As many of you know, I am a foster failure; but I am also a foster success- twice. Many people ask me, “Don’t you get attached?” along with, “How do you give them up?” The answers are ‘Yes’ and ‘It’s hard’.
I foster because I love dogs. (How I got involved fostering is a subject for a whole separate post.) Quite often, the fosters that come through my doors are in pretty sad shape, so of course my heart gets involved. And even though Rational Brain has told Heart, ‘stay out of this… do not get involved.’ Heart does not listen. Ever.
My friend Bev, who does amazing work for Blue Ridge Bull Terrier Rescue, called and asked me to do a home visit. We are always in need of good foster homes, so I said sure. I didn’t realize there were two pups who needed foster homes, nor was I aware that the kind, good people looking to foster already had several dogs. First time fosters should begin by fostering one dog at a time. One. Sooooo, you know already how this played out…
Elidee came home with me. She carried her deflated soccer ball right into the back of my jeep, where I had a crate waiting. She wouldn’t let it go, and that was fine. It was hers. She traveled quietly, no whining or barking. I stopped at our local feed store, thinking to pop in with her, fit her for a harness and a collar, grab some puppy food, and perhaps another toy. When I lifted the hatch, Elidee moved to the back of her crate, making it very clear she wasn’t coming out. So I hurried into the feed store, guessing on harness and collar sizes, with no help from her. When we got home, she hadn’t changed her mind: not coming out. My husband and I carried her, in the crate, into the house and set the crate down in the laundry room. I opened the door, sat down on the floor as far away from her as I could get- and began to talk softly while tossing bit of chopped, roasted chicken breast in her general direction. It took about 15 minutes for Elidee to leave the crate. She scoped out her new digs while Hoovering up the rest of the chicken, and then climbed into my lap. Apparently, we’d passed muster.
Elidee was believed to be between 6 and 9 months old. However, she wasn’t crate trained, house broken, nor did she have a clue as to what purpose a harness and leash had. It goes without saying that she hadn’t any house manners either. These are foundation behaviors that every dog should have, but they’re a huge plus for foster dogs looking for their forever homes. The rational part of me knew that Elidee would be adopted much quicker if she had some of these basic skills. She was a delight to train- quick, eager, and bright, she thought this clicker-thing was a fabulous game. Soon she was sitting politely for her dinner, sitting nicely by the door to go out, and sitting when cued. My heart sang for this clever little girl, learning so quickly while enjoying the process as well.
Elidee loved balls; that sad soccer ball was quickly replaced with better ones, rolling ones. Ones that flew! The size or kind didn’t matter- big, small, hard, soft- as long as that baby sailed when it was thrown. She retrieved at warp speed. As soon as the ball left my hand, she was gone. And back. At my feet. Mouthing the ball. Letting it drop. Snatching it back. She wanted desperately for me to throw it again, but had such a difficult time relinquishing it. A reaching hand paired with a mouth full of steak knives…. I was careful and patient. I worked diligently to teach Elidee that the game would only commence when she backed away from the ball. If she even twitched a muscle, I stood back up, moving away from the ball. It didn’t take her long to figure it out.
I posted her progress, pictures, and short video clips on FaceBook every morning- she was a huge hit and the posts were shared many times over. Why then, was I surprised when Bev called to tell me they had found Elidee a perfect home? Two weeks certainly wasn’t enough time to get attached. Yet I felt my heart whisper, ‘oh no’ while my rational brain said cheerfully, “Oh Bev, that’s wonderful!”
Our last night together, I filled a small tote bag with Elidee’s possessions while she watched me intently. “Yes,” I told her, “You’re taking your ball and your harness, and the creme for your
skinned up beautiful nose. I typed up your schedule, so your new people will know when you’re used to being walked and fed. Of course I remembered to include the homemade treats you like so much when we’re training together.” She seemed to understand and approve, tail wagging… but in all honesty, that may have been caused by the sight of her ball. Or her treats. Or both. I added formal observations along with anecdotal notes, and my contact information in case the new owners had any questions. I put the tote on the table and then I spent some quality time with my girl, rolling the ball across the kitchen floor, cuddling, and discussing what she could expect in her new home. I was so happy for her my heart hurt.
Did I cry when I dropped her off? No. I waited until they’d driven away. Then I cried, and I continued to cry half the way home. That, of course was my heart. My rational brain knew she was going to good, kind, people who would love and appreciate her. I had nothing to be concerned about (rational) I assured myself as I hiccuped-sobbed (heart) my way North on I-91.
Did I tell myself never again? No. I told myself, not for awhile. And that’s how it works. One foster at a time, one connection at a time, one bond at a time. It’s the completely rational thing to do.