Most of you recognize Riley Radcliffe, my sidekick, shadow, and canine soul mate. Based on my posts and constant photo stream highlighting him and his antics, you know that I love dogs, but did you know that I’ve longed for more dogs in my life? On that note, I decided that the best way to fulfill that need as well as encourage others to do something for needy animals in their life, was to become a foster for dogs. My first thought was can I do this? Will it break my heart? Will it fulfill that hole and need to have more puppy love in my home? I didn’t take the decision lightly and I began to online stalk other fosters for dogs, as well as rescue groups. One of my Facebook friends, Luanne, was a great example to watch as she took in one or two dogs at a time, helping them heal physically and emotionally from whatever life had thrown them until they were ready to go to their furever homes. Each pup she posted I watched the updates and then waited to see if they were adopted. And they were. Every time.
I finally decided I could do it too.
That being decided, I began the process to be approved to be a foster for pups. (I say pups but that includes dogs of every age and I just find it an endearing term). I decided to apply with NC Yorkie Rescue because Riley is a Yorkie (albeit a huge one at 16 healthy lbs!) and I’m familiar with the breed. I completed the online application then waited to be contacted. First I received a call from one of their foster coordinator’s named Sharon. She was lovely but to the point, making our phone interview one that covered everything from how many people and what age lived in our household, to do we rent or buy, have fence or not, what animals we have, what veterinarian we use, and other questions to help them decide to approve my application or not. She then asked for permission to call my vet to question them. They would need to check to be sure Riley was up to date on all his vaccinations. After that call I waited another few weeks and then received an email that I was approved. I have a feeling the group also did their own online stalking to make sure I wasn’t some sort of nut or a creep wanting a dog to flip or use in dog fights. (Yes, that happens all the time because there are a lot of cruel humans out there)
Next, I was connected with another foster coordinator, Judy, who invited me to come out to her house to meet a couple of Yorkie dogs that were there and waiting for a new foster home. Once there, I was smitten by more than one Yorkie but the dog who caught my eye was a little frightened Shih Tzu who darted in and out, watching all of us interact as she kept her distance.
I asked her story and was told her name was Sasha and she was rescued from a breeder after she was deemed of no further use to them, meaning she’d had all the litters of pups to line their pockets that she could manage. I tried to get Sasha to come to me but it only happened once, very briefly. I could tell she didn’t like all the chaos and noise of the other dogs and though I’d come for the familiar breed of a Yorkie, I knew that my quiet and calm household was what Sasha needed to recover and prepare for her furever home. I discussed it with Judy and she agreed that I would be a good fit to foster Sasha, and we headed home.
First lesson I learned as a foster for dogs?
Bring a crate.
It was a long drive home (several hours) with Sasha crawling around, unable to sit still as she anxiously looked for a way out of the car and I kept up a litany of encouraging words. But we finally made it and that evening started our journey together, her learning to heal and act like a dog, and me learning how to be a good foster. First thing I did was change her name. I felt like the name the breeder called her might evoke bad memories so we began calling her Lola Mei. By day two, Lola Mei was still very sad but she liked sitting in my office with me and she was starting to let me pick her up, though it took a lot of courage for her not to cower and hide. I found that she was terrified of most everything, especially going through doors, grass, noises, and men. She trembled a lot, but I moved slowly around her and talked softly and little by little, she began to come around. It wasn’t easy, as Lola would wake up during the night and be afraid, and I would get up and hold/comfort her or take her outside at two or three in the morning just to be sure her needs were being met. For the first week I was exhausted, but committed that together, we would conquer. And I finally had to address her hygiene. I called the grooming shop and talked to the owner, explained Lola’s issues and made arrangements for her to be groomed by their most gentle groomer. She was matted and had to be shaved down, but they took a lot of time and effort to keep her calm and when she survived that experience, I moved to the next thing on the list. A few days later I was sad to leave her at the veterinarian hospital to be spayed. However, I thought I might get two full days of work done with her gone but just like a mom with her kids, I found that her absence made me too restless to accomplish much except worry.
I didn’t expect it, but when the vet assistant brought her out of the back a day later, she was thrilled to see me. From then on, she was my shadow and went everywhere in the house that I did, and especially enjoying being carried or comforted like a baby in a soft blanket. As for Riley, he’s a great foster dog brother to have for new dogs because he’s such a gentle boy. He approached Lola frequently and she accepted him, though the one time he tried to wrestle with her she turned on him like a rabid fox and he never tried that again. I think after years of being bred, she thought he wanted more than an innocent tumble and she had decided she’d never be mounted again! And there were other things that weren’t so easy. I feel like a man must have played a brutal or neglectful part in her life because her fear of Ben– my gentle giant of a husband– was palpable. As Lola bonded tighter with me, she became more resistant toward him, even lunging and snapping at him when he came near the bed if she was on it with me. I talked with the vet and got guidance from a dog behaviorist and learned that from the beginning I should have been allowing Ben to play as big a part as me in her recovery. But we began to do some of the things suggested to get her used to him. Ben was very understanding about it all, especially the part that my life was suddenly consumed by Lola.
