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.


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!

Foster superstar guest post: Chris & Colleen in Asheville

This post is very special to me. I met Chris in 2005, and he and his wife Colleen were my first exposure to fostering, and my first exposure to multi-pit bull households. Chris and I emailed extensively about dog-dog intros and about the ins and outs of fostering. I told him that Ben and I hoped to foster someday, but didn’t know if or when we could do it. His gorgeous photographs really got us. Years later, I can say with certainty that their work with the Animal Compassion Network in Asheville, NC was our #1 inspiration for taking in our first foster, Lollie Wonderdog. Thank you Chris and Colleen — from us, Chick, and all of our fosters, past and future.


Tale of a reformed failed fosterer

Chris and Colleen's current pack

Colleen and I got introduced to fostering when we moved to Asheville and a local organization, Animal Compassion Network (ACN), was appealing for funds to temporarily house animals from a no-kill shelter that had flooded.  We donated and eventually started volunteering for ACN.

But, it wasn’t until our third attempt at fostering that we actually went through with it and didn’t adopt.

Our first two failures

Our first foster failure, Freckles, was a stray that was running the mountain road up to our neighborhood for about a week.  She had this jaunty one-up and one-down ear pose and the biggest pit bull smile.   We asked about her with the folks at the bottom of the mountain and got the response that they were going to call animal control to pick her up.  That is when I tried to entice her into my truck but she just barked and ran.   However, when Colleen opened the door to her car, she jumped right in.  We did due diligence on finding her original home and didn’t find anyone that knew anything about her.  We checked with the shelter and had her scanned for a chip.  When nobody stepped up to claim her she was spayed and stayed.  Bailey who is also a pit bull was in another foster home and we were a bit conned into taking her in.  In Freckles’ case I just couldn’t part with her and in Bailey’s case she was heartworm positive and covered in mange.  By the time she was clear of both I couldn’t part with her either.

Freckles helping Bailey recover from mange

Our first fostering success was Jason who later was renamed Henry.  He was a brindle pup who I think was a Plott Hound/Dachshund mix.  He assimilated into our pack very quickly.  He and Happy, our dominant male, loved playing together. Being ultra cute and young, he was adopted very quickly.  That is really the hard part.  Seeing them go.  But, it sure helps when you know they are going to a great new family.

Our fostering Pit bulls

The next two dogs we fostered were pit bulls or pit bull mixes.  I have been living with at least one pit bull since 1984.  Due to this experience and the fact that we had four pit bulls; we were often the first people asked to foster the breed.  On one hand this gives us an advantage due to our familiarity of the breed but it also involves four introductions and four chances of personality conflicts.   Our first pit bull foster was Humphrey.  I absolutely fell in love with him and would have become another foster failure if Colleen had let me.  He was a big goof who loved everybody.

Bailey, Humphrey, and Happy

It didn’t take long for him to break someone’s heart and he was adopted.  He now lives the good life as a lake dog.  Two days after he was adopted we were called to foster another dog.  The shelter we originally gave money to house animals due to flooding was being closed by the state.  It was a case of a no-kill shelter gone bad.  We were called in to foster Saki who is a border collie/pit bull mix.  He was not only obese and had a bum knee but was heart worm positive.  Saki was apparently the dominant male in a ten-foot by ten-foot run.  This meant that he ate most of the food.  Unfortunately, he brought this alpha mentality home with him.  He and Happy did not hit it off.   They did have an altercation which forced us to separate them when we weren’t there to supervise.

Saki was successfully treated for heartworm and lost almost twenty pounds with us.  He had his knee rebuilt and is a gorgeous devil…but after a year went by, he still was living with us.  I don’t know if it was his long term stay at the shelter or some other experience that made Saki absolutely hate confinement.  He would literally tear a metal crate apart to get out.  This behavior did not make for good impressions at adoption events.  Knowing what a great dog he was, I talked my parents who had just lost their rescued dog Pinot to adopt him.  So, now he is the golden child of my parents and can do no wrong.  He spends his time between Breckenridge, Colorado and Asheville, North Carolina.  Not too shabby.  And…I get to see him often.


Why foster?

