If you’ve ever heard the term #FosterFail, then you know exactly what’s coming. Last July (2016) Ben and I were on our way back from Nashville when I checked my messages and saw that the director of the rescue group I volunteer for was asking if anyone of us were near Asheville and could pick up a dog and keep him until they could find alternate foster care. As we were the nearest to him, we agreed and a few hours later we met a woman in the parking lot of Cracker Barrel and she handed off her son’s dog, Kaiser.
From the first minute I met Kaiser, I was overwhelmed. Approximately four years old, he was extremely anxious and unruly, jumping around and whining, almost hysterical in his fright. I asked for a run down of his history and the woman proceeded to tell me that Kaiser had no manners, was misbehaved, not housebroken, and acted like a junkyard dog. (not sure what that means) For a moment, I second-guessed our decision to pick him up. We said our goodbyes and with no visible love loss, the woman walked away.
The rest of the trip home was memorable, to say the least. I kept Kaiser on my lap, perched on a pillow as I tried to calm him. A few times I thought he was going to bite me in the midst of his meltdown. It took nearly an hour of talking to him and petting him, but he finally settled down except for a long sigh every now and then. When he calmed, I got a good look at his eye and was disgusted at how bad it looked, all crusty and red. Kaiser turned his head to look around as though blind in that eye and my heart broke for him.
“You call them and get someone else to take him first thing tomorrow,” Ben said when we could breathe again. “He’s going to be too much for us.”
At home we introduced him to Riley, who wanted no part of it. I also still had Lola, my first foster dog and she turned her nose up as well. I set Kaiser up a small area behind a gate in my dressing room, and that is where he slept and spent a lot of time for the first few days. I gave him as much attention as I could, but it was disheartening. Kaiser was a sad little fellow. Truly, he seemed heartbroken. Or just broken.
At the vet’s office, I was the drama of the day. Kaiser was like a bucking bronco in the waiting room and I could barely control him. Inside the exam room, he climbed me like a monkey, wrapping himself around my neck, completely terrified. The doctor informed me that the eye issue appeared to be from a very old injury and was most likely very painful. I asked if Kaiser could see from it and the doctor said we wouldn’t know for a while. The plan was to treat it aggressively for two weeks, which would require multiple sessions of meds and cleaning each day. We also discovered that Kaiser hadn’t seen a vet in over two years and needed all his shots.
After talking to Ben, we decided to keep Kaiser with us until we could get the eye injury under control.
Obviously, the poor pup came with some issues. If we’d give all the dogs a treat or toy, he’d bully them and hoard the treats. He had to be taught he wasn’t their boss. To be groomed, he had to be sedated and even then, he tried to bite the groomer. One of his ‘behaviors’ was he wanted to hump everything all the time. I spoke to a specialist and they informed me that the humping was not connected to dominance, and instead was Kaiser’s way of coping with anxiety. She suggested I give Kaiser his own special stuffy and make him keep the action to one designated room. She advised if we didn’t allow him his own self-soothing methods, he could do things that were much more damaging, like eating our drywall. So we gave him a stuffed elephant. And wow– did he love that elephant. He loved her all the time. All. The. Time.
Slowly, over the next few weeks, we found another side of Kaiser emerging. Under the fright that made him act out and look grumpy, he had bursts of happiness. It only took something small for his little tail to bob. He was grateful for each and every gesture. He still had issues, though. When we brought out the leash to begin including him in our nightly walks, he would freak out and attack it as though it were a rattlesnake. It would take some time to get the leash on him and sometimes we’d have to carry him out the door, he was so anxious. At times Kaiser would also seem upset over nothing and run hide under the bed. But we worked with him, showing him that we would never hurt him. Lola began to tolerate him and we also noticed that Riley took a special interest in him, going to touch noses throughout the day as if to say, “You okay there, buddy? We got ya, man. Calm down…”
One week turned into two, then three, and soon was four. Kaiser was no longer put behind the gate except at bedtime or when we left the house. Curiously, he began to follow Ben whenever he was home. Despite Ben’s initial reluctance, he worked hard to help me rehabilitate Kaiser, showing him what a human pack leader should be like. Firm, but gentle. Confident. Trustworthy.
