Trials & Tribulations

Many of you that read this blog have either adopted a dog from a rescue, or currently foster dogs through a rescue. I have encountered a question through our experiences, and wanted to get the perspective from some of you who may have more, and/or different, experience. I have had a few adopters inquire about whether or not we offer a ‘trial-period’ when our dogs are adopted. While this is absolutely a reasonable question, I am really on the fence about this, and so I want some insight from other individuals.

On the one hand, I absolutely want the best for Georgia, and also for the adoptive family. I want them to build a lifelong partnership, and be a perfect match for one another. Of course, it is our rescue’s policy, and my own personal policy, that any dog that we place, will always be welcomed back. We would first offer any resources available to ensure that the dog is able to stay in its adoptive home, but the dog in question will always be brought back to the rescue in the event that disaster strikes their family. In fact, it is written in the contract that the dog is never allowed to change families without explicit permission from LCPO. This ensures that our dogs don’t end up back where it all started… Basically, if Georgia goes to her home and it is not a good fit, or the family’s situation changes, of course she will be welcomed back into our home. I would never want her to stay in a family that doesn’t embrace her for the dog that she is. If it is a question of incompatibility with the other animals or children, I would never want to jeopardize the safety of Georgia or the other individuals involved. Furthermore, if she isn’t the right fit, we can probably work to match the family with another needy dog who might be.

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On the other hand, the term “trial period” just gives me the heebie jeebies. A few days ago, in a post called ‘The Vow,’ I compared dog adoption to a marriage. While some people out there may consider that to be a bit theatrical, that is truly how I hope Georgia’s family will view their commitment to her, and to us. I would imagine that if someone enters into a marriage with the idea that divorce is always an option if things don’t work out, they are probably a lot more likely to seek that outcome when things (inevitably) get hard. I see the commitment to a dog in the same way. Things with any dog, adopted or otherwise, are going to be hard at times. I promise. A puppy is going to chew your shoes and pee on your carpet. An adult dog may experience separation anxiety, reluctance in warming up to your family, or issues with other animals. If you know that the rescue is willing to take the dog back if when things ‘get hard,’ are you really going to be that willing to work through the issues?

If one of your first questions to us as the foster family is about the potential for a “trial period,” does that say you are simply taking a conservative and realistic approach for all involved? Or, does it suggest that you are looking for a ‘perfect’ dog, and an easy way out if the animal doesn’t meet your expectations?

If the rescue has taken the time to explain the process of the two-week de-stress (which we, and many other reputable rescues, require) and you ask for a weekend trial period, it is probably pretty clear that the dog’s best interest is not at the forefront of your consciousness. A short trial period would not allow the dog sufficient time to integrate with your family, other pets, and home environment through the two-week de-stress process.

Furthermore, experiencing struggles with your dog is an optimum opportunity to build your relationship and increase your communication skills together. Taking a training class or devoting time to getting to know your new pet can prove to be immeasurably valuable to your bond. Once you come out on the other side of an issue, and have conquered the fear or improved the communication, you will experience a stronger bond and deeper understanding of one another. To allow a new owner the flexibility of giving up easily and sending the dog back when they experience challenges, is robbing them of a potentially wonderful relationship, and of an opportunity to improve their dog training skills.

Also, many dogs in the rescue system have experienced traumatic lives in one way or another. Perhaps they have been abused, neglected, or bounced between homes. It is likely that at some point or another, they have known the chaos and isolation of a life behind bars. While we love dogs for their trusting nature and resiliency, any pup with some recollection of their negative past may take time to unveil their true personality in their new home. For us, it took almost a full month for Georgia to begin cuddling and playing with toys around us. Additionally, it took almost THREE whole months before she was comfortable around both of our dogs indoors. While this may seem like a big sacrifice on our parts, it was worth every second to see her laying on her back, tummy up in the air, snoozing beside Tonka & Gaige, without a care in the world. Not only will it take some time for a dog to truly let down their guard in your home, but the idea of bouncing them around between homes is literally petrifying to me. I know that were Georgia to go into an adoptive home that was not the right fit, it would be much harder for either of us (myself, and Georgia!) to trust that the next home would be. I can’t imagine how she would regress in terms of her training, and her comfort levels with people and other animals.

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Now that you know where I stand on this… well actually, I don’t even know where I stand on this. Of course, Georgia will always be welcomed back into our home and into our rescue, should an issue arise in her adoptive family. But the idea of a specified trial period just sets off all kinds of alarms in my head and in my heart. Where do you stand on this issue, personally? Does your rescue have a specific policy? Do you have stories of trial periods that were either absolutely successful, or completely detrimental? Did I neglect to bring up an important point on either side of the argument? I would love to hear your input!

