A beautiful walk with friends: our visit with HikeaBull

Another highlight of our trip to California was dropping in on the weekly HikeaBull hike in San Jose. We had corresponded with founder and organizer Lark over email in the past, but had never met in person. We were excited to go for a beautiful five-mile hike in the sunny hills of San Jose, observe the group in action, and meet some of our e-friends and blog readers.

We rarely pass up a good hike with friends, but what we were really after was the structure, policies, and techniques that make Lark’s group so successful. We dream of starting up something similar in Austin someday — just as Two Pitties in the City have done in Chicago with their new SocialBulls club. But we were so curious — are all of the dogs dog-social, or do some less socialized dogs do well also? How do they ensure that everybody is safe and happy? How do they spread the word? How many dogs come on an average hike, and do they limit the available slots? How do they determine which dogs walk where? We got all we had hoped for out of the hike, and little sunburns on our noses to boot!

The HikeaBull group meets at the trailhead each week to introduce themselves to new group members and dogs. Everybody quickly mentions whether their dog has any issues — whether it be leash reactivity, fear of strangers, a tendency to vocalize a lot, etc. This way, everybody knows what to look for and how to manage the group well. Group leaders carry special colored bandanas for any dogs who need extra space around dogs or people, which is a visual signal to other participants to respect that dog’s boundaries. Designated individuals lead the group from the front and the back to make sure everybody stays together, and communicate with walkie-talkies about any pertinent info — off leash dogs, injuries, strange turns in the trail. Whenever possible, the steadiest, most dog-social dogs lead the group, in case of wildlife, off-leash friends, or dogs on retractable leashes.

When new dogs join the group, they tend to walk wherever they feel most comfortable. But Lark said that dogs who are more nervous around big groups or are not very well socialized tend to be happiest up front. These dogs often lead at the start of their first hike, and eventually drop back into the pack over the course of the hike — or a series of hikes. This gradual integration allows dogs to socialize at their own pace, and has been hugely helpful to a number of dogs who had never been able to calmly and happily interact with dogs they don’t know. On the Sunday we attended, about 20 dogs hiked with us. During one water break, Lark counted up five or six dogs who are normally considered reactive — but all 20 dogs behaved splendidly and comfortably.

Some dogs in the group have even made friends by walking together, and now spend time playing together outside of the weekly hike!

We got to meet some real beauties on our hike, including one devastatingly handsome foster dog, one sweetie with the cutest underbite, one lovely with the most golden sunny fur, and one Lollie Wonderdog look-alike!

As a sweet bonus, we got to spend a good bit of our hike catching up with our friend Jennifer, the mastermind behind everybody’s favorite Sirius Republic collars — and her celebrity elderbelle, Chilly!

A thousand warm thank-yous to Lark, Jen, and the whole HikeaBull crew. You were so welcoming and fun that we felt like we’d been friends with each of you our whole lives. We had a blast spending our Sunday with you!

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Humbled by these hearts of gold: a visit to BAD RAP

When we decided on the Bay Area as our homebase for our two weeks of travels, I knew I had to put a few dog-related visits on our agenda. BAD RAP was on the list.

Early in our work with pit bull dogs, there was a time when BAD RAP was our main (only?) source of reliable and trustworthy information on pit bull rescue, training, temperament, etc. We’ve learned volumes since then and expanded our list of good sources, mentors, and sages a lot since then, but BAD RAP is still one of our all-time favorite dog orgs. So it was with a skip in our step that we walked up the driveway to meet founders Donna and Tim and kennel manager Nancy for a sunny visit on their lawn in Oakland.

In a lot of ways the BAD RAP barn was just how I imagined it: warm, sunny, friendly, stylish, and brimming with engaging, clown-like pit bulls of all shapes and colors.

The barn, where adoptable dogs live, was built by Tim, Donna, and a team of friends.

Former BADRAP resident Teddles, Donna and Tim's Honky Tonk, and adoptable Patsy Pup

Tim with Teddles. Former Vick dog Teddles lives the good life in his forever home now, and pays occasional visits to BAD RAP to hang out with his old friends.

Adoptable Patsy Pup's personality is as big as she is tiny.

Patsy Pup clowning around.

The list of impressive things about BAD RAP is not short, but one of the programs they run that’s dearest to my heart is their compassion hold fostering. I’ve always held a special place in my heart for those who do this difficult, draining, selfless work. Occasionally — or more realistically, whenever their partner animal shelter asks — BAD RAP takes in a dog who is too old or too sick to be adopted out and is going to be euthanized. Where most others — even those with hearts of pure gold — would say no, Tim and Donna say yes. The week before we arrived, Tim and Donna said yes to this beautiful eldergal.

