Play Dead

“He should be in the ASPCA commercial, he would bring in all the donations!”

“Your cats are friendlier than your foster dog!”

20161225_150419“Can I adopt your dog? She’s great!”

I have never witnessed anything like it in my life.

I told the potential adopter that Heath, my 10-month-old black lab mix, was shy and scared. I told him that he has irritated skin, probably from stress, and comes with an antibiotic and a medicated shampoo. I was honest and upfront about all of Heath’s qualities. He needs work. As do most people in the world (hello, blogging & wine).

His background, I don’t know and can’t even imagine. When I get a foster in his state (scared, submissive, untrusting), I formulate stories in my head. My story of Heath was that he was rescued down South, spent most of his time in a crate and away from people, and that his interactions with people were limited or not pleasant. He knows what a ball is, and plays appropriately with toys, so that leads me to believe he had some interaction… but he cowers when I pet his head, and he still waits to see how I interact with Bailey before he comes and approaches me. It took me 40 minutes to lure him out of the crate the first night he arrived, but now, his hiding spot is underneath the kitchen table. He comes out from hiding on his terms in his time. Baby steps.

The potential adopter sent me a text message saying that he would arrive in 5 minutes, in which I began to give Heath a long pep-talk. It went like this: “You got this buddy. You want to go home for Christmas. You can do it. These are nice people, good people, and they are going to love you, and you are going to love them. You need to put on a good show. Now is your chance, Heath. I will be right here with you. ”

The potential adopter and his family came into my living room. Heath army crawled around on the couch and then he ran and hid underneath my kitchen table. I retrieved him from under the table and I tried placing him in the potential adopter’s lap. No cigar. Heath wanted off and out, now. I tried encouraging Bailey to play with him. I tried to get him to play with a toy. I tried to give him treats. I tried bringing the cats around so he could chase them. Something. Anything. I think I burned holes through my sweatshirt running around trying to figure out how to get him to do SOMETHING other than be scared and sad.

Then, Heath actually did something. He rolled on his back and exposed his white chest, put his front paws in the air, closed his eyes, and played dead. He couldn’t handle the meet and greet. He wanted our eyes off of him. He gave me the something I so desperately wanted. He laid on my floor, motionless, as if to say, “Is this over yet? Because I’ve had enough. My eyes bulged out of my head, my mouth was wide open, and my rosacea-like cheeks turned a new shade of pink. I opened my palm, slapped it against my forehead, and said “He is just really submissive.” Face palm. Foot in mouth. FML.

The potential adopter and I exchanged awkward pleasantries along the lines of sorry for wasting your time and I’ll let you know if a dog comes along that is a little more outgoing. Heath needs to work on his socialization skills, which requires a lot of time. There was unfortunately no connection between Heath and the potential adopter. There was, however, me, the foster parent, running around like an idiot trying to get Heath to be someone he is not…


I talked to Jason (who wasn’t home to witness the playing dead drama), my mom, sister, and people from the rescue who couldn’t believe that it happened. They laughed, said “Oh no!,” and gave me some helpful advice.

I laugh, because I think of the everyday situations in which I wish I could play dead like Heath. I would just lay on my back with my legs and arms in the air, close my eyes and be like “F this shit, I’m done.” I thought it was funny and sad, all at the same time. Funny because that was his time to shine! I gave him a pep talk! We discussed this! And, what does he do? Play possum. It’s sad because God only knows what has happened to him to have him shut down and play dead. I feel like my life has so many of those funny-sad moments. I could relate to Heath, the days that I just stay in bed and mutter to myself “Nothing can happen to me here.” I think if I played dead in the middle of the rehab gym or in the middle of Jason talking to me, it wouldn’t be socially acceptable as I am not a canine, but it would make for a very interesting story.

Doors open and close each day in our lives. Heath decided to play dead when an opportunity was wide open for him to be adopted into a forever home. But I think Heath playing dead had a bigger meaning. He’s content here, he’s slowly becoming more comfortable, and maybe, he knew he is just not ready to leave.

20161223_211714Heath will find a home. He will find a person or family that will understand him and his quirks, that will accept his shyness and love for his hiding spots. Heath is an amazing little fellow. He observes from afar, licks your hand, takes treats nicely, and isn’t afraid to be himself. He perks up when he sees me take out a leash and enjoys his kibble with chicken and cheese.

When life gets tough, don’t be afraid to play dead.  The right door will open when you least expect it and in the interim, you’ll have the opportunity to work on your quirks.

You got this, Heath. I’m with you every step of the way.



Life of a Foster Mom



Briggs, looking for a furever home

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.

Car Safety


Briggs behaving in my backseat with the Kurgo Seat Belt Tether

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, 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.



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