“Character cannot be developed in ease & quiet. Only through experiences of trial & suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”

-Helen Keller

 

Warming Up

I wish I could say that I am referring to the weather here in Pennsylvania, but in reality, there is still a lot of this…

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and this…

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and this…

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Which has all resulted in a lot of this…

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and this…

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and this…

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Wait… what?!

If you are very observant, you may notice that the last photo shows three… count them, THREE, pups all cuddled together indoors. If you are even more observant, you may have recognized that such a photo has never graced the pages of our humble blog! What must this mean??

The frigid temperatures have kept us largely indoors. Because of that, the dogs have been extra cuddley, and needed even more attention than usual. You may remember that while Georgia has been integrated with Tonka, the male, indoors for a while now, we have closely monitored her indoor interactions with our female, never letting them off-leash inside, unless closely monitored or behind respective baby gates. The nasty weather has relegated us indoors, and forced me to focus on proceeding with their integration. While working with them off-leash this past week, Gaige and Georgia both finally decided to break down their barriers… with a BANG! Not only were they interacting indoors, but they were playing, cuddling, wrestling, and even sharing toys! We could not be more impressed or surprised by this sudden transformation.

Every pittie's favorite game: bitey-face

Every pittie’s favorite game: bitey-face

The swiftness of their friendship had us scratching our heads a bit, so we were cautious to take things slowly at first… they still were never together while unsupervised, and still required some direction from the two-leggeds. However, after a solid week of playing and cuddling and learning one another’s limits, with no arguments in sight, we think it is safe to say that they are total BFFs.

All four of our "dogs" waiting (patiently?) to go outside.

All four of our “dogs” waiting (patiently?) to go outside.

You can check out a funny video of the girls here. This was the very day, the very minute, that they decided that playtime was a better option than being constantly separated. Therefore, you can hear the surprise (anxiety?) in my voice. Please ignore my excessive verbal input, but enjoy their friendship. They are now absolutely inseparable… can anyone imagine how this has Georgia’s foster parents feeling?! Ugh… let’s just say, the idea of giving up our baby girl gets more bittersweet with each passing day!

The Vow

As we approach February 14th, whether single or otherwise attached, it can be automatic for our minds to wander to the mystery of relationships. When a couple gets married, they are pretty clear on what kind of commitment they are making. (I consider myself an expert, considering it was only about 9 months ago that I said my own vows!) They know that they are agreeing to love, honor, and cherish, in sickness or health, and for richer or poorer. They commit to being faithful, all the days of their lives.

Photo courtesy of Jenni Grace Photography

Photo courtesy of Jenni Grace Photography

Somehow, some people seem a little bit confused about this, and 50% of marriages sadly end in divorce. (Stick with me here, dog-lovers, I’m not attempting to start sharing marriage advice on this page!) However, as much as some individuals in our society have a problem with loyalty in human relationships, there is an equal (or greater? certainly more deadly…) problem with our commitment to animals. I thought that perhaps, if we wrote out the commitment being made, both by the animal and the adopter, that it would be a bit more clear. It will certainly bring me some peace of mind in giving up our girl. In this case, I will define the promises I know Georgia is willing and able to make to her adoptive family, and, in exchange, the commitment that I expect the adopter to uphold.

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I am sharing my sweet baby girl with a family, giving them a big chunk of my heart, because I believe she will bring endless joy to them. It is a truly unselfish act, and because of its worth, it does not come without expectations.

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Georgia:

I promise to gobble up any crumbs you drop, before they even fall to the floor you try to clean up. I promise to protect my family from loud noises and dark shadows, including the scary, noisy, tall, moving box that tries to eat the floor and all of my crumbs.

I promise to try my hardest to remember everything you teach me, especially when it earns me treats or pets. Please try to be patient with me. I will try to be gentle when you are quiet, and playful when you are active. I will try to remember to play with my body, and not with my mouth, like dogs do. Even though off-leash walks are my favorite, I will try to remember that you are busy, and not always able to entertain me. In those times, I will learn to entertain myself.

I will always kiss you, especially if you have salty water spilling out of your eyes, or food on your face. I’m a good friend that way. I will always be able to tell when you are sad, or when you have had a bad day. I will respond appropriately with quiet cuddles and snuggles on the couch or bed… I’ll even let you choose which! When you tell me all of your deepest, darkest, secrets, I will never, ever tell anyone. Not even that nosy poodle down the street. I will love your human puppies just like I loved my doggy babies, and I will teach them how loyal the best dogs really are.

I promise to always look at you like you are the Best Person in the Whole Wide World. Because you are. And I will always love you more than anything. Even more than my elk antler or nylabone. Please remember that you are everything to me, and that when you are not here, my world seems empty. Please don’t leave me for longer than you really have to, or lock me up for long when I misunderstand. Know that I am convinced that my presence is necessary in the bathroom, but I will try to be patient if you disagree.