This sweetie was found wandering the streets, near death’s doorstep. Her initial vet check and her swollen glands suggest an illness that may not be treatable. The shelter couldn’t keep her, but BAD RAP took her in, no questions asked. When we visited, she had been with them for a few days. She had gathered a bit of strength and while we sat in the sun and chatted, she slowly investigated each grassy nook and cranny of the yard, basking in the sunshine and occasionally sauntering over for some ear scratches or to sneak us a quick tongue to the face. Possibly for the first time in her life, she was content. Last we heard, there was no word yet on the state of her health or how long she would be a guest of BAD RAP. But one thing seems clear — these last days, or weeks, or months, or years, will be golden ones.

As always, we were humbled by Donna and Tim’s depth of knowledge about policy issues. Since we visited California just before our move to Austin, we talked for a while about the political landscape in Texas for pit bull dogs. We knew that a state-wide breed ban had been proposed in the legislature last year, but since nothing moved during the once-per-two-years session, we had let our concerns dissolve. But Donna diplomatically reminded us that idly waiting for the situation to devolve would be a poor choice, and that there was plenty of proactive work that could be done to preserve — and dare I dream, improve — the status quo. We discussed some of the nuances of how socio-economic dynamics play into politics in Texas, how the strange political landscape in this unique state makes a formidable challenge for pit bull advocates, and how the steadfast discriminatory policies of one large shelter in one major city set the tone for the whole state. Such interesting stuff.

We left feeling simultaneously hopeful and discouraged. Excited for the work left to be done, but overwhelmed with the options of where to begin. It’s only fitting that we would walk up that driveway enchanted by individual dogs, and walk back down that driveway enchanted by the big picture. BAD RAP has a way of doing that to all of us.

Thanks for a great visit, Nancy, Tim, and Donna!

Foster guest posts wrap-up

Well folks, our foster superstar guest post series has come to a close. We are so proud to be among such great company on our fostering journey, and we hope that everyone enjoyed reading this thoughtful and diverse set of perspectives. 

To wrap it up, we thought it would be fair if we shared our own thoughts on fostering by completing the same interview – with ourselves – that we asked our peers to share over the past two weeks.

So here goes – our very own overly wordy and heavily commaed non-guest post about dog fostering!

Why did you begin fostering dogs? 

It’s hard to cite one clear moment, idea, or experience that led us into the world of fostering. There are a lot of practical reasons that fostering seemed like the right choice: I have always envied multi-dog families, but our life’s instability (frequent moves, career uncertainty, obsession with travel) would have made it impractical to adopt a second dog. Fostering was a good way to enjoy the satisfaction of a multi-dog home without the decade-plus commitment.

But the more significant reason was my love of the redemption narrative. I have a great appreciation for the classic story of underdog overcomes the odds and proves society wrong. I love these stories when they are about people, and I love them when they’re about animals. Bringing foster dogs into our home allows us to be a part of this narrative and witness the beautiful tale of redemption in our own home.

Who was your first foster dog?

Lollie Wonderdog was a perfect example of the redemption story. She was a three-year-old pit bull type dog who was found in a dumpster, skinny, filthy, and covered in bruises and scars. In the shelter, she didn’t seem to have much of a chance, and yet – she quickly made her way into the hearts of shelter workers and became a favorite. Her skinny physique and scarred face didn’t lead her immediately into the arms of a loving adopter though. She needed to come into our home, rest a while, and learn how to be a dog before her perfect family found her.

I cried the day Lollie Wonderdog was adopted. I was sad to see her go, but more than this I was overwhelmed with the beautiful new trajectory of this brave and loving dog’s life – a trajectory that would not have been possible without foster care. Lollie – now Lily Fireworks – lives with a delightful family and two lovely children. She goes on hikes, bike rides, and adventures, and has already mastered basic training and is working on her PhD. Her mom, a Naval nurse, dreams of having Lily certified as a therapy dog so she can work with injured veterans returning from war. We all think that Lily could speak very powerfully to others who have been through hard times and have a long road ahead.

What has kept you going? 

The need keeps us engaged, and the simple fact that we have the time and ability and we know it makes a world of difference for the dogs involved. But there’s more. For some people, fostering is addicting. I am one of those people. I am not sure which I love more: making a great match, or picking out and getting to know a new foster dog. With each dog we successfully care for, we learn more about dog behavior, personalities, integration, etc. With each one, we feel more confident in our ability to give the dog what it needs and place it in an appropriate home. It’s a self-reinforcing loop.

Why do you think fostering is important?

Our guest bloggers over the past week and a half have already stated so eloquently why fostering is important, so there is little for me to elaborate on. We wrote a while back about all of the dogs who would not have had a chance without foster care, and we think these anecdotes speak better than any broad explanations ever could.

What is the most rewarding part of fostering to you?

