April 6th 2008 7:35 am
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Fostering is not a way to get a free dog. It is not a trial period before adoption. And it certainly isn't easy. Fostering is a way to help a dog that really needs you. At times, it's incredibly stressful. It requires dedication, hard work, serious time commitments, lots of stain remover, and -- above all -- an understanding of the purpose of the process. If you can't give your heart to a dog and then let it go when it doesn't need you anymore, you probably shouldn't get involved.
So how do I prevent myself from becoming too attached? I never think of a foster dog as "mine." Each dog already belongs to someone else -- it just so happens that I haven't met that person yet. The dogs just stay with me until their special person is able to come and take them home. The easiest way to keep from getting too attached is to remember that there is another dog that needs my help after this one goes to it's forever loving home.
So what is fostering? For me, it's the most rewarding thing I've ever done.
April 6th 2008 7:31 am
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A foster volunteer has the opportunity to work with the dog to correct some of the behavior problems that may have led to the dog's surrender.
It seems that medium-to-large, adolescent, untrained dogs are prime candidates for foster homes. They may be overlooked at the shelter because they are too big, unruly, or ordinary-looking. They are past the adorable puppy stage, but still have plenty of puppy energy that needs an outlet. Given enough time, and some basic training, these dogs that might otherwise be euthanized for lack of space now have a chance at finding permanent, loving homes.
Aside from regular day-to-day care (feeding, grooming, exercise), the responsibilities of a foster home may include basic training (housetraining, walking on leash, sit, down); behavior modification (to correct problems such as jumping, mouthing, barking, destructive chewing, dashing through doors); socialization and temperament evaluation (to determine whether the dog is good with different types of people and other animals); medical care (dispensing medication, taking the dog to vet appointments), and of course plenty of playtime and snuggling.
After the dog has been nursed back to health, evaluated, and trained, the search begins for a permanent home. Possible methods for finding an adoptive home include hanging posters at the shelter, workplace, and pet supply stores; attending adoption events; putting an ad in the newspaper; posting the dog's picture on the internet; and simply spreading the word about the dog to anyone who will listen. Prospective adopters will have the opportunity to come and meet the dog in a home setting. All adoptions will take place at the shelter. (If you are placing dogs directly from your home, a kennel license may be required before dogs can legally be transferred. This is usually dependent on the number of dogs transferred per year. Check with your local bureau of dog law enforcement.)
Fostering a dog may seem like a formidable task, but it is a very tangible way to make a difference. Everyone benefits: The foster volunteer gets to spend time with a special dog, and the kennel gains space for a new dog. The foster dog gets a break from kennel life and a second chance at becoming a cherished pet. The new owners get a dog that is better adapted to home life, and therefore has a better chance of remaining in the new home permanently.
If you are interested in becoming a foster home, contact your local humane society, animal shelter, or breed rescue.
April 6th 2008 7:28 am
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"Little Pieces" by Grace Saalsaa
of MidAmerica Border Collie Rescue
(Written for those who foster)
Melissa sat on the floor, unable to sit straight and tall like her mother had always admonished her to do when she was a child. Today, it would be impossible. And tomorrow... it probably wouldn't be possible then either. Her mind was too busy thinking about the dog that lay across her lap.
When he came to be with her, he had no name. She remembered that day very well. The first sight of him was enough to break her heart into little pieces.
The woman, who had taken this dog from the rough streets where he had lived, had tried to save him because she was unable to watch this young dog find his own food in a dumpster outside the crack house where he lived. Nobody cared that he was gone.
His fur was very thick; so thick that she had to wiggle her fingers down to feel his bony body. And as she pulled her fingers away again, they were coated in old dirt. Black and white, he was supposed to be. But on that day he was beige and dust.
He sat in the back of her car panting continuously, ears laid outward for he had lost his courage and couldn't keep them proud and tall. He sat motionless, waiting and limp.
But the thing that was the most disturbing was the look in his eyes. They were quiet eyes, sunken into his head - and they watched her. They were alive with thought. He was waiting for her to do something "to" him.
Little did he know at the time that, instead, she would "give" something to him. She gave him one of the little broken pieces of her heart.
She reached out to stroke his head and he instinctively squinched his eyes shut and dropped his head, waiting for the heavy hand. With that little bit of movement she gave him another one of the broken pieces of her heart.
She took him home and gave him a bath. She toweled him dry and brushed some order back into his coat. For that, he was grateful and even though his own heart was loaded with worms, he accepted yet another piece of her heart, for it would help to heal his own.
"Would you like some water, big boy?" She whispered to him as she set down a large bowl of cold well water. He drank it up happily. He had been dehydrated for a long time and she knew it would take him most of the week to re-hydrate.
He wanted more water - but it was gone. Ah... that's how it is, he thought to himself. But he was grateful for what he had been able to get. "Would you like some more?" and she gave him another bowl along with another little piece of her heart.
"I know that you are hungry. You don't have to find your own food anymore. Here's a big bowl of good food for you. I've added some warm water and a little piece of my heart."
Over the four months that he stayed with her, his health improved. The heart full of worms was replaced piece by piece with little bits of her loving heart. And each little piece worked a very special kind of magic.
When the warmth of love and gentle caresses are added, the little broken pieces knit together again and heal the container it resides in. That container becomes whole again.
She watched each little broken piece fill a gap in the gentle dog until his quiet eyes radiated the light from the little pieces. You see, kind words gently spoken turn the little pieces into illumination for the spirit that resides within.
He rested beside her, happy to be with her always. Never had he known such kindness, such gentle caresses; such love. His health had returned, his spirit was playful as a young dog's should be and he had learned about love.
Now his heart was full. The healing was complete. It was time to go. There was another person who had another heart that was meant to be shared with him.
So she sat shapeless on the floor because all the broken pieces of her heart were with the dog. It is difficult to sit tall when your heart is not with you. She wrapped her arms around the dog that sat with tall, proud ears for her. Lean on me, he said.
And she gave him one last thing that would keep him strong; that would keep the pieces of her heart together long after he had gone on to live his new life. She gave him her tears and bound them to the pieces with a simple statement made from the ribbons of her heart.
"I love you, Joe." And Joe lived happily ever after.
Melissa sat on the floor, straight and tall like her mother had always admonished her to do when she was a child. Today, it would be possible. And tomorrow... it probably would be possible too. Because her mind was busy thinking about this, the next dog that lay across her lap.
Where did she get the heart to help yet another dog, you ask? Ahhh... it came with the dog. They always bring a little bit of heart with them. And when the rescuer breathes in that little bit of heart, it quickly grows and fills the void left by the last dog.
Reprinted with permission.