I say Riley was a great foster dog brother, but in all honesty he had a few complaints about sharing my attention. Overall though he did wonderful in accepting that there was enough of me to go around. We had a lot of long talks and I let him vent his feelings, and he got a few extra snuggles and treats, but all in all I’m proud of him for sharing in the experience, however daunting it was.
The days went by and slowly, with a lot of patience from all of us, Lola started to recover. She spent a lot of time just staring outdoors and contemplating her new world, her face sad and drawn, and those were the times that I scooped her up and snuggled her close, telling her she was a beautiful girl who would have an amazing future and begging her to give humankind another chance. I took her for more vet appointments and was pleased when she gained a few pounds.
Soon there began to be moments that we reveled in seeing her prance with her tail up and her feet dancing as she followed me around the yard, always keeping me in sight. We took in another foster dog named Kaiser (A follow-up post will be forthcoming) and she decided she liked Kaiser too. While she wasn’t used to a leash, or walks for that matter, she enjoyed going on our evening strolls, perched in the doggie stroller with a few stops to let her out to do her business. Then one day, a few weeks later we were out for a walk and suddenly, Lola jumped out of the stroller and decided she wanted to be a dog! That began a new phase of us getting her used to the leash and walking to enjoy all the wonderful and new scents a neighborhood had to offer. I believe it helped for her to see Riley and Kaiser and what they were doing, and in a way they showed her how to act like a dog and what the fun things to do were. We rounded a bend that evening and I could see a whole new Lola emerging. She ate with the other dogs, walked with them, and sometimes even played a little with them. Most of all though, she wanted my attention. She loved for me to hold her, snuggle her, brush her, or just walk with her around the yard as she stared up at the trees and down at the grass as though she’d never seen such magnificent things.
A month after I first met Lola the day came that the founder of the rescue group sent me a message that had 4-5 families names and phone numbers. They were all interested in adopting Lola Mei and it was time to start screening them to see if they were a fit. As I stared at the message, I felt my heart fall. I knew that being a foster would be difficult, but I never imagined getting to be a part of the recovery of such a sweet girl who’d been through such emotional neglect, and then feeling the possessiveness I felt for Lola. I wanted to continue protecting her! I couldn’t imagine anyone else being patient enough to carry her out the door, or better yet, stand there for five minutes as she got the courage to run out it herself, then praising her for it. I didn’t think there’d be that person who would understand when she lashed out, knowing it was fear and not temperament that made her cranky when she was facing something new and unfamiliar. I thought no one but me would prepare her for bed by snuggling her, kissing her, and whispering to her all the way to the crate and then bending down to tell her goodnight and it would be alright.
The first family I screened we decided wasn’t a good fit for Lola, but would be a possibility for Kaiser. I moved on to the next name on the list and after talking with her, with a heavy and unsure heart, I set up a time for her to come meet Lola. She came the next Saturday and brought her dog and her fiance. Lola did not cooperate. With new people in the house, she suddenly reverted to the frightened, snappy dog she was on day one. When the lady tried to hold Lola, the situation went bad and a bite was barely avoided. They left without Lola, thinking that her needs might be too much for them, as on my end I thought Lola wasn’t ready. That evening, I called the founder of the group and she not-so-gently told me everything I did wrong as the foster facilitating the meeting. The criticism was hard to hear but was exactly what I needed and together, we decided to try again. Of course I considered keeping her myself, but something kept keeping me from saying the words. I just wasn’t sure we were the right fit for her as a permanent solution and I began this journey to foster, not adopt.
I went back to my list and called the next family, which resulted in a long conversation with a lovely lady who has many years of experience with not only Shih Tzus but also with rescues. I gave her the entire rundown of Lola’s issues, being sure not to leave anything out for full disclosure. At the end of the call I asked her if I’d scared her away and she said certainly not. I was relieved because she and her husband, and their little girl Shih Tzu Buffy, sounded like they could be the right home for Lola. But I’d already been through one failed meeting so I was on guard and this time, I let the rescue founder walk me through exactly what to do to have the most successful outcome. We made an appointment for Lola and I to come meet them, at their address so that I could ensure their home/yard was appropriate for my girl. That next week I felt really sad and worried as first, I put her to bed for the last time, then the morning approached and we took our last walk around the yard.
