When a Foster Dog Leaves

scrappyA foster dog never leaves my home. Their memories are forever embedded in my heart. I look at their favorite spots, whether it be on the couch or in the yard, and it reminds me of their happiness. I provided a temporary, but very stable, nurturing home. They had gotten bathed in my tub to wash off the shelter filth, a different collar to give them a new identity, food, water, and a comfortable place to sleep. They played with an abundance of toys, received numerous treats and bully sticks, and were on schedule of two working humans, looking to give back and make a difference in the world. The foster dog gets its pictures and biography posted online and volunteers await applications, ready to begin reference and background checks. Meet and greets take place to see if the dog will be a good fit for the new person or family. If all goes well, the foster dog leaves to its furever home. I feel a mixture of emotions when my foster dog leaves, which I can compare to a cocktail; two parts happiness mixed with one part sadness, topped off with worry, shaken with relief, and poured into a half-full glass.

I am happy, because they have a new home.

I am sad, because they are leaving me. My labor of love ends.

I am worried, for the next 48 hours, hoping they adapt well to their new person/family and environment.

I am relieved, that I had a helping hand in making my foster dog an adoptable canine companion.

Before I meet with the potential adopters, I always spend some alone time with my foster dog. I pray that they always be cared for and loved. I give them a treat, belly rub, and kisses. I tell them I love them and was happy to be given the opportunity to take care of them. I let them play with Bailey, my 2-year-old rescue, in the yard, one last time.

I reflect on their progress. They arrived broken and leave mended, by life’s greatest virtue: love.

farrahWhen the adopters arrive, I appear nonchalant, but secretly, my insides ache. My heart drops into my stomach. I hold tears back from streaming down my face. I remind them that if it doesn’t work out, to call me, and I will take the dog back, no questions asked. The dog that doesn’t want to leave my home is the most painful to watch. I turn away, or the composure I work so hard to maintain will be lost. I enjoy watching the dog that leaves confidently, as I often wish I could tackle new adventures as fearlessly as they do.

As my foster dog is leaving my care, I must repeat to myself:

The next dog you rescue will probably be worse than this one. They need you. Let this one go.

This dog is going to a happy, healthy home. It will work out. Be positive.

I can’t keep all the dogs I rescue, so continue fostering, educating, and advocating.

Dogs come into our lives to teach us about love. When they depart, they teach us about loss and acceptance. New dogs never replace the previous, they only expand our hearts and allow us to grow. Every dog I foster comes with a story, I just hope to give them the happiest of endings; a perfect forever home.

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KiKi

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KiKi after her first bath ever

I had a slice of American cheese in my hand. I was laying prone down my foyer stairs trying to coax KiKi, my Akita/Belgian Malinois foster dog up the stairs.

The owner of the rescue came to my house with her Suburban full of dogs. She wanted to make sure that whichever dog she gave me got along with my dog, Bailey. When I met KiKi, she pressed herself up against the crate, indicating she was scared and not wanting to leave her safety zone. I turned to the rescue owner and said “You get her out! I’m not! She’s going to bite my face off!” With lots of coaxing, a calm voice, treats, and gentile manhandling, KiKi was free from the confines of the crate and on a leash. We took a quick walk to make sure her and Bailey were friendly enough to be off leash in the backyard. Bailey ambushed her, but KiKi looked to Bailey as a big sister, showing her the ropes of our palace.

KiKi was a dog from the South. I knew nothing of her background, so I formulated a story in my head. KiKi was an outside dog, she was never inside a home because she didn’t know how to go up and down stairs. A toy was a foreign object, one that peaked her interest, but she would approach cautiously, unsure of the toy’s intentions. She didn’t trust humans, either. Whoever had her, was a prick. She wanted nothing more to be outside. That is no life for a dog. Bailey, Ace, and Jack (my furfamily) are treated better than some humans. I love them more than myself.

The first night with KiKi was one for the books. We live in a bi-level, so stairs are a necessary evil. There is 7 steps to the front door. Once inside, you can either take 7 steps upstairs or 5 steps downstairs. KiKi entered through the downstairs entrance, and that is where she remained. She was not going anywhere near the stairs. She went outside and inside through the downstairs entrance only. I thought to myself, “How can I turn this outside dog into an inside dog?” She wasn’t fond of the crate (again, outside dog mentality), so I laid a warm red blanket down for her on the floor. She wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t drink water, and would just stare at me, as if to say, “What am I doing here?” I was heartbroken. She looked so sad. She wanted nothing that I had to offer. I slept with her on the red blanket. I just felt like she needed someone on her side, to know that I was there, with her food and water, and that we were going to get things right. She was in my care, and I was going to protect her and get her adopted to a good home.

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KiKi & Bailey, the Queens of the Castle

One of the most challenging things I had to do was teach KiKi to go up and down the stairs. Not only did we have to master the inside stairs, but we had to master both sets of outside stairs. I think I learn something new every time I have a foster dog that can’t do something. I tried putting Pupperonis on each step. No cigar. She would just eat the treats on the first two steps and then run away. I tried having Bailey be the example. “See! Look. Bailey! Come.” Bailey would run up the stairs and I would give her a pet and a treat. KiKi would whimper in disgust and aggravation. I tried placing her gently on the steps, in which she would shake, and it no longer became a positive, happy experience. So, I laid prone on the steps with cheese in hand, and Bailey next to me for moral support. Nope. She wouldn’t budge. I got Jason to lay prone and hold cheese, and I guided her legs up the stairs. Finally, she did it. And we practiced, and practiced, and practiced some more. Two hours later and we had KiKi running up and down the stairs. Positive reinforcement. Success. It took another day to teach her how to go up and down the outside steps. Baby steps.

KiKi had an application for adoption. The man walked many miles each day and wanted a dog to walk well with his dog. KiKi, thankfully, was amazing on a leash. After almost six days with me, she was a new dog. She pranced. She slapped her paws against the ground, happy to be alive. She saw me get the leash out of the closet and would run down the stairs by the door. I loved taking her on walks because we were both in our happy place; me, getting my exercise outdoors, and her prancing down the street, sassy as ever.

I don’t know the rest of KiKi’s story. Some of the adopters and I keep in touch through text messaging or social media facets, but KiKi’s life is a mystery. Last I heard, her family loved her, and that she was walking miles each day, happily, with her canine sibling.

Whether it takes me two hours guiding a foster dog up the stairs to get her to the American cheese prize or sleeping on a blanket on the floor, I will do anything to make these dogs feel safe, happy, and alive. I get unconditional love, and gratitude for life, and they get the skills they need to become an adoptable, well behaved canine companion. Happy trails, KiKi. Win-win for all.

Namaste.