An extra warm little body to snuggle and a new honey-brown set of eyes to look adoringly at us is a pretty big reward in itself. Other than the obvious benefit of caring for a precious life that may have otherwise met a sad end, we experience a thrill every time a new person tells us that our work and our dogs have made them confront their prior assumptions about pit bulls and dogs who look like them. Our foster dogs have changed minds – including the minds of some of the kind families who have adopted them or their sheltermates. There is no better reward to us than that.

What is the hardest part?

I have recently become self-conscious about sugar-coating the fostering experience. From time to time, I get an email from a big-hearted individual who feels all alone in the frustrating, scary, or hopeless situations they have found themselves in with a foster dog. It’s not all fun and sunshine — we have been there too.

We once had to euthanize a foster dog due to troublesome behavioral and possible neurological issues. That was devastating.

We once had a foster who was not compatible with our own Chick, and we had to live for months in a segregated house, swapping dogs back and forth using baby gates. This dog could not be left in our yard because of its tendency to scale the fence and run off after squirrels, so our Chick’s life quality diminished for the time that this foster was with us. These months were trying for all of us.

We once had a foster who fit so seamlessly into our home and who our Chick adored with such intensity that we found ourselves questioning our decision to not adopt ourselves. That was heartbreaking as well.

Our own Chick is not 100% awesome with other dogs, and introducing him to other dogs takes time, patience, and finesse. With almost every foster, we have lived for days or weeks in a state of constant vigilance, monitoring behavior like a hawk, using baby gates all day long, and slowly, slowly building a positive relationship. This is always exhausting and hard.

Have you experienced any benefits that you hadn’t expected before you began?

The community we have developed since we began fostering – both online through our blog and in person through our local rescues and shelters – has been indescribable. Working with dogs has allowed us to meet and make friends with people who we would not have met through other channels of our life, and we feel nourished by these relationships in a way that we had not expected.

Keeping an online journal of our fostering experience – our blog – has been even more satisfying. The positive feedback that is so generously showered upon us by friends and strangers compels us to keep going and do more when we otherwise may not have had the strength. Inquiries from individuals who consider us to be knowledgeable give us little boosts of confidence when we are feeling uncertain. Generous advice from our own mentors and peers helps us always feel supported and loved.

What advice do you have for individuals considering fostering for the first time?

I could write several essays on this question alone. In fact, I probably will do this in coming months. But a few thoughts to start with:

First, look honestly at your life and think about what you can handle – how much time do you have? How confident are you in your ability to work with different kinds of dogs with different types of needs? What sacrifices are you willing to make? What do you need out of this experience to feel the fulfillment that will feed your desire to do it again? There are no right answers to these questions, but taking on too much can be exhausting and discouraging, while taking on too little can feel boring and under-engaging.

Second, take the time to get to know various shelters and rescue groups in your area, and find one that is compatible with your needs and abilities. If you are worried about money, find a group that will pay for food and basic supplies. If you are not confident of your training abilities, find a group that will hook you up with at trainer or take the time to match you with a dog who won’t be above your skill level. If you desperately want to take part in the final adoption decision, make sure the group you select will allow you to play a role.

And third, consider who your support network will be. We have found ours through our fellow dog-fostering friends around the country and through our blog. Many people find theirs through their own rescue in their own town. Others yet find a network through other means. There is no right answer here either, but fostering is hard work, and trying to do it in isolation can be exhausting. You will be grateful for your peers and mentors, and you will cherish those relationships more than you realize.

Who was your most memorable foster and why?

Not too long ago, we pulled an overweight, elderly pit bull dog who had a serious neurological condition and was not socialized with other animals. Something about her sweet little face and her pathetic look of resignation in her kennel compelled us to bring Little Zee home despite (or perhaps due to) her poor odds. We thought it would take us months to get her adopted. Two weeks later, we had three strong applications for her adoption.

This experience knocked us off our feet. We were tentatively confident about our ability to show Zee for the wonderful family pet she could be, but we thought that finding the family who would appreciate her qualities would be like finding a needle in a haystack. We braced ourselves for months or longer of fostering her. Boy, were we wrong. We vastly underestimated the appeal of a dog like Zee. She is an elderbull with a neuro condition and needs to be carried up and down stairs, sure. But she is also among the sweetest, cuddliest dogs we’ve ever come across with the softest fur, the most beautiful eyes, and the most vigorous passion for napping. Turns out a lot of people are looking for a dog like Zee.

Many things about fostering Little Zee were memorable, but what we will always be thankful for is the powerful reminder she gave us that we should never underestimate a dog’s potential based on its stats. Dogs are amazing beings and will never cease to impress me.

What is your favorite foster adoption story?

When we found Little Zee a home, we were just three weeks away from our move across the country. We knew we couldn’t bring home a new foster until after we get settled in Austin. But the next day, I defiantly came home with Curious Georgia in the passenger seat of my car. It was crazy. But it was perfect.

