My friend Morgan, over at Temporary Home, Permanent Love, wrote a really difficult piece last week (here). While she struggled with sharing the contents with her readers, it gave me the courage to share with all of you something I have definitely been procrastinating. Usually when I begin to write a post, I am anxious to get my thoughts out on
paper the screen, because it is clear to me what the ‘mood’ will be… sometimes happy, sometimes sad, sometimes serious, sometimes silly. Rarely, is a post such a mix of emotions. And I don’t really know where to start. So I guess I will just say it, and hope that you, my readers, will be gentle and understanding… at the very least, I hope that you will read through to the end before you judge. Here goes nothing.
We. Are keeping. Georgia (. or ! or ? or ?!)
Where We are Now
We are thrilled! Georgia has become an integral part of our family, and of our pack. She came to us a worried little bundle of rolls and wrinkles, who didn’t know how to play, was scared of raised hands, and would rather be alone than in the company of others. She was so intimidated by other dogs, that she would snarl and snap if they came too close… but we learned pretty quickly that she really was all bark, and no bite. These days, it is rare to find her anywhere but cuddled up on top of you, and when she is not cuddling, she is wrestling and bitey-mouthing and tug-of-waring with our pups over toys. She is truly like an entirely different dog. While I always held out hope for her improvement, Georgia now possesses a confidence that I truly never could have imagined that she would acquire. She wags her tail when passing even strange dogs on walks, is friendly with other pups at obedience school, and is happy to do anything we ask.
Once upon a time, many people urged me to consider placing Georgia as an ‘only-dog’. While I appreciated their guidance, in my heart, I couldn’t resign her to that fate. I felt strongly that if we took things slowly, she would be able to face her demons and overcome them. Most importantly, in the back of my mind, I even believed that she would one day learn to find solace and comfort in the company of other dogs. Not a day goes by, that I don’t feel pride and satisfaction in the outcome we have all achieved together. Still now, months later, I make Jonathan come running into the room each evening, when I see the dogs curled up in a puppy pile, or sharing their toys. We ooh and ahh, and bask in the glow of our little pack’s happiness and contentment.
How We Came to this Conclusion
When we had our first meet-and-greet (back in November, I think?!) Jonathan brought up the idea of making Georgia a permanent member of our family. I know I sound like a crazy person, but each time we took her to meet an adoptive family, she was petrified. Although I tried to deny it, for the sake of our sanity, neither of us could ignore the signs. She would cling to us, looking worriedly back and forth between our two sets of eyes, and sometimes even refuse to leave the car… it was like she knew we were considering sending her someplace else. We would try to make it a happy and pleasant experience, and I certainly don’t think we were exhibiting any negative body language that would deter her from feeling comfortable. Finally when we got home, she would velcro herself to our sides, following us even to the bathroom, and keeping her eyes on us at all times… ever our lazy couch potato, her anxiety even prevented her from sleeping soundly. Worse still, her digestive system would take a cruel hit, and it would take a few days for it to recover.
Nevertheless, I was convinced that once we found a family that was an ideal fit, it would feel right. We had a number of meet-and-greets, and they were all unsuccessful for varying reasons. One did not work out because Georgia was not friendly with their dog. In a few instances, the adopters backed out just before the meet and greets, for personal reasons. One adopter, whom I had my heart set on, felt that it was just not the right time for her to bring home a new dog. Jonathan would always give me a million reasons why each family wouldn’t fit, but I would quiet his fears, and I remained optimistic that we would find a family that could give her everything she deserved.
Finally, we found a family that was perfect on paper, and ended up being even more ideal in person. Jonathan and I woke up early one sunny, Sunday morning, and drove 4 hours (one way!) to meet them. To say we were invested and hopeful, would be an understatement. We met them, and it was a great match. Georgia was, of course, sweet and gentle with their children. She still clung to us, but the mother had experience with force-free training and the two week de-stress. It was all so perfect, and yet something just did not feel right. I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach, and literally experienced a moment of sheer panic. My head started to spin, my vision tunneled… I needed to get out of there. We politely said our goodbyes to the family and the people from the rescue, and got in our car to hurry away. We both sat in momentary silence. It felt like someone was trying to take OUR dog away. It was in this moment, that I knew we just couldn’t let her go. On paper, everything was perfect, and there were no excuses that either Jonathan or I could come up with. But somehow, we were panicked at the thought of saying goodbye.
