How Not to Fall in Love with Your Foster Dog

Any advice here people? It certainly is no secret… We all know I’m not good at this.

IMG_0469I can tend a bloody wound with stone-cold precision. I can cuddle the confidence into a scared dog, and train the structure into a wild one. I have soothed the fear from an aggressive dog and have mended the heart of an abused one. But what I have never been able to do is keep myself from falling head over heels in love with one. While hearing me wax poetic about all of the reasons I love our little K-man, Foster Dad said it perfectly, “Yeah, but I’ve never seen you meet a dog you didn’t instantly love.” Hmm. Well, that may be true, but Kingston is proving to be even more lovable than your average squishy-faced pup.

How do you not fall in love when your foster dog acts as though his world revolves around you? His dissatisfaction over short separations are marked with voracious naughtiness, while your arrival is celebrated with more joy than a little child hugging his parents after being lost in Disneyworld. Kingston’s is the exuberant greeting of a happy dog, twirling on two legs, reaching up to you for petting and kisses, happy beyond all measure just to see you at the end of a long day.

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How do you not fall in love when your foster dog is an expert snuggler? He hops up onto your bed with quick agility, perhaps not so much due to his coordination or athleticism as it is that he knows the sooner he gets settled, the more likely it is that he will be allowed to stay. He finds that perfect spot nestled up against you, like a missing puzzle piece. You snooze together peacefully, letting the rhythmic rise and fall of your hand on his ribcage lull you both to contented sleep.

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How do you not fall in love with your foster dog when you watch him discover the wonder of the world for the first time? Peanut-butter-filled kongs, squeaky toys, leaf piles, mud puddles and car ride adventures just to name a few, the way he delights in the simplest of pleasures reminds you to relax and do the same. The dog who came to you a sensible and reserved old man at only one year of age now displays puppy antics, complete with play bows, head tilts, and around-the-house-zoomies, his spirit as playful as a young dog’s should be.

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How do you not fall in love with your foster dog when he learns to have confidence by leaning on you? The world, once a scary and intimidating place, full of fear and pain, is now happy and bright since you have come into his life. Rather than reacting to the world around him, he looks to you for guidance and reacts with consistency, trusting without question that you would never put him in an unsafe situation. He becomes your shadow, latching onto you like velcro, in the very best of ways.

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How do you not fall in love with your foster dog, when the head that used to duck at your hand raised to pet him, eventually sidles up on your lap to lick away your tears? That head that used to duck in fear, now snuggles in under your neck during movie nights on the couch, letting out a deep and contented sigh. That head also holds his tongue, and boy, he knows just how to use it! He seems to know when I need to smile, and uses those precise moments to cover my face in slobbery love.

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How do you not fall in love with your foster dog, when he starts to forget the specifics of how he ended up so broken and tattered and abused and mistreated, and starts to remember only the new things you’ve taught him? When despite the past he has endured, his favorite pursuit is not a ball or some cheese or the cat, but is in fact making new friends. When although all he’s known is fear and pain, but he never resorts to aggression, even when it might be justified.

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How do you not fall in love with your foster dog, when he resembles a cartoon? Ears like swiveling antennaes, flickering this way and that, trying desperately to read the signals of the others in his environment. Wiggle-butt jiggling here and there in his best attempt at “twerking,” eliciting smiles from all who are lucky enough to meet him. He doesn’t walk anywhere, but constantly hops and jigs and skips and bounces along to his next destination, whatever it may be, his hind legs trailing along at a twisted angle. He has an uncanny ability to make the world fall in love with him, and that is something I could use a lot more of in my life.

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How do you not fall in love with your foster dog when they pass through the world with an accepting spirit that welcomes all they meet without judgement or exception? It is a trait I’ve rarely seen in a dog, and never seen in a person. He loves without restraint or restriction, and brings out the best in everyone he meets. How do you not fall in love with your foster dog when he believes that everything in life is better when shared? His kong, your bed, his dinner, or yours… it doesn’t matter. He knows that friendships are more important than possessions any day.