Georgia wasn’t doing well at the shelter, and even by taking her for just two weeks, we were buying her some time and opening up a spot for another shelter dog to go into foster care. What came next seemed like a perfectly orchestrated symphony: Curious Georgia and I went strolling in our neighborhood and ran into ML, one of the wonderful people who had initially been interested in Zee. ML and Georgia hit it off like I’ve never seen: within two minutes of meeting, Georgia was snuggled comfortably in ML’s lap, face pressing gently against ML’s shoulder.

It was love. Foster dad and I watched in awe – fingers and toes crossed – while ML and her hunny sent love letters to Georgia, glided flawlessly through the application and adoption process, and charmed her socks off (and mine) at her home visit. Even their kitties approved. Just five days before we left for Texas, Georgia was adopted.

I’ve heard a lot of great stories that illustrate why even a seemingly insignificant effort can make a world of difference. Stories are stories, but every time I look into Georgia’s honey eyes, I will be reminded of how big a difference just that little extra effort can make.

Foster superstar guest post: Handsome Dan’s Rescue

I admit, I was saving this guest post for last, because in some ways it’s the most touching to me. My dear friend Heather and her hunny Mark have been fostering dogs for just a few years, but they’re of the rare breed of rescuers who never shy away from the hardest cases — in fact, they seek them out. They run the only pit bull dog rescue in the state of Rhode Island (“Handsome Dan’s Rescue“), and are always looking for the beaten-down, hopeless dogs that the rest of the world has turned its back on. And these dogs pay them back in love 100 times over. Some of the stories in Heather’s post are less happily-ever-after than previous guest posts, so you may want to grab a kleenex for this one. But I promise, you’ll enjoy the ride.

Heather and Mark with their own Handsome Dan, and former fosters Betsy and Gozer

Why did you begin fostering dogs? 

We began fostering dogs about four years ago.  We contacted a rescue group who had put out a plea for a foster home for two dogs who had found a way to escape from a dog fighting operation.  The two dogs were picked up running in a field, fearful and covered in open tears and puncture wounds consistent with dog fighting.  The video plea showed photos of the pair being loaded into the car of the kind person who pulled over to the side of the road to help.  The dogs were rushed to a vet clinic, given medical treatment, and over time recovered enough for a move to foster care.  We were touched by the photos of the dogs snuggling with vet techs and tentatively socializing with other dogs.  We contacted the group to see if we might be able to give one of the dogs a place to stay until he recovered enough for adoption.  Thankfully, both dogs had already been placed, but the foster coordinator quickly suggested another dog who needed us.

Three days later we picked up our first foster dog, a fluffy black puppy named Gunther who was adopted in a matter of days.  For us, Gunther was way too easy.  Everyone wants a fluffy puppy, and we were looking for more of a challenge.  So in to our lives walked Lady, a senior pit mix with incontenience issues – and love overflowing for anyone who so much as looked in her direction.  Being an elderbull with “potty issues,” we assumed she would be with us for months.  But in only a couple of weeks, a loving couple found her on petfinder and adopted her.  It was too soon — I was not ready for Lady to go. And so it started, our career as a serial foster family, replacing the bittersweet loss felt as each pittie went home with the hopeful face and need of the next in line.

Lady

What has kept you going?

The need.  At various points either Mark or I has felt that we needed to take a break, but then there is just one more dog that we can’t let die alone in a shelter, maybe never feeling loved or that he or she mattered.  At times, fostering has taken a toll on our finances, our house, and our patience — especially the dogs we seek out, which are frequently those rescued from abuse or neglect, those who were never properly trained, and those who for various reasons need a lot more time and patience than your average dog.  But it’s the enormous need that keeps us going.  The realization that we are literally saving lives, one by one, sweet and valuable lives that would have been extinguished without us.  For example, we pulled a recent foster, Loretta, on the day she would have been put to sleep in our municipal shelter.  She sat in that shelter, unnoticed, and would have died that way.  But once in our care, she earned her CGC in only seven days out of the shelter.  We got so much out of our time with her, we were so lucky to have hosted her, advocated for her and shared her story and sweet disposition through a few simple pictures and paragraphs so that she could find her home and the life she deserved – the life they all deserve.

Loretta enjoying the life she deserves

Why do you think fostering is important?

The dogs in our shelter are just sad faces among so many waiting and wanting a little attention.  To adopters, they are an unknown, a risk.  By opening our home to just one at a time, we get to know the individual and can share that with potential adopters making them more comfortable in choosing their new companion.

What is the hardest part?

The ones we can’t help.  The ones who are too far gone.

