mild neurological condition that affects her balance now and then, her chances of getting out are very slim. But at the same time, our area rescues are full and totally cash-strapped, so pulling an elderbull– who is likely to take longer to adopt out and may cost more to care for — is too risky.

We have some ideas brewing, but nothing is certain yet. But we do know one thing: if our sweet girl’s life is going to be saved, it’s going to take a village.

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37 responses

  1. Oh yes, take an elderbull! We adopted our Peppi, an 11 or 12 year old staffy cross, in March and he is fantastic. He may be a bit wobbly on his legs and have some trouble getting into the car but he is so full of life. And in the six months he’s been with us he hasn’t been to the vet once (compared to his 4 year old doggie sister who has been three times). All the time, people tell us Peppi is so lucky we adopted him but I think it’s the other way around. We are the lucky ones to have ended up with this perfect, confident, cuddly, funny, naughty, fully trained (well, except for the stealing food from the plate bit) dog. We explicitly wanted a dog older than 10 because of our existing dog Shyla’s behavioural issues. I believe so many people are too short-sighted to realise the advantages of an older dog: with an older dog the chance of the unwanted behaviours rubbing off is much smaller, the commitment to make to the new dog is much shorter (that sounds terrible but may be a factor for some people), less active (though Peppi still goes for 2 hours of walks per day) etc.
    So, go Elderbulls!

  2. Yes! I think an elderbull is definitely the next frontier for you! This is a great post – I like learning about WHY you pulled the dogs you did into foster…as I was reading, I noticed that Ginger fit several of these descriptions so I think I picked a good one to pull! :)

  3. I’m so excited for Stevie and can’t wait to hear more! I think fostering an elderbull sounds great, but I also think (and you probably know) that your heart will guide you to the right One and you’ll just know!

  4. That you for posting this!! It was really touching and I will be sharing far and wide. PS-We have our Baby Blue story too. It was helpful to see another foster care provider’s story. {{hugs}}

  5. I rescued my 7 year old Pembroke Welsh Corgi from a local organization and he (Norman) was the best companion! He was housebroken and never chewed on a single thing. He had trust issues – for good reason, I’m sure – and we made good progress in that area. Norman passed away 2 weeks ago from an aggressive mass beneath his skull….and I’m heartbroken. Had him for just shy of 4 years. But in those 4 years he came out of his shell and knew what it was to be loved. And for that I’m eternally grateful. So I’m all for you fostering a senior….if that’s what you decide to do. Keep up the good work – it’s so inspiring!!

  6. Older dogs make wonderful companions. An older dog makes a great first dog because they are calmer and more settled. And, a 5 year commitment may be easier to make than 15 years for some people. The challenge is to get potential adopters to look past the bouncy puppy. Our first rescue was an 11 year old cocker spaniel (untrained, unfixed, ungroomed) and he brought great joy to our family for 20 wonderful months. The only drawback is that they break your heart too soon. I have faith that the village will come through for your elderbull.

  7. Oh I do hope you get your Elderbull. I’d like someday to do compassion fosters for old pitties but for now, my landlord has a size restriction on my fosters since my own pooch is such a big boy. I don’t pick them out but work with just one rescue (www.onetail.org) and take any dog under 30lbs that they think will get on with Bilbo.

  8. Great post–and those are great reasons for choosing fosters!

    I would add that at many of the shelters in this area–though I think this is less true in a few lucky areas where spay/neuter has been very successful–pretty much any adult dog you rescue is a life saved, because in some of these places adoption rates are so low :( But as you so rightly point out, the ones who “don’t show well” make just as fabulous, loving companions as their more adoptable colleagues!

    So far, I’ve chosen very few of mine—I just took what the rescue wanted to give me. They’ve all been incredible. http://peacefuldog.blogspot.com/p/previous-fosters.html

    Can’t wait to see what lucky elderbull or other pooch is next!
    Kirsten

  9. go for it! I adopted an 8-year-old cat (so not quite elderly, but getting on in years, and with a disability) and she is such a joy. I agree with Uta above that the shorter life span was at worst a neutral–somehow a 15-20 year commitment felt more daunting than a 5-10 year one. You’ll definitely find someone who wants to give a calmer dog a forever home.