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How do you not fall in love with your foster dog, when they remind you of all the lessons you have yet to learn in life? Like the amazing power of putting your heart right out there and making yourself totally vulnerable to those you love. It’s something that we humans are so hesitant to do, but your foster makes it so clear that it’s the best way to live.

How do you not fall in love with your foster dog, when they come into your world without warning? One day you are the happy leader of a 3-dog home, minding your own business, until someone tells you about a pup that needs help. You forget to put your guard up, or build a wall around your heart, and before you know it, a sad little guy with his deep brown eyes and comical ears has burrowed his way into your life, sure to leave a permanent hole when he moves on.

How do you not fall in love with your foster dog, when his presence in your life restores your faith and pride in humanity? When a little underdog needed a hand, a community of so many people we had never met joined together to offer compassion, prayer, kind words, financial donations, and even things like food and toys and beds and sweaters.

The answer? You don’t. You fall head over heels, b. spears-crazy,  irrevocably in love. Just like the rest of the world, you are hypnotized by his bouncy, carefree spirit. You give away little pieces of your heart in order to mend his. It is an amazing thing when a sad little dog teaches so many people about resiliency, love, dedication, and the power of second chances. All I know, is that Kingston’s forever family will be the luckiest people in the world. ❤

72 thoughts on “How Not to Fall in Love with Your Foster Dog

  1. I think you are spot on, you give your entire heart and then pick up the pieces after knowing that you loved unconditionally and that will have meant the world! I so love Kingston, if you were closer I’d so be asking if he was available for adoption!

  2. Agreed on SO many of those points! When they fit in and it just seems “Right”. Maybe I have not been as lucky in that the majority of my foster dogs have had at least one factor that really didn’t mesh with our family. Maybe it is easier with 3 (one foster failure) resident dogs, 3 part time kids, allergy ridden man of the house and a small space. I like to tell myself, like my current foster, that all those wonderful things that make ME love them…will benefit them to make a new family love them even more. All this allows me to keep that foster spot open. How does that saying go…if you love someone, let them free? Maybe that is a good fostering motto too! Good job in all you do!

  3. You know, as I was reading this, I kept saying to myself “You don’t!” You will be fine. You will hurt, and cry, and all the bad stuff, but soon you’ll do it again and be thankful you let Kingston go so you could save another. It a tough, but beautiful cycle!

  4. Reading this article has brought me to tears. I feel like every single word you have described about your foster experience describes my life right now to a tee. Literally. I am fostering my first dog, Petie who looks incredibly like the white one you have pics of. I also have 3 rescue dogs of my own. When Petie first came to us, he didn’t know what a toy was, he had no idea what to do with it. To see him become such a love and enjoy his life, to see him grab a toy and shake it with all his might has brought so much joy to my life. I never thought I could foster, I’m such an emotional person. But it came down to life or death for this dog and I told myself that I had to be stronger and step up and do this to save lives. I love the wiggly butt boy that he is and letting go of him when he gets adopted…I can’t even think about it. Thank you so much for sharing. You have a way of saying exactly how I feel in a very beautiful way.

    • Great post & perfectly said! Generally I can keep myself in check by reminding myself why the particular dog wouldn’t be a good fit for me, etc. but there was one that I fell in love with. I still get sad sometimes that I let her go, but then I remember what a wonderful home she is in now. And if I had kept her, then I wouldn’t have saved Oscar, who I now just can’t imagine not having in my life. It’s hard sometimes, but we are better for having them in our lives, even if only for a temporary moment. Hang in there & enjoy Kingston’s cuddles! You will always have a special place in his heart!

    • There is a part of me that really, really wishes that could be the case! However, I keep telling myself that he deserves a home where he can have more attention and affection than I can offer split 4 ways!

      • You are one of the angels on earth for these needy ones… bless you! And Kinston! You have taught him how to appreciate his forever home some day! ❤

  5. I don’t have the answers but I still think about my former fosters almost every day and wonder how they’re doing and what they’re up to.