A recent foster Clover is one such story: I got the call late on a Sunday afternoon.  A woman in a neighboring town frantically telling me that two days prior she had noticed a pit bull puppy curled up under a bush in an adjacent yard.  Assuming the dog belonged there, she ignored it until noticing it again hours later in the exact same spot.  She knocked on the door of the house and asked if their dog was OK, explaining that she had not seen it move all day. What dog?  The dog must have wandered into the yard, or was put there.  The woman scooped up that trembling puppy and brought it into her home.  Extremely underweight and unstable on its feet, the dog needed to be carried inside.  The woman kept the dog for a couple of days, thinking that the nutritional supplements she picked up at the pet shore and some good food would do the trick.  It didn’t.  She realized that the dog needed more than she could provide so she called Handsome Dan’s Rescue and I answered.  After hearing the story I asked the woman to bring the dog to me right away, within an hour Mark and I had the puppy at Ocean State Veterinary Specialists, an emergency 24 hour hospital.

We named her Clover on the way to Ocean State.  She would need a lot of luck to make it through the night.  Besides being emaciated, she was trembling, and could not stand on her own.  He head bobbed from side to side.  She had a blank stare and some sort of mysterious trauma to her eyes.  The vets told us that they would need to run tests to find out what was wrong, but for now, at this time on a Sunday night, they would do the basics, vaccinations, blood work, Parvo and Heartworm tests, and we would take her home, feed her from a dosing syringe and try to get her to sleep.  We did.

The next morning we took her first thing to our partner vet where tests were done to find out the status of her liver and kidneys.  The results would take 24 hours.  We brought her home and she started to eat, a little chicken baby food.  We were hopeful.  She spent most of that day in a ball in my lap.  I talked to her, stroked her, and told her she was loved.  I had a previously scheduled photo session with my dog in the afternoon, so not wanting to leave Clover home alone I brought her along in her little cat carrier wrapped in blankets.  The photographer was kind enough to take a few photos of Clover, which I thought we could use on her petfinder profile, certain she would pull through.

Sweet Clover

The following morning Clover and I were back at Ocean State.  She would need an ultrasound.  I left her there in the morning, then got a call by noon.  Things were bad.  She was in kidney and liver failure, mild anemia, and the bobbing of her head indicated serious neurological problems.  They said they may be able to stabilize her, with weeks of inpatient treatment, but would not likely be able to keep her healthy and we would surely not be able to adopt her out.  And the extent of her neuro damage was unknown.  She never even had a chance.

I made the trip once again back to Ocean State, this time to say goodbye.  We took sweet little Clover to a shady spot in the grass just outside the vet hospital.  I held her and told her I loved her and how lucky I was to have spend these few days with her.  I told her that she would feel better soon, and that she would never be in pain again.  Clover went off to sleep in my arms.

We will never know how Clover ended up under that bush, but I believe that it was not an accident that she found her way to us, and we are very lucky that she did.

Any advice do you have for individuals considering fostering for the first time?

Don’t do it alone.  Research reputable rescue groups in your area and find out what support they give, their process for choosing animals, their adoption process and fees, what is financially covered and what types of insurance they carry.

Who was your most memorable foster and why? 

Wilson.  Wilson and his mother, Faith, were seized from an alleged dogfighting operation in Tennessee.  Both dogs were emaciated, infested with fleas, and filthy.  Faith was an severely overbred emaciated white pit bull and was heartworm positive.  PAWS New England, the rescue group we were working with at the time, stepped in and after several months of court dates and tons of legal fees were awarded both dogs.  Over the same months Mark and I followed Faith and Wilson’s story through photos and reports from our counterparts in TN.  We were going to adopt Faith as soon as she was clear to travel.  She deserved a home and love and the best treatment money could buy.  She was old and hurting and had suffered unspeakable cruelty but was loving with people and had shown no signs of aggression toward other dogs.  Then one morning I got an early morning phone call: Faith had died at the shelter before she had made it into foster care.  Without treatment, the combination of her heartworms and long-term neglect and malnutrition was too much for her.  She died in the kennel next to her son Wilson.

Wilson and his mama Faith

As soon as we were cleared to transport Wilson he made the journey up to our house in Providence.  The signs of cruelty on Wilson’s body weren’t hard to spot, and included a torn-up nose and numerous dramatic scars. And yet, he was the snuggliest little ball of red fur.  We could only guess at Wilson’s upbringing, but his life with an animal abuser left him very nervous around other dogs.  In a moment of poor judgment on my part, I pushed him too hard to socialize with another dog, and a small altercation resulted between the two. Unfortunately, I ended up with a wound on my leg, which sent Wilson into mandatory quarantine. He spent his quarantine in another foster home and was later adopted by a wonderful family with a young daughter in Canada. I never saw Wilson again, but I think about him often. I had wanted to adopt him at the time, but in retrospect I realize that he needed a more experienced home – exactly what he got.  Had the timing been different or had I given him the time and space he asked for, Wilson would have never left my home or my heart.  In the end, he wound up in his perfect home – but he will always be in my heart.