Kaiser stopped being a bully to the other dogs. With diligent corrections, he learned that he would get his share of food, toys, and treats and didn’t have to be so dominant. He also stopped loving his elephant so much. What started out as more than a dozen love sessions a day soon dwindled to a few times and then just once a day. We discovered that he absolutely loved going for a walk. We found a different groomer after interviewing several, and luckily Kaiser was fine with him, no sedation needed. He started behaving somewhat normal and while we were busy with life, we neglected to notice that Kaiser was finding his place in the pack.
Finally, the director messaged to let me know it was time to start interviewing prospective adoptive families for Kaiser. Verbally, I agreed, but inside I felt sick. Kaiser had a lot of special needs and would require someone to be very understanding. I didn’t know his photo had been added to the website and we had four interested families. As a foster, it was my job to screen them and try to find a good fit.
I made contact with the first couple and began to send them photos and even a video. It was a retired couple without dogs or children, and at first I thought they might be the ones. Then we had a call and he asked me, “he doesn’t beg, does he? Because I won’t put up with begging at my table.. ”
I marked him off the list. If a little begging was that big of a deal, then he couldn’t even begin to handle a dog with Kaiser’s issues. The next family was marked off because they had small children and I’d come to learn that Kaiser was nervous around the kids we passed on our walks. Could he get over it? Possibly, but I just felt in my gut that he needed a quieter home.
Next on the list was a lady that seemed to be perfect. Her children were older (two boys, high school and college) and there were no other pets. We talked back and forth for a week and I felt so good about it that we set up an appointment for her to come meet Kaiser. A few days before the meeting, I took him to the vet and his eye was still not good. The vet said another few weeks, on a new rx this time. He would continue to need his eye cleaned multiple times a day, plus drops. How would his new mom do it when she worked full-time? And wouldn’t Kaiser be lonely during the day after having such a pack to hang with every minute? So I delayed the adopt-meeting. In the meantime, Kaiser was transforming into a new little dog that continuously made us laugh with his jolly ways. Everything to him was so exciting! Food. Walks. Belly rubs. He was so grateful! And watching him and Riley wrestle together, then lay next to each other, made my heart swell. It was as though they were long lost brothers.
The days kept ticking by until weeks turned into a few months. We took the boys with us to the beach and Kaiser was beyond thrilled. Everywhere we went, people thought he and Riley were the ‘cutest brothers’. And slowly his fear began to take a backseat to other emotions of hope and happiness. He no longer fought the leash and his anxiety fits came less and less frequently. He could walk into the animal hospital without making a spectacle of us. We’d done our job in readying him for the next steps in his life. Finally, when I could no longer find any excuse to continue to foster him, Ben came home from work and I told him that we would probably have to say goodbye to Kaiser by the end of the week.
Ben, (who let me remind you was never that excited about me fostering dogs and wanted Kaiser gone the first day) turned to me and said, “maybe we should keep him.”
And that, my friends, is the rest of the story.
Kaiser officially became part of the Bratt Pack and it hasn’t been a perfect journey. He still has some issues but don’t we all? His eye is much better though we still treat it daily and it can be costly with the vet visits and meds. Next steps is a possible vet ophthalmologist but at least he can see well out it now. I can tell you this, too. Kaiser is not a junk yard dog. He is housebroken. And he does have manners. She was wrong. And funny thing, until he came along, we didn’t even know we were unbalanced. Now I couldn’t imagine life without my little Kaisie-Bear. And the bond that he and Ben share is one that only a rescued dog and his person can know.
In closing, perhaps you are at a time in your life that you can volunteer for a rescue group? They really need foster families! Or if you cannot foster, then perhaps you could offer a donation to help cover the medical needs of the dogs taken in for care and a second chance? There are many rescues out there. NC Yorkie Rescue is the non-profit I volunteered for and they do a phenomenal job with such scarce resources. They and others could use your help. Also please consider adding to your pack from a rescue, you would not believe the gratitude the dog will have for the rest of it’s life. It’s so rewarding to see a dog’s personality transformed as he/she heals from the ordeal they have been through.
If you are a dog-lover that also likes a great story, please check out my upcoming novel, Wish Me Home, where you’ll fall in love with a dog named Hemi as he searches for a place to call home.