With every foster you have the chance to not only save one but two animals.   You are opening a spot at a shelter for another dog who might be short on time.  Fostering is to me just one element of achieving a zero kill community.  Successful and enforced spay and neuter laws are the foundation to this.  Educating people on the problem of pet overpopulation is another important part of this.   But, I think that there will always be a place for fostering especially bully breeds.  They often have the shortest time in the shelter and usually are not included on transports to where there is a demand for adoptable animals.  There is also a need to foster older dogs and Elderbulls.

For anyone who is considering fostering for the first time, I would recommend asking these three questions.

#1.  Do you have the time to care for your foster?  Younger dogs especially need lots of exercise and play.

#2.  If you already have pets: What type of temperament would work with my dog or pack?  If you have a dominant male you might want to consider a submissive female.  We have found that very young males work best in our house.

#3. Are you willing to stay the course?  Sometimes you will have a temporary family member for longer than you expected.



I keep saying that we will take an extended break from fostering…But the fosters end up finding you.  Since Saki we have fostered Daisy (a senior chocolate lab), Oscar (pit bull), and now Petey (pit bull) and adopted Trevor (pit bull/part cat).  Only I thought Trevor was going to be a foster…

Trevor the cat

Two dogs ain't nothing.

Fosters or not, Happy still has plenty of fun

Foster superstar guest post: Kate from Twenty-Six-to-Life

Kate is a fellow DC area pit bull foster mama, who also shares her home with three pit bulls (and until recently, one german shepherd) of her own. Her family’s commitment to fostering despite having a house full of dogs is inspirational to us, and Kate shows us every week how possible it is to maintain your sanity, your style, and your humor while living with three — sometimes four — pit bulls.

1. Why did you begin fostering dogs?

My husband and I accidentally rescued our first pit bull, Melanie, nine years ago when we found her running across a road only mere feet away from a busy interstate. She was skinny, missing patches of fur and obviously not well cared for. The only things we “knew” about the breed were the negative stereotypes that that the media blasted at us, but we took a gamble (what we thought was a huge gamble, actually) and brought her home.

Melanie (on the left) with her sister and BFF, Heidi.

Of course it turned out to be an extremely low-risk gamble, because Mel is an awesome dog. In a way, she was our first foster because our original intent was to privately foster her and find a home for her. After a horrible experience with one potential adopter, we decided to keep her ourselves because we loved her already and knew how great she was. We also knew that we didn’t have the resources to properly screen people who were interested in taking her home, and we didn’t want to risk her ending up in a bad place. We didn’t start “officially” fostering until several years later when we were both out of school and no longer renting, but I knew then that I wanted to be more involved.

2. Tell us about your first fostering experience. Who was your first foster dog? What was fostering him/her like?

My first official foster dog was Winky. She was a one-eyed pit mix puppy.

Fostering her was crazy! It was a fun experience, but it was a ton of work because she was still so young. We were used to our older, calm dogs and weren’t quite prepared for the amount of energy such a young dog would have. Still, it was a lot of fun, and fostering her made us realize how important it is to know our own limitations. We learned that puppies just aren’t our thing and that’s okay.

3. What has kept you going with it?

Now that I’ve gotten involved with rescue, I really feel like I’m part of a bigger community. I’ve met some insanely great people and it feels good to know I’m part of the community that they’re involved in. I honestly have a fun time volunteering and enjoy the time I get to spend with the different dogs and people.

4. Why do you think fostering is important/what role does it play in the bigger animal rescue picture?

Fostering is truly a lifeline for many dogs, especially for the breeds that are harder to adopt out (like pit bulls). A rescue friend of mine once told me that there’s someone out there for every dog, it just takes time to find them. Fostering gives dogs that time. Foster homes free up space in shelters, so it not only saves the dog that’s being fostered, but it also saves the life of the dog that can be in the shelter for a little longer. It’s a vitally important part of animal rescue.

On a personal level, if it weren’t for someone fostering him, I never would have been able to adopt my dog Nemo. His foster mom practically hand picked Nemo for us out of all the dogs in the rescue, and for that I’ll always be grateful to her. The foster experience really does work to put the right dogs in the right homes.

5. What is the most rewarding part of fostering to you?

I love to watch a dog leave the shelter and start to feel relaxed in a home. While shelters do the best they can for animals, they are still very stressful places to be.  Each of our dogs has started out unsure and nervous  when we brought them home, and watching them turn into happy, confident dogs is so rewarding. I love knowing that I made it possible for them to express their true “dogness.”

