Meeting a foster dog is like going on a blind date. I get nervous and sweaty, pace around the house, and wait for the text message “Be there in 30.” Dog rescue is complicated. When I first started fostering, I was naïve, uninformed, and wasn’t familiar with the rescue terminology. I especially didn’t realize how many volunteers are required to have a successful transport from shelter to foster home.
It starts with a volunteer who seeks puppies and dogs, primarily from high kill shelters, that we will rescue. The volunteer and transporter situates dogs from the shelter into his/her vehicle, meets another transporter, who meets another transporter, who meets another transporter, who meets a volunteer from our rescue, who texts all of us, and we all meet like a pack of wolves to come and collect our foster dog. It’s happy (that they are with us and safe at their destination) but sad and anxiety ridden (because they are scared, peeing in our backseat [thank you towels], and we have a lot of work ahead of us) The labor or love begins as soon as they enter our vehicle. Here are some tips I compiled for a successful transition from pick-up through Day 1.
If I get a puppy or small dog, I have a small crate that fits in my backseat. The crate is lined with a towel. If I have a larger dog, a car seat belt is a terrific investment. As you can see pictured, I use the Kurgo Seat Belt Tether. The seat belt makes sure that the dog does not become a projectile while the car is in motion. I also invested in a car sling and put down towels. I also give plenty of treats and have a bone in the backseat to try to keep them distracted. Building a report is paramount, and their safety and well-being is my priority.
Walk it Out
As soon as I get home, I take the foster dog on a walk around the house and front yard. I take note of how the dog walks on a leash, and its mannerisms. Am I being dragged? Is he/she skittish? Is its tail wagging or tucked? How does he/she respond to treats and its name being called? When I feel comfortable, I bring Bailey outside (on a leash) to let them greet on neutral territory. I walk them up the block and watch their interactions to see if it will be a successful match. Then the foster and I head into our fenced in backyard. (Bailey goes inside.) This gives he/she an opportunity to go to the bathroom off leash, investigate all the different scents, and I can see how they interact with the different toys. Some foster dogs take to playing immediately while others have never had a toy. Once the foster gets acclimated, Bailey comes outside for more play and fun. The foster learns quickly that she is top dog. Bailey unfortunately doesn’t have the temperament, or the recall capabilities, to be a rehabilitation dog for humans, but this is where she shines and makes the best foster sibling. Within a few days, Bailey teaches the scared, skittish dogs how to play with and without toys, how to go up and down stairs, how to walk on a leash, where to eat and drink, and basic commands. If a foster is extremely scared and hides in the crate, Bailey will enter the crate, grab he/she by the scruff, and pull them out of the crate to play. She is a great help when it comes to acclimating a shelter dog to my temporary, loving home.
Bath, Crate, Food, Water
Depending on the temperament of the foster and when they received their flea and tick medication, he/she will get a bath. Then we will introduce he/she to its crate with food and water. We always make the crate a safe place, with a nice warm blanket or towel (sometimes I throw it in the dryer on a high for a few minutes), and lots of delicious treats (we love Pupperonis). I want them to know that they are clean, safe in their crate, and they will always have food and water.
The first night, as much as I would love for them to snuggle in bed with me, they go into the crate. I cover the crate with a blanket or sheet to create a warm little cave. Nothing makes me happier than when I go to let them out of their crate in the morning and their tail is wagging, happy to see me. That shows me that they are beginning to trust me and excited for a new day in my home.
When fostering, the first 24 hours are always the most unpredictable and difficult. It is a lot of work to acclimate a foster dog into a new environment with two humans, a high-energy canine, and two felines. I am lucky to volunteer for a rescue that gives me good matches for my family.
If you ever thought about fostering, reach out to your local rescue. Foster parents are always needed and appreciated. (If you live in NJ, check out Caring Canine Connections, www.thecccrescue.com) It will be an unforgettable, rewarding experience.
“The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Be the change.