  6. How can you not fall in love with a gorgeous creature who loves you unconditionally and can make you laugh and cry all at once? They melt our hearts and then break them when they leave, but the great work you do means another life is saved and another lucky dog knows what it is to be loved. Hugs to Kingston x

  7. Of course we foster moms fall in love with the dogs. If we didn’t, we couldn’t find the perfect family for them to save. Their new family becomes friends and because of that your family gets bigger. Because you found that dog the perfect forever home, you can help another dog that needs love and confidence. Fostering just might be the most rewarding thing you ever do in your life.

  8. OMG, someone sent your blog to me just as we are ready to pick up a new foster tomorrow from American Brittany Rescue. All of my friends are already ribbing me about how long it will take for me to decide to keep her because we’ve kept two in the past. My daughter says to me “you really suck at fostering”. And I do because of all the reasons you list above. As a matter of fact I cried when I read some of it thinking of some of our prior fosters. My sweet little girl Libby who had never been loved before and always had trust issues. And then Blaze who had scars on his legs from sleeping on concrete. He now struggles up next to us in our bed at night. Thanks for letting me know there is someone else out there who sucks at fostering!

  9. If you REALLY love fostering, though, you fight like hell to keep your spot open, no matter how hard it is. When you have a dog who wants to love, you remind yourself that it WILL love someone besides you, and even though it sucks for you, it will make their world larger, and leave your world available for the next.

  10. Pingback: Let This Holiday Season Inspire You — Foster A Dog | cominghomerescue

  11. After having fostered almost 50 dogs and having experienced every emotion you have described I will gladly but sadly give each one to their forever home because it makes room for the next one which is also in need of love, understanding and proper care. It is a bittersweet experience to put the foster on the transport but do it we must. I love each foster we’ve had and will love the next one as much as the last.

  12. This is wonderfully written. Thanks for putting your feelings out there. It echoes what so many of us are feeling. I have 4 of my own( two foster failures) and so I have to keep only foster slots open now or I can’t keep saving more. There isn’t a perfect answer, they are all so different. I love that someone said “it’s the most rewarding thing that you will ever do”. So true. Thanks for doing what you do, good luck in your journey with Kingston.

  13. Beautiful so true I thought Kingston was staying with you….. you do fall in love but you have to let them go….I know I would fall in love too and it is so hard to let them go. I have 2 dogs and 3 cats I would love to give another dog a home….I love them all my world is so much better with them in it…has Kingston found his forever family yet

    • We’d love to keep Kingston, as he is the perfect pup for us, but for so many reasons that I’m sure you’re aware, we need to help him find his own forever family. He has a few qualified applicants 🙂 Thanks for joining us!

  14. I am a foster failure. I had Kylee for 5 months going through heart worm treatment and getting healthy enough to travel. I could not give her up. I thought to myself, she’s been dumped before and I did not want her to think she was being dumped again. She is my special dog, who is learning to play and trust again, and I did not want to see her go backwards if she went to a new family. I want her to know she is loved beyond measure right here. Plus, I saved the rescue from having to pay her vet bills. That’s a good reason, right…? LOL

  15. Sometimes you never know how your words or actions can affect or change people. Today, you’ve done just that for me.

    I am a pittie foster dad and I’ve fallen truly madly deeply in love with my current foster dog. From his obnoxious back-talking barks to his playful leaps as he try’s to get a treat, I love him head to toe and everything in between. And it has become contagious. I tried to stay firm and say: “No…. other dogs need us just like Titus did.” and push on as if he weren’t sitting at my feet waiting for me to just acknowledge him. Then I caught him in my 6 year old daughter’s room with her pinned to the floor and kisses being thrown around like candy. Her laughter melted my heart. I’d watch as he’d use his snout to poke my wife as she slept because he wanted to be under the blanket with her instead of on top of it. And then I knew…. he loved us too.

    For weeks this has been going on and we’ve been very torn. Other dogs DO need us, just like Titus did. But our selfish hearts need Titus in our lives. So we’ve spent time finding reasons to keep him and asking trainers how to become a “more-than-two-big-dog-home”. I’ve even searched for a larger bed to accommodate a foster, because Titus was going to be mine.