6. What is the hardest part?

Obviously giving the dog up is the hardest part. So hard that we’ve even failed at it (jump down to question #9 to read about that). Still, it’s completely worth it. However much it hurts to part with a foster dog, it hurts even more to know that if I hadn’t come along that dog might not have made it out of the shelter.

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

The friends I’ve made. The people that I’ve met through my rescue group are just all-around awesome.  They really enjoy what they do and care about the dogs, and while it isn’t always easy, it’s always worthwhile.

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

Find a good rescue organization, and do it. I always tell people to start volunteering with an organization in other ways before they start fostering. It’s a great way to meet new people and learn about a rescue group’s policies with fosters. You can talk to the people that currently foster, and get a feel for how supported they are by the group. It’s also a great way to pick up tips on how to integrate a foster dog into your home and how to choose a foster dog that will thrive in your home. A good group will be open to telling you about their foster program (they should be eager to have you!) and provide you with the support that you need to take on a foster pet.

9. Who was your most memorable foster and why?

Haha, Heidi is definitely my most memorable foster – because I see her everyday! We foster failed with Heidi very quickly and as much as you’re not supposed to do that, I’m so glad we did. Heidi had been in the shelter for months before we pulled her. She was skinny, and the tops of her paws were stained and sore from excessive licking (from the stress of being in the shelter). She had obviously been bred a few times too. The poor girl didn’t have it easy, but she clearly had loads of potential and even more love to give.

I had been keeping track of Heidi since I first saw her in the shelter, and when I found out that the shelter was full and her time might be up, I knew we had to get her out of there. While we originally intended to only foster her, we quickly realized that she was our dog (or rather that we were her humans) and we adopted her. Since her adoption, Heidi’s become a canine good citizen and is working towards becoming a therapy dog. She’s such a great ambassadog for the breed that we still bring her to events just to show off how great pit bulls can be. She’s so amazing that I don’t know how anyone ever gave her up.

10. What is your favorite foster adoption story?

It’s so hard to choose! I love it every time I find out that a foster dog has found their forever home! I have to admit though, I love my own dogs’ stories. Melanie went from a scrawny stray to changing countless people’s minds about the breed, Heidi became a canine good citizen just a couple months after leaving the shelter, and Nemo has shown people that even the “mean looking” pitties with cropped ears and dark coloring can be a joy to have around.

Heidi (left) with her brother, Nemo (center), and sister, Melanie (right).
Kate blogs at Twenty-Six to Life about living with her three rescued pit bulls, volunteering, turning her house into a dog-friendly home, and learning how to use her camera (mostly so she can take better pictures of her dogs). Like her on facebook to see more photos of her dogs, and follow her blog to see what she’ll be up to next.

Foster superstar guest post: Jenn and Corbin

Needless to say, we are not alone in fostering dogs — not in our community, and not in the blogosphere. While we are away traveling and making our transition to our new home in Austin, we thought it would be fun to bring you some other fostering perspectives and reflections — from foster families we admire and respect.

For our first post, we are excited to bring you this interview with our friend Jenn, mama to the world-famous pit bull, Corbin. We think Corbin is just about the most handsome guy around — he easily gives Sir Chick a run for his money, anyway. Jenn and Corbin foster dogs in the Albany area of New York, and they do it with great success, grace, and humor. Read on.

1. Why did you begin fostering dogs?

I’ve always had a love for animals, ever since I could walk and talk! Which is why everyone I knew thought it was crazy when I fell in love with a guy who had never had a pet. Not a cat, not a dog… not even a fish! I could not wrap my brain around it, but I knew there was hope for him yet. We bought a house and moved in together and I knew it wouldn’t be long before I went stir crazy without an animal in the house. I lasted two months and decided it was time to start exploring our options. Adam’s allergic to cats, so that was out of the question. I didn’t know much about dog rescue at this point, but I knew I wanted to save a dog. For the two months I was dogless (and making frequent trips to my parents house to get my fix), I was searching local humane societies and rescues. I wasn’t sure how a dog was going to fit into our life, especially since I knew Adam wasn’t aware or used to the type of commitment a dog brings. That’s when I
decided to foster. This would give us the experience of having a dog in the house, I could see how Adam reacted and whether or not this relationship would work with a dog –and, I’m pretty sure Adam knew if the dog didn’t fit, neither did I! I saw a cute, cuddly Border Collie mix puppy on a rescue website and decided to put in an application. A day or two later, I received a phone call and explained that I thought that puppy was cute, but really wasn’t home enough for a puppy. I also told her that I’d be interested in fostering. She told me to stop by clinic the following Saturday, and that they’d have more dogs coming in mid January for fostering. And, as the story goes… I went in to talk to someone, swearing to Adam I wouldn’t be coming home with a dog. Half hour after I left the house, I’m calling Adam to tell him that Corbin, our new foster dog, was heading home to meet him.