Why We Ultimately Made this Decision
Over the next week, the topic of saying goodbye to Georgia was never far from my mind. A Christian at heart, I prayed daily for clarity in this decision. It was almost uncanny (or, as my mother-in-law would kindly remind me, perhaps providencial) but throughout that week, we took Georgia more places than usual; the vet’s office, local parks, the pet store, etc. Each time we went out, more often than ever before, people came up to us and asked to hear her story. By the end of every conversation, each person kindly and gently left us with words that were eerily similar… “But she looks like she’s meant to be with you,” “it seems like she’s already made the decision for you,” and “I think she is right where she belongs“. Before he left for work in the morning, when he called me around lunch time, and when he arrived home at night, Jonathan and I would always discuss her future and our decision. While he was adamant that her place in life was with us, I couldn’t shake the worry of disappointing everyone. A people-pleaser by nature, I didn’t want to think about delivering the news to the prospective family, my friends at the rescue, and of course, to all of you here on the blog. I had made a commitment to fostering, and I was going to stick with it. I was NOT going to be one of those ‘foster-failures’. I am not self-centered enough to believe that you all follow this blog with such loyalty that you would take our decision personally. However, with my dedication to fostering, and my previous “rants” against becoming a foster-failure, my pride had prevented me from considering this option all along.
I reached out to a few people about my struggle. One of them was my friend Morgan, and the others were friends from the rescue, Alanna and Casey. Everyone reminded me that I needed to put Georgia first. But what does that mean? To me, that was my greatest struggle… It had always been about Georgia for me, and in my mind, it would be incredibly traumatic for her to go to another family. At this point, she was finally integrated with both of our dogs in the house, and I was so proud of the strides she was making. She was completely settled into our family, and the thought of putting her into a whole new environment sounded cruel. When I thought about dogs like Gaige, I thought about dogs that were hardy and resilient. Put Gaige in any situation and environment, and she was likely to come out unscathed and happy. Georgia just isn’t that type of dog. She is sensitive and gentle, and always worried about having approval. You could even go so far as to call her emotionally needy… at least when compared to our little spitfire, Gaige. Maybe I was anthropomorphizing, but I thought that Georgia would be sitting in her new house, missing Jonathan, Tonka, Gaige, and me, and wondering what she did wrong. I couldn’t get her sad little face out of my head.
Where did we go wrong?
I’ve asked myself this question many times. I know some of you, particularly those hardened foster families, have been reading this post and are rolling your eyes. You think I’m making excuses for keeping our foster, when in reality, I just couldn’t let her go. Guess what? Maybe you’re right. I’m not going to sit here and try to convince you that my decision was 100% selfless. What I can tell you is that I did not want a third dog. I especially did not want a third dog that wasn’t always fond of other dogs. But when I thought about Georgia, and Georgia alone, I kept coming back to this decision. It was the only one that felt right.
After having Georgia as a part of our household since October, perhaps the problem is that we kept her too long. Especially being our first foster, having her with us for 5 months makes her feel like one of the family. At the same time, it only took a few minutes for us to fall head over heels in love with her, so maybe the length of stay had little to do with it.
Another possibility is the investment of time and effort we made in overcoming her struggles. I know from my years spent competing with horses, that achieving a lofty goal with an animal is the surest way to form an unbreakable bond. We spent so much time breaking down Georgia’s walls and building up her confidence, that I felt we had become a team.
Worse still, maybe I am just not cut out for this lifestyle. I hate to admit that to myself, but perhaps I am not capable of loving and letting go. Finally, ome of you may have guessed that Jonathan and I experienced some unsettling loss this year, shortly after Georgia came to our home. I certainly would be naive if I did not believe that this had an effect on our attachment.
Yes, there are still times I feel immense guilt over our decision. Typically, that is when I am glancing into pleading puppy-dog eyes, staring out from behind bars, on my computer screen. But when Georgia was brought into my care, my commitment was to make decisions that were in HER best interest… not anyone else’s. I will always stand by the fact that I have done just that. This decision was not the ‘easy’ one. I didn’t make this decision because I needed Georgia in my life, or because I didn’t trust anyone to care for her the way we would. I made it because I believed in my heart, that this was meant to be, that she would be happiest with us. When Georgia faces a situation that is new or challenging, she always looks to me for guidance. Each day, she looks at me with grateful eyes, tail wagging gently against her sides, and I could swear she was thanking me from her heart. So while there are days that I wonder where we went ‘wrong,’ I can’t help by think that just maybe, this was part of someone’s plan all along… though whether that someone is Georgia or the Lord, I’m not sure we will ever know. Maybe there is a reason that God is dog spelled backward…