    And then I read your article. The words don’t hold much levity, but I’ll say them anyway…. Thank you. I say it with a heavy heart but I admit my work is done with Titus. He is whole again, just like the day he was born. We’ve taught him how to be a dog and in that journey he stole our hearts. He will be a stepping stone for us. A very large one that we will never forget. I’ve never felt such happy sorrow in my life. It bewilders me. I just hope that I can feel this good about every dog that comes through my door. All I want is for them to be whole again. I can’t change the world, but for that one dog…. I am the world. That’s enough for me.

    I love you Titus. Today, tomorrow and forever. You’ve got my heart “Big Head Fred”.

    • Hi Max. Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your family’s story… how moving it is! I hope you can understand that I will never be someone who tells others what decisions are best for their lives. Foster failures happen, and they are still a happy ending for that dog! However, we all know what foster failing means for other dogs. If you decide that Titus is meant to live the rest of his life with your family, I’m sure it would be a rewarding decision that was positive for all involved. However we both also know what would happen if you were able to say goodbye to him. I can say that as you struggle with the decision, I will be sharing the same emotions. Kingston and I are developing a relationship rivaled only by my Tonka, and it will break my heart to let him go, but I will do so knowing how many other dogs out there are waiting for me to fall hopelessly in love with them.

  16. I love and am looking forward to this. After my current dog, who has dog anxiety and has come a long way since the shelter, I want to foster. My fiancé tells me he doesn’t think I will be able to and we will end up with a million dogs. I tell him it will be the hardest thing I ever do, but it will be the most rewarding as well. I have always and will always adopt. But, when you adopt you are opening your home for 1 dog for a ten+ year period. However, when you foster, you can save many lives in just one year by opening your to many dogs.
    It will be hard. I will ball my eyes out whenever I have to say goodbye. But, they won’t all be sad tears. Plus! I will get to start a new adventure with my next foster.

  17. Inspiring post! I’d love to share your post on our page to share you experience with others who are new to fostering. Your words and thoughts would definitely encourage more to start fostering pets in their own homes.

  18. Tiffany my husband said the same thing to me . . . “you’ll want to keep them all”! And in the 6 years I have been in rescue I have only failed one time . . . my tri-pod Boxer Naomi! I have fostered around a hundred animals (both dogs and cats). I told myself from the very beginning, ‘I am the half-way house . . . half way between something bad and something GREAT’! I too fall in love with each rescue animal but that’s how you know you are doing “it” right. Each time I bring a foster animal into my home, I tell them verbally that their furever family is out there and we just have to find them. And when that perfect family is found, the absolute joy on their faces as well as on the animals is what puts the band-aid on our broken hearts. And as they turn to go and give me one last kiss I verbally tell them their are in their furever home and that because I love them so I found the perfect family for them to take care of.

      • That is exactly what happened to us last time, my husband fell in love with our foster. But I have to admit that was only after the foster went to his supposedly “forever home” only to have the family call and say they didn’t want him after two weeks. They said he was too anxious. After being rejected by that family we just couldn’t do that to him again so we kept him.

  19. Loved this! My husband and are new to fostering, we are up to 5 that we have saved (including one foster failure). We have 4 adult rescues, but when we got asked to foster three 9 week old puppies that were plucked out of drainage ditch, we caved and did it. I never thought that 3 puppies could produce that much poop and pee 🙂 not to mention two of our four big dogs were less than thrilled with 3 bouncing, noisy, needy, zoomie filled pipsqueaks. Two of the three pups have been adopted and got great homes. Jack is the last one. He makes the funniest piggy grunts when he’s happy and when he looks at us like we hung the moon, my heart just melts. He’s tagging along with our agility dogs to a trial this weekend, wearing his “adopt me” vest, maybe. just maybe, someone will fall in love with him like we have and want to adopt him.

  20. The best part is falling in love. The worst part doesn’t have to be saying goodbye. We can give them the gift of love and then the gift of more love from a forever family. Even though it is hard, that is my favorite part: Watching my foster dog walk out the door with someone new as madly in love with him as I am!