Wilson and Mark reading books

Of course, they haven’t all been the hard, sad cases. Happy-go-lucky Murphy launched himself into our lives like he launched himself into everything else, with enthusiasm as large as his big blocky head.  Just goes to show that it has nothing to do with “how they are raised.”  Murphy was found in a meth lab when police raided the property.  Murph was the lucky one, he was chained to the kitchen counter, his brother was found dead in a black trash bag.  Murphy was excited from the start.  He was jumping up on his rescuers ready to play from the moment they barged in the dark house.

Murphy made his way to our house for what we had expected would be some sort of rehabilitation, but no rehabilitation was needed.  Potty training 101, yes, but not even a meth lab start could stop this dog from happily meeting every dog and human he met.  Only two weeks after Murphy arrived at our home we had him in the car when we took drove into the Volkswagen dealer for some scheduled maintenance.  As we left the car and leashed Murphy up to walk to the service desk, one of the salesman spotted Murphy and complemented us on how well he walked on lead and how handsome he was.  When Ed found out he was a foster dog looking for a home he was sold, at that very moment.

Ed and his girlfriend Caroline drove to our house soon after for an “official” meet and greet and interview and a few days later Murphy was theirs.  The couple has since moved away but I stay in close contact with Caroline who shares pictures and stories about Murphy and his best friend cat sibling.  Murphy was used as a model on a bag of dog treats for a local company once, so we know we are not the only ones who admire his adorable mug!

Murph and his kitty, Layla

What is the most rewarding part of fostering to you?

Restoring hope.  We tend to gravitate toward the defeated dogs, the ones sitting quietly toward the back of their kennel runs with their heads hung low.  They contrast the majority who will run up to the front of their runs anxiously awaiting the slightest attention from passers by. You will find one or two at every shelter, the ones who have just given up.  There is something amazing about walking a dog like that out of the shelter, taking him home and after a good bath and big dinner, snuggling with him on your bed and softly assuring him that everything is about to change, promising him that things are going to be better from here on out. And for the vast majority of the dogs we have cared for, our promises have held true.

Heather and Mark are now fostering elderbull Bluegrass Jake, a lovely eight-year-old guy who has a chronic heart condition that needs treatment now, and will need upkeep for the rest of his years. He’s a big ball of love and is looking for a special adopter who will be able to give him the love and financial support he needs to live a fulfilling, healthy life. To donate to Jake’s medical care while in foster, click here to access the website for Handsome Dan’s Rescue.

"I promise I'll be worth it!" ~Bluegrass Jake

Foster superstar guest post: Josh & Lucy

I first met Josh when he emailed me about a tough fostering case he was dealing with. We had recently made the difficult decision to say goodbye to Baby Blue, and immediately bonded with Josh over the really heartbreaking parts of fostering. Since then, we have become good friends, sharing in the joys and triumphs of fostering rather than the sorrows. Josh is thoughtful, talented, and generous, and we are honored to bring you his perspective on fostering. 

What can I really say about fostering that hasn’t already been said, and much more eloquently, by Aleksandra? After all, she’s the queen bee of fostering – a source of constant inspiration (and information!) for me. I’m just super honored she asked me to talk about my experiences being a foster parent in NYC!

When I first started thinking about fostering, I will admit, it was for purely selfish reasons: I wanted a second dog, but my budget simply wouldn’t allow for it. I had adopted my pittie Lucy over a year ago, and I so badly wanted another dog for the two of us to love. Fostering seemed like the perfect solution – I got the dog at none of the cost!

At about the same time, I read Jim Gorant’s The Lost Dogs, and I knew after that that fostering was for me. I wanted to be like the people I read about, saving lives and defying stereotypes. I thought I knew what I was getting into – what I didn’t know is what I’ve ended up getting out of it.

My fostering experience got off to a rocky start, to be honest. My first foster was very fearful and problematic. I’m not quite ready to delve into the details of that experience quite yet (maybe sometime in the future on my own blog), but let’s suffice it to say that I spent a lot of time after that first one contemplating whether I was foster parent material. I was angry, sad, disappointed, and more. But a few weeks later, an opportunity arose to foster a new dog – so I picked myself up off the floor (literally, where I’d been sitting and moping with Lucy), and took her in.

Lola Bird

Lola Bird became favorite foster up until this point – an elderbull of immense class, resilience, and beauty. She had eyes that bore into you with compassion – making sure you knew that despite whatever she’d been through (which probably was a lot: breeding, violent abuse, neglect, abandonment) you were the one who needed the attention. She is destined to become a therapy dog – something I hope her new mom is pursuing.