  10. The idea of taking in an older dog makes my heart sing ! I have a rottie/pittie cross who is around 10 we think and other than her “pipe down” attitude towards our newly adopted 5 yr old male when he gets a bit excited (who can blame her)she is just about the wisest most loveable gal a family could ask for.. We learn from her everyday and she learned from our 17 yr old lab/cross we lost in April.. When we become homeowners our plan is to foster the older buds who are so often overlooked .. Thank You for spreading the word on the beauty of an older bud!

  11. Thanks for this detailed explanation of how / why you choose the dogs you do from the shelters. Love the idea of an elderbull! On the edge of my seat to find out…don’t keep us in suspense!

  12. Great post on why you chose each dog! I liked seeing pictures of all your fosters too – I didn’t realize you have had so many. Keep up the good work! And maybe after the elderbull, you’ll be ready for a new kind of challenge – a Ziggy challenge! :-D

  13. It’s so great to read through all of your fosters! And super sad when you have to realize that you can’t save them all… and sometimes it’s more painful for some dogs to be in this world. My mom just had to fight for the lives of two dogs last night because it was said they were taking too long to adopt and they had too many issues and both had been returned. No way, no how. These dogs are not aggressive, they need an alpha owner… we will find their perfect furever home and we will not give up on them for managable issues. Mom won her battle. And I will do my part as foster brother to help them get adopted. I know a lot of rescues think about the amount of dogs they can save during the time it takes 1 difficult dog to be adopted, but that 1 dogs also deserves their chance at a happy furever home! I can’t wait to see who you chose for your next foster!
    -Corbin

  14. We tend to take the older dogs in. We have one puppy in many many years. She is a joy, but giving an older dog the chance for a “normal” home life is so important to the dog. Sure your heart gets broken sooner, but those are some precious memories you have. I am sure your heart will direct you to the correct dog!

  15. The pictures are so lovely and the description of each foster “challenge” is wonderful. “Elderbulls, the future of foster/adoption”… It has a nice ring!

  16. I would also love to see you foster an older dog. It never fails to break my heart when an older dog is sent to a shelter because he or she is “too old” or “sick” or his or her family can’t be bothered taking care of him or her anymore. The dog gives nothing but unconditional love and loyalty and then is treated like that.
    I got a little teary looking at Baby Blue. She was too good for this world and I’m sure she was watching over Stevie Wonder, helping her to trust and love.

  17. I’m so excited for Stevie! It looks like you really focus on the underdogs- good for you! My original string of fosters fell into those categories- typically dogs with restrictions (either behavioral or physical) that limited the type of home they could go into. Now, I have Meathead. But Chick seems like he can go with the flow with the best of them- maybe he’d think of an Elderbull foster sibling as a kind of vacation after little Stevie…

  18. I’m so far behind on your blog. I had no idea you found Stevie Wonder’s forever home! Yay! Congratulations on another great job as the bridge to a new life for these dogs. It’s amazing how Stevie and Louise gave off the same “unadoptable” impression at the shelter, amazing how much their spirits came back to life in our homes. Maybe there’s hope for Louise to find her forever home too. All these stories give me hope (although I got a little teary reading about Blue again). Great post once again… time to catch up on your older ones.

  19. So many sad and stupid reasons for dogs not making it out of the shelters… You are the poster child for fostering; I think you should submit this post as an article to a doggie mag and encourage others to follow in your footsteps.

  20. This response is late coming… but this post is great. I love it. And I have a bullycrush on TANK. That’s my kinda guy ; )
    Can’t wait to continue reading about the next foster!

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  23. Just found your blog and I love this entry. Thank you for fostering all those “bullies.” Stevie is beautiful. I wish her the best in her new home. Can’t wait to hear about the senior dog you foster next.

  24. “I think you should submit this post as an article to a doggie mag and encourage others to follow in your footsteps.” — I agree with this statement. Please send out articles about fostering dogs to a few dog mags on and off line.

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