  21. Yep… Happened to us. Adopted our foster last week. We did exactly that… fell head over heals. Not only would it wreck me and our pups but I really felt like he wouldn’t understand. He made him self apart of our family. Guess I am saying, he chose us as his family.

  22. And even though your heart breaks a little when you send them off to their new families, you know that you have created a little more love in the world, and sent that off, too. Fosters build love. That’s what we do. Thank you for capturing the experience so eloquently. I hope I can stop crying soon. :}

  23. SOMETIMES we only foster until we complete our families … maybe he IS your missing piece? xoxo it sure looks like he fits! xoxd

  24. I have read and re-read this post (and the wonderful comments!) so many times, just to remind myself that my mission is to help save as many doggie lives as I can – no matter what. We are a one time foster failure, and have come very close with our current foster, Marley, but I know that her perfect home is out there, and when she’s safe, I can extend my home and love to another dog that needs it. I may need to read this every day, but if that’s what it takes, that’s what I’ll do. Thank you for sharing!

  25. Did you write this for me? I have a foster that I am madly in love with. He fits in with my crew of existing dogs like he has lived here for ever. The thought of letting him go rips me to shreds. I don’t trust people which is why I don’t foster. I am supposed to entrust a total stranger to take good care of him? I am trying to be brave to let him go. But my gosh this hurts.

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  27. You are a wonderful person. I know of a few others who willingly and openly share their home with the most abused dogs and nurse them back to health. We ourselves have had a few foster pups, but mostly just as temporary resting places. I deeply admire the people like yourself who are able to consistently bring severe cases into your home and nurse them back to health. Hope you don’t mind – i reblogged your post at drewllew.wordpress.com

  28. We’ve never had a foster dog with whom we haven’t fallen in love. As fosters, we have to remind ourselves that our job is to give them wings so they can fly. And witnessing the joy they bring to their adoptive families brings us such happiness in turn! Keep doing what you’re doing… your love and nurturing will ease their transition to their forever families.

  29. Pingback: Thank you and please fall in Love. | The Lesser Canine

  30. I’ve fallen in love with many that I have cared for knowing that I am getting them ready for their forever home my love is all a part of helping to heal please email this story to me loved it so much thank you and God bless

  31. What an amazing true story this article tells……how can you NOT fall in love with any dog…..fostered or otherwise……

  32. You just expressed everything I feel with every foster I have! I’m posting this through a waterfall of tears, as our little foster,Jaeger, left just 2 days ago and is now only minutes away from his fur-ever home. I miss him terribly. But I know he’s going to thrive. I know he’s a bit confused why I had to give him away but pray his heart heals faster than mine. In time, I hope he only remembers the good times at our home and not that awful moment of saying goodbye. Thank you for putting my feelings into words so I can share with my friends and family why I put myself into this situation over and over again. Bless you & every dog lucky enough to have you as a foster mommy!

    • I can totally sympathize! I am taking my foster dog back tomorrow & I am heart broken. How are you doing now that a couple of weeks has passed?

  33. My fiancée and I tend to foster ‘last chance’ dogs. Dogs that are deemed troublesome, returned multiple times, some even have ‘bite histories’.

    Every single one of fosters has been successfully adopted after spending time in our care. Sarah is a professional dog trainer, so the care and attention she pays to our animals is a constant. They often leave us with better training and skill than when they arrive at our door.

    I try so hard to stay detached and not love the dogs that come into our lives, but I am always unsuccessful. These wonderful pups are so full of wonder and unconditional love that I just can’t keep that stone heart cold.

    It’s a wonderful and sometimes sad thing, being a dog foster, but knowing that they would be put down or spend the rest of their lives bouncing from home to shelter breaks my heart even more.

  34. I believe all foster dogs can become like the ones you have had and all foster parents love their foster dogs even though they never thought it possible to be so close to so many. And you’re totally right. You have to know that you will love them and know that to make this work send them on to their forever home and bring home another one in need.

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