2. Tell us about your first fostering experience. 

Corbin was our first foster dog. My mom even bet me $25 that I wouldn’t be able to give him up, but I was determined to just foster. I didn’t want to adopt my first foster dog because I knew there were so many out there, and I wanted to “test drive” a few dogs before we decided on adopting. I knew nothing about pit bulls at this point in my life. I wasn’t scared of them but a little hesitant because I was uneducated. Corbin taught me a lot about their love, their affection, their strength and their smarts. He was a wild and crazy, completely out of control, spastic 6 month old pup when he came to our house.
We worked hours on basic obedience, sit, down, high five, stay, wait, etc. He loved anyone and everyone and always attracted a lot of attention at clinics because of his handsome looks. Although, as soon as you mentioned the word “pit bull” people were suddenly interested in other dogs. Corbin also had a few leg issues and had the potential to have some more serious issues down the road. We fostered him for 2 months before we decided there was no way we could let him go. I learned so much for him and he learned so much from us. He knew he was home and I didn’t have the heart to tell him he wasn’t. Corbin became our first (and only, so far!) foster failure.

3. What has kept you going?

We waited a few months after adopting Corbin to take in another foster dog. Corb needed some serious training about a month after we adopted him. We hired a behaviorist who worked with us and taught us how to work and relate to Corbin. This has proved to be one of the most powerful assets I have had when taking in foster dogs. I have been able to use the training I received on all of our foster dogs, which is so helpful to make them more adoptable. Our first (well, second technically) foster dog was Belle, a GSD/Beagle mix. Corbin LOVES his ladies. It was so nice to have another dog for Corbin to play with and get out all of his excess energy. After that, it just became addicting. As much as we have loved and wanted to adopted just about all of our fosters… we know the bigger picture and know how many more we could save as long as we continue adopting out our foster babies.

I love my fosters, even the squirrel-sized ones.

4. Why do you think fostering is important?

Rescues wouldn’t be available if people didn’t open their homes to foster dogs. Foster homes allow dogs to get out of the shelter and into a home environment, which some of those dogs have never experienced before in their lives. You learn things about your foster dog to tell potential adopters so you can make sure they go to the right home that can understand and help any issues or quirks they may have. You help teach and train them and every morning they thank you with their big loving eyes. Nothing is more rewarding. Every dog adopted is another shelter dog that can go into foster care, so when you adopt, you’re really saving two lives – a lot of people don’t understand this.

In November of 2010 I took over the import for my rescue. I had been volunteering with my rescue for a year prior, but never understood the bulk of the work. I spend close to 30 volunteer hours a week working on rescue related stuff. Every day, I look at the shelters we work with and see all these dogs… knowing that I can’t save them all. I try to stress this to people when asking for foster homes. Each and every one of these dogs deserves a second chance. It’s not their fault they’re in this situation and the only way out if it is through our help.

"Sitting on my foster siblings is pretty rewarding for me"

5. What is the most rewarding part of fostering to you?

Adoption. Nothing is more rewarding than watching a dog that you have cared for, you have saved and you have helped, walk into their new home, kiss their new family or wag their tail and smile for their new life. As hard as it is, there is nothing in my life that is more rewarding.

6. What is the hardest part?

Returns. Although you like to believe people when they tell you they’re the perfect home and they’re going to do anything need for their dog… people lie. Not all people… but more people than I would like. Although, every time there is a return, I’m thankful that the dog is back in our hands and not living another horrible life, I hate that I trusted these people with my dog.

Oreo was returned, and Corbin welcomed him back with a warm lick and a good wrestle.