In Lola Bird’s case, as with many others, fostering saved her life. At Animal Care & Control, she was a helper dog for SAFER evaluations, and because of that she met a lot of dogs – some healthy, some not so healthy. When she came down with kennel cough, she was put on the euthanasia list and we knew we had to act fast. Fostering is crucial for just this reason – it saves lives. Regardless of what kind of shelter you foster through, you will be directly impacting the lives of so many animals. You may only have one extra dog in your home, but think about all of the other animals that can now use that space in the shelter and consequently get forever homes, too! It’s a total win-win!

Josh with Lucy and Lola Bird

Becoming a foster parent, I’ve found, has sort of set an example for my friends, too. Since taking in my first foster, three of my friends have begun fostering as well. One more just emailed me to tell me she wanted to help, too! It’s also opened up a great working relationship with the shelter. I get to know their dogs very well, and stay updated on which dogs are coming and going. Because of this, I have proudly helped place ten dogs in their forever homes.

For all the pros fostering presents, it certainly has its cons, as well. The biggest one for me is seeing the dog leave. I’m thrilled to know that each dog goes to a great home that promises to love them for the rest of their life, but breaking that bond is hard for me. I’ve never been good at goodbyes, and it’s no easier saying goodbye to an animal than it is a human.

But most significantly to me, as a human, is that fostering has connected me to a whole new community of caring, supportive and helpful people. I never expected that my life would take this turn, and yet here I am, and here you are, with one thing in common. I may not have met most of you (and, despite how much I hope to, probably wont), but I do know that if I need help with one of my dogs that you all will be there. And I couldn’t thank you enough.

Josh lives, plays, and fosters dogs in New York City. You can follow his adventures in fostering and rescue on his blog and facebook page. He is currently fostering Bill, a special needs pit bull who is recovering from surgery and a hard life in Josh’s loving home. For more on Bill, click here. For info on Bill’s fundraiser featuring a fun raffle with lots of cool goodies, click here!

current foster Bill

Foster superstar guest post: Laurie at All Paws Rescue

We are honored to include Laurie among our guest bloggers. As far as dog fostering goes, Laurie is a true superstar. Her credentials need little explanation — she has fostered 134 dogs and 81 cats, and counting. Many of you are probably already familiar with her most memorable, entertaining, and longest-lasting foster, Ziggy, a gorgeous deaf white pit bull who has been with her for almost two years.

Why did you begin fostering dogs?

 When I first learned about fostering, it sounded perfect for me.  I would get to take home a foster dog to be a friend for my Great Dane, and I wouldn’t have to worry about the expenses of a second dog since all vet care and food would be provided.  I’d get to play with a new dog, and help him or her find a permanent home.  I brought home Dolly, my first foster dog, and had her for three months until she was adopted.  Then I immediately brought home another.  I realized that I really loved fostering.  It was so rewarding to go to a shelter and pick out a dog that was living in a cage and take them home with me.  Seeing their joy at being in a home, sometimes for the very first time in their life, made me feel really good.

Dogs like Bunny come from puppy mills and foster homes are their first chance to be loved.

What have you learned from fostering?

I’ve learned a lot about fostering in the past four years.  I foster all breeds and mixes of dogs.  I’ve learned that the ones that used to scare me the most – pit bulls – are actually my favorite breed.  I’ve learned that small breeds and puppies are always adopted much more quickly than larger breeds. I’ve learned that most dogs are turned into shelters at around one year of age because their owners didn’t train them and can no longer deal with their untrained puppy behavior.  I’ve learned firsthand that untrained puppies and dogs can destroy computer cords, window blinds, cell phones, and many other things in the blink of an eye.  I’ve learned that the bond that develops between a person and a dog during training and shared events is very strong.  And I’ve learned that taking a dog home, giving him love and affection, teaching him manners, and preparing him for a new home can be a lot of fun.  And watching that dog be adopted and go to a new home can be sad, but so rewarding.  Fostering really does make a difference – it can be the difference between a dog who is euthanized because he’s out of time in a shelter, or because he has behavior issues that can’t be worked with in a shelter, and a dog who goes confidently into a new home where he will be cared for and loved for the rest of his life.

Sometimes foster dogs come with bad habits.

What is the hardest part?

Letting go of a foster pet is not always easy.  Sometimes people don’t understand how I can let a foster pet go after getting so attached to them. My fosters are treated just like my own pets – they have free run of the house, sleep in my bed, and I actually spend more time training them than I do my own pets usually!  But from the time they come home with me, I know that they will someday be leaving. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t have the space or time to take in more fosters.  So although they might not realize that I’m just a temporary stop on their journey, they eventually end up in a permanent home that is just right for them.  And I celebrate each time one of my fosters is adopted, because it means that I can then say “yes” to one of the dozens of pleas for help that we receive each day.

Dolly was my first foster dog.

What advice do you have for individuals considering fostering for the first time?