The morning of Lola’s new journey arrived and I packed up all the things I’d bought for her. I’d typed up a long list of instructions and details about her likes, dislikes, feeding, and walking schedule. Her crate, complete with her favorite pink blanket and a shirt I’d slept in was to be her carriage and I packed her in, putting treats in with her to help keep her busy on the road. About halfway there we stopped at a truck stop for her to use the bathroom and as she pranced around on the end of the leash, I felt a lump in my throat that here I was probably the first human she trusted and I was probably delivering her to someone else. I almost turned around and went home but I decided that the couple at least deserved to meet her, as they’d planned their day around me. So we continued on and around noon we arrived in Stanley, North Carolina, to a quiet and quaint neighborhood that was pleasing to the eye. I found their home and pulled in, so nervous I could almost hear my own heartbeat.
“We don’t have to stay,” I whispered to Lola as she looked up at me with those huge dark eyes. “We’ll just see how they are.”
Both Jim and Sylvia, the prospective couple, met me on the porch and I can honestly say from the first moment I felt nothing but a calm kindness from both of them. Here they were a retired couple who had recently lost one of their beloved dogs but was still settled and complete, yet willing to open their hearts and homes to a rescue that they already understood had some fairly severe issues to get over. Lola and I went in and I was shocked to find that Lola wasn’t as nervous as I thought she’d be. She pranced around their house, then their yard, as though she already knew she’d be coming.
We moved back inside and she settled down, not showing any aggression or fear; another surprise to me as I almost expected her to stomp her little paw and snap her tiny jaws in defiance. But none of that happened and as we all talked, she almost looked at home! Jim sat in the floor, talking to Lola and offering her treats, getting to know her while letting her have her space. We discussed how to avoid the mistake I’d made with Lola in hoarding all her attention. They’d decided in the first days to get her used to Jim as much as Sylvia, he would do most of her feeding/walking, etc.. I had shielded her from Ben because I knew she was afraid of men, but I had unknowingly set the boundary and would never do that again. We discussed other ways to help Lola when it came to doors, etc.. As we talked, their Shih Tzu, Buffy, was calm and paid scant attention to either me or Lola, but their resemblance to one another was something special and I could see them bonding as sisters. Buffy spent most of her time in her mama’s arms, every once in awhile reaching up to kiss Sylvia sweetly on the neck or cheek, and I could barely imagine her as the needy rescue dog they said she’d come to them as so many years before.
I know I was there nearly three hours, picking the brains of Jim and Sylvia while they slowly interacted with Lola and I watched like a hawk, but by the time I finally stood up I knew that I’d found the perfect place for our sweet girl. Carefully, I put Lola in her crate and we talked some more, letting her watch from her known safe spot. Then eventually we moved our talk to the kitchen so that I could slip out without making a dramatic exit. I left there sad for myself, but satisfied in the realization that I had helped Lola recover enough to be able to accept a new family that I knew would have the capacity to love her through all her fear and sadness, and make the rest of her years on earth as comforting as every dog deserves. And I can’t wait to see and hear how Lola (with her sister, Buffy) is doing a year from now in her furever home. The photo below is from the second or third day in her new home and the sad look on her face brought me to tears. But the update was that though she looked sad, she was adjusting and had already accepted Buffy.
The photo below is two weeks after Lola Mei went to her new home. Her furever mom had this to say about her: Ms. Bossy is settling in. She and Buffy get along real well and she’s one of the gang. We came home from dinner today and Lola and Buffy came running to the door, barking and tails wagging as if we had been gone all day. Lola LOVES being outside, she goes out, sniff’s the air, runs from one end to the other (ears flying), looks up at the trees, she’s a special little being. Thank you for preparing this sweet little girl for a family.
Lola Mei, I will always love you and remember you as my first foster dog. I’ve learned that it’s not easy to be a foster to dogs, but it’s worth all the time, patience, and heartbreak to know that you accepted me to be your safe place to recover and heal from your invisible scars as we prepared to find you the perfect furever home. You taught me a lot and I hope I taught you that you are worthy of loyalty and lasting love.
I also hope that by making this journey so public, others will open their homes to foster needy dogs. Being that safe place as they heal and prepare for their furever home is a rewarding experience! Contact your local shelter or specific breed rescue groups to apply to foster or adopt. There are approximately 7.6 million companion animals entering animal shelters nationwide every year. and each year, approximately 2.7 million animals are euthanized. Many rescue groups pull dogs from shelters before they are destined to die, but they need our help to get them to a furever home. If you’d like to make a donation to help dogs in need, you can make one to Lola’s rescue [NC Yorkie Rescue] or find one in your area. All rescue dogs must be vaccinated, spayed/neutered, and all medical issues treated before being approved for adoption and that takes more funds than adoption fees bring in. Your contribution is greatly appreciated.
[stay tuned for my upcoming post about Kaiser, my second foster dog that on day one made me afraid and questioning if I was cut out to be a foster for dogs. What I learned from him is to never judge a dog the first day you meet them.]