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

I don’t think I really had any expectations when I began. I’ve learned a lot about dog socialization and training and I’ve gained a lot of great friendships and dog walking buddies. I also didn’t really expect to be the owner of a pit bull, which is probably the biggest benefit of them all :o)

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

Do it. Research rescues and find one you like and just do it. Make the commitment. It’ll be something you’ll never regret.

9. Who was your most memorable foster and why?

Oh, my Bethany… Bethany and her sister, Avery, were born in a shelter and didn’t leave until they came to us when they were 5 months old. Avery went to another foster home, adjusted very quickly and was adopted just as fast. Bethany was a pancake, flattened to the floor of our home, afraid of stairs, doorways and hallways. She flinched at every loud noise and had this awful look of fear in her eyes. It took Bethany 4 days until she walked upright inside the house… Corbin was very gentle with her and helped her every day. Helping her learn that the world was not such a scary place made it very hard to adopt her out – I felt so close to her, I couldn’t bear the thought of her going to another home. I brought her over to Adam’s dad’s house, and she was adopted by them shortly after. If you met Bethany today, you wouldn’t be able to imagine that shy, scared little girl we first met. Her sister, Avery, was returned a few months later because the family didn’t have the time for her and without the TLC, Avery’s progress was declining fast. Avery was far worse than she was when she was adopted. She now lives with Bethany and they complement each other and help each other out more than I’ve ever seen with two dogs. Since Avery came along, Beth is no longer afraid of stairs, her biggest fear, and they have both conquered being boatin’ dogs together!

Corbin yachting with Bethany and Avery

10. What is your favorite foster adoption story?

Corbin’s, of course :o) But, seriously, I love all of the families that my foster dogs have adopted. I keep in touch with them every so often to check on my pups. They each have their own space in my heart and I will consider them “my” pups forever.

Corbin, Dutchess, and Donnie

Corbin is currently on his 16th foster sibling through the rescue that saved his life, Homeward Bound Dog Rescue in Albany, NY. Hopefully by the time this story is published, that number will be 17 or 18! Jenn would also like to thank Corbin for allowing her to do this interview from her own point of view instead of his. You can follow Corbin’s adventures and his fantastic fostering work at Oh, Corbin.

Falling in love: Adoptable Ivan at AFF

In the mood to fall in love again? I’ve got just the fellow for you.

Meet adoptable Ivan, one of Animal Farm Foundation’s elite crew of dogs. During my visit to AFF a few weeks back, I was lucky to be assigned Ivan as my doggie roommate. We spent four great days having fun together all day and snuggling together at night. He’s the kind of dog who throws a great party and makes you feel like the guest of honor. He’s an impossible dog to forget.

He may already be unforgettable to some DC area folks, who may have seen him on the local news last December. Poor four-month-old Ivan was stolen from the Washington Humane Society kennel where he was living, and then returned after the story broke in the media, and the video of suspects snatching him was all over the news.

stillframe from Fox local news video

During his escapades with his thieves, Ivan acquired some scratches that required him to go into quarantine — for six months. After that grand adventure, near full-grown Ivan came to live at AFF where he could receive some expert care, training, and enrichment to help him become the wonderful dog he is today.  And wonderful he is. This boy is so exuberant and such a ham, that you can’t help but smile and play when he’s around.

Ivan is getting plenty of TLC at Animal Farm Foundation, but he is ready for a family to call his own. Having lived with him for four days and nights, I can attest to his suitability as a running companion, an adventure partner, a playmate, a snuggle bunny, and a mood lifter.

photo courtesy Caitlinn Quinn @ AFF

photo courtesy Caitlinn Quinn @ AFF

And he’s so stinkin’ handsome, you can’t help but fall in love.

Come hither and nap with me. I will lure you with my bedroom eyes.

Nap time's over, ready to party?

Ivan is available through Animal Farm Foundation. He currently lives in Dutchess County, New York, but for the right adopter, he is willing to travel!

Four days at Animal Farm Foundation

A few weeks back while Zee was busy getting adopted, foster mom headed up to Dutchess County, NY for a four-day learning-and-fun program for pit bull advocates and shelter professionals at Animal Farm Foundation.