You do not have to be a dog trainer to foster.  You don’t have to be an expert in dog behavior, or have years of experience owning dogs.  You just have to want to make a difference in the life of a homeless pet.  Do some research to find a rescue group or shelter that will be a good fit for you.  Some rescue groups will give you a mentor to help you through any questions. They’ll match you up with the best dog or cat for your home, and they’ll provide training and support as needed.  They’ll take care of the vet bills and the food and other supplies, and they’ll do all the work to get your foster pet on the various websites and then screen to find them the best home.  Unfortunately there are other rescue groups who will give you a dog and say “good luck” and then you’ll never hear from them again.  So make sure you ask questions, attend some of their adoption events, and fully understand what is expected of you before signing up.  Don’t worry if you try it and find that fostering is not for you.  Some people have a hard time letting the pet go and end up adopting their foster.  Others just realize it is more of a commitment than they are ready for, which is okay too.  There are a lot of ways to help, so don’t be afraid to try fostering, but if it’s not for you, see if you can find another way to help, whether by transporting pets to events, taking pictures for websites, conducting a fundraiser or supply drive, or going to your local shelter to walk dogs.

Fostering puppies is a lot of work, but a lot of fun.

Who was your most memorable foster and why?

Ziggy, the deaf American Pit Bull Terrier, is my most memorable foster, and my longest-term foster.  I’ve fostered several other deaf dogs, and several other pit bulls, but Ziggy is in a class of his own.  I took him in two years ago, when he was just a four month old puppy, and I’ve been trying to find him a home since then. I’ve learned more from Ziggy than any other dog, including my own dogs.  He’s taught me how to be a better trainer, how to be more patient, how to enjoy every moment of life, and how to find the funny side of just about anything.  People often ask why I don’t just adopt him myself, and I sometimes wish I could.  How do I give up a dog who has been a part of my life for years, who I’ve spent countless hours and dollars on training, who has been through several agility classes with me, who has developed a following on my blog and on Facebook?  A dog who loves to go on walks, loves car rides and stuffy toys, thinks rolling on his back in the grass is the best thing ever, and is pretty sure that he’s entitled to chew on absolutely anything he can get his mouth on?  I adore Ziggy and he always makes me laugh, but I am constantly trying to find someone to adopt him. I’ve ordered him his own business cards which are now in several area businesses – he has his own website and his own Facebook page – I have done everything I can to find him a new home, or even a new foster home.  Not because I don’t want him here, but because he isn’t great with other dogs, and he needs a home where he can be the only dog so he can get all the love and attention that he deserves.  But even when that finally happens, Ziggy will always be my most memorable foster dog.

Ziggy has earned his CGC certification and learned agility while waiting in foster care.

Laurie fosters through All Paws Rescue near St Louis, Missouri. You can follow her amazing fostering career on her always-entertaining blog, Dog Foster Mom. If you or somebody you know might be the perfect family for Ziggy, check out his very own website here

Foster superstar guest post: Two Pitties in the City

This is such a special guest post for us because Two Pitties in the City has been a long-time blog crush of ours. We love their photos, their writing style, and we are borderline obsessed with their two dogs, Miss M and Mr B. This family has been fostering on and off for a couple of years now — despite living in a small city condo and having two big dogs of their own!

So many people think it’s hard to own a dog in the city when you don’t have yard and live in a smaller space. Let alone foster. But when we realized how easily we could live with our two 75 lb pitbulls in our smaller space we decided we could add the occasional foster pooch.

After seeing how fantastic Mr. B’s foster mom was, we were inspired to ‘pay it forward’ and try it ourselves. We know fostering is especially important here in Chicago where we have a huge homeless dog population and so many rescue groups rely on foster homes to be able to save dogs from the shelter. Now we are on our 3rd foster dog.

I like fostering because it gives me my ‘dog-fix’. Plus, I see dog adoption a bit like the dating scene and we’re always trying to get our pooches ‘out there’ exploring the city and going to neighborhood festivals. It’s amazing how many people you meet when you’re walking around with 3 pitbulls, plus since our foster wears an ‘Adopt Me’ collar from Sirius Republic everyone knows their single status.

Our second foster, Bella, was even adopted by someone in our neighborhood who had met us during our walks.

Since we do have limited space, we make sure we get a foster who is compatible with our own dogs. While we originally saw Miss M as being bossy, we realized she is actually a talented drill sergeant, and she has been successful in teaching the pooches manners and tricks before they move on to their new homes.

A lot of people think it would be hard to see the foster dog leave, or that we’d get too attached. While we do miss our pooches, it’s more rewarding to see them in their new homes. Plus, we always know we have an open spot if we should ever need to foster again.

Foster superheroes A and E blog at Two Pitties in the City. They live and foster dogs in Chicago, and are currently sharing their home with not only Miss M and Mr B, but also lovely adoptable Levi, who is looking for his forever-home. Know anybody in Chicago looking for a sweet, charming, and energetic adult dog? Levi might be their perfect match!

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