AFF is a private not-for-profit foundation devoted to restoring the image of pit bull type dogs — the organization does its work through advocacy, research, best practices, and rescue of a small number of dogs, which are cared for, rehabilitated, and trained on their property.

Not only is the mission of the organization noble, but the property itself could hardly be more idyllic. AFF sits nestled among the rolling hills of Dutchess County amidst working horse farms and beautiful estates. My visit coincided with the very start of leaf-turning season. The nightly rains turned the ponds into rivers and the mornings into misty wonderlands.

Upon arrival, each participant (or “intern”) is assigned a dog who they will feed, care for, sleep with, and work with at training sessions. My partner was this gorgeous hunk, Ivan:

More on Ivan tomorrow, but for now let’s just say he is quite a catch. Gorgeous, smart, athletic, funny, and loves to cuddle. Sounds almost like a personals ad, huh?

Daily activities were split between classroom-style learning (including a presentations by the National Canine Research Council on the Pit Bull Placebo, by AFF about how language and policies — even seemingly good ones — affect broad attitudes toward pit bull type dogs, and even a short lecture on dog nutrition and digestion), and hands-on work with the dogs. One particularly interesting classroom session was about how dog breeding and genetic composition affects appearance, behavior, preferences, and other characteristics, and how often humans get it wrong when we guess at a dog’s breed makeup (and consequentially, its behavior) based on its physical appearance.  Hands-on work with the dogs included some hikes, walks, several short training sessions, basic shaping and luring work, some clicker training, and enrichment in a kennel setting.

Resident dogs attended some of the sessions with us, and took good advantage of their time in the spotlight to show off their hammiest hamminess. My own Ivan was proud to display his ability to wiggle and worm his way from one lap onto the next in our seated row without ever touching the ground; Lotti Dotti’s special talent is laying splayed out in a lap, displaying all of her most beautiful spots:

In addition to the organization’s advocacy and rescue work, Animal Farm Foundation also runs a few specialized training programs for pit bull type dogs, including assistance dogs, therapy dogs, and sports dogs (frisbee, flyball, dock jumping, and agility).

Well-matched dogs not only love this work, but their presence out in public amongst people and other animals helps advance the idea that AFF works so hard on — that pit bull type dogs are just dogs like any others– nothing different, nothing unique.

A couple of quick phone-cam videos of AFF dogs demonstrating their evolving frisbee skills and dock diving skills:

AFF will resume offering the (FREE!) program in the spring, and the four days will be well worth your while if you’re a shelter or rescue worker or an advocate with an interest in issues of pit bull advocacy and adoption. Although individuals with a wide range of knowledge can benefit from the program, it seems especially geared toward individuals with intermediate level of knowledge about and experience with pit bull type dogs, who want to step up their game and be able to advocate for them with more confidence and authority. AFF’s lessons are widely applicable, but would be easiest to take home to a small or medium-sized shelter or rescue with a strong volunteer base.

Interested? Contact AFF for more info on how to apply.

Blast from the past: Stevie Wonder update!

Those who have been with us since summer surely remember Miss Stevie Wonder, the most gangly and tiger-striped of pit bull dogs to ever cross our threshold. Fostering Stevie was an absolute riot. She was full of bubbly exuberance, had a tail that could put a dent in titanium, and adored our Chick with a passion that rivals the world’s greatest love stories.

Last week, before we left town, we got a quick visit in with Stevie and her new family — one of the benefits of living just three miles away. It’s always fun hearing about how our fosters are doing in their new homes, but seeing them happy, bouncy, and comfortable in their forever homes is something else entirely.

Needless to say, Stevie is doing great. She is enrolled in class at the Washington Animal Rescue League, she goes for long walks with her family every morning and evening, and she gets to chase her beloved tennis ball down the deck stairs and across the yard every evening after school. Her darling brother Henry and mom take turns throwing the ball, and Stevie chases it with glee. We’ll let the photos do most of the talking here, because they really show the sweetness of her new family — from the big squeaky tennis balls they loyally buy her and let her destroy, to the “upside down kisses” that Henry likes to demonstrate with Stevie.

One funny little story that doesn’t come through in the pictures: Stevie loves all dogs and gets waggy and happy when she sees any dog on the street. But when she sees another pit bull type dog, she goes absolutely bonkers with wiggles and happiness. Perhaps a trait she learned while living with us? Who knows!

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