I will trust you to protect me, and to finally give me my real, honest-to-goodness, forever home. Please trust me, too. I am a good dog. I know because my foster mom told me so, every day. If you lose your temper with me, I will never retaliate, and I may not forget it, but I will always forgive. Please remember that when I make mistakes.

When I get old and gray, please don’t grow tired of me, or frustrated with the conditions age brings. Remind me that you love me, and of all of our fun times together. Carry me outside to enjoy the sunshine and green grass, and maybe even the water now and then… you know it is my favorite. I will join you on all of life’s journeys, as a willing and loyal partner… please be the same for me. Everything in life is better for me if you are there too.

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Adopter:

We promise to bring you into our home as our forever friend. We will never leave you for long, and will always provide for you as a member of our family, even if our lives get hard. We will always remember that your life has been hard before, and we will never again let you know hunger, fear, pain, or loneliness. We will always remember that our commitment to you is as important as any other we have ever made. We will teach our children how valuable your presence is in our lives, and show them how to be kind and caring toward you.

We promise to keep in touch with your foster family and blogging friends, and let them know how wonderful your life is with us. We will send pictures when we can, and maybe even arrange for reunions whenever possible. We will remember that were it not for an army of individuals, we may not have been blessed with your presence in our lives.

We will bring patience to all of our endeavors together, and use training to improve our relationship. We will become careful students of your body language, and work to communicate on your level, not our own. When it is obvious that you are not understanding our requests, we will remember your want to please, and look first to our own actions for miscommunication. We will never use force or isolation in an attempt to convey our requests.

We promise to offer you as many cuddles and tummy rubs as you could ever want. We will let you snuggle up on the bed or couch, at least some of the time, or we will crawl down to the floor to join you for a cuddle session. We will never yell at you for the millions of kisses you might try to offer to us, even if we are on the way out the door and you are covering us in slobber. We will understand that you just wish we wouldn’t leave again, and want other dogs to know we are ‘yours’. Even when we are busy, we will remember that you have needs in terms of social interaction, physical activity, and mental stimulation. If we do not provide for you in these ways, we will be prepared for repercussions of chewed pillows.

We promise to speak to you like a friend, because you are that for us. All we ask in exchange is a wag of your tail or your protection by our bed. We will always remember that for what we offer to you in shelter, food, and water, we are more than repaid in your endless love and loyalty. We will always be indebted to you. When you remind us that we are your whole world… please remember that while we may fill our lives with other things, you are what makes our lives whole.

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“The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer, he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounters with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take the wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens . . .”

Blind Date

As I communicate with more and more members of the public, I am struck by the variety of individuals who contact us about meeting our sweet Georgia peach. Adopting a new family member can be such an exciting time, and we are so thankful for the many people who are considering her as the perfect addition. I wanted to take the opportunity to discuss not just the facts behind the adoption process, but also the perspective I hold as the foster.

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The first step to adopting a dog from LCPO, is to fill out an adoption application. This is pretty standard stuff. The application includes questions about your family members (both two and four-legged!) as well as your daily routine (ie: how often will your pup be left alone?). It will request information about your living arrangements, such as whether you have access to a fenced-in yard, and whether you own your home or are renting from an agreeable landlord. The rescue will also want the contact information of your veterinary clinic, and a few other references. Please understand, these references will be contacted.

Once your application has been approved, the next step is typically to set up a home visit. This home visit simply serves to confirm that what you have listed on your application was honest and genuine. Trust me, as a foster, I was nervous for my home visit, even though I knew I had nothing to hide. I have told a few of our interested applicants that it is not much more than assurance that you are not a drug addict or an animal hoarder! However, it is the rescue’s first impression of you as an adopter, so it is important to put your best foot forward. They will want to meet any resident pets, as well.

The third step is, of course, to meet the prospective pooch and foster family! This is often called a meet-and-greet. It is about meeting the dog you have probably already fallen in love with, through pictures and stories, and assuring that it is a match made in heaven. Remember, for some rescue dogs, their first impression may not be the most realistic. In Georgia’s case, she often seems excitable when meeting new people, because new people are her FAVORITE! But through what you have read about her up to this point, you know that in the home, she is about as low-energy as it gets. It is important to remember that while the foster families have probably been working very hard to improve their temporary pup’s social skills, you should not expect an ‘insta-pet’. If you are applying to adopt this pup, it is important that you be committed to slowly assisting the dog in a proper integration into your family, and all of the additional training that may require.

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The other part of the meet-and-greet, is for the dog to meet any resident pets. In Georgia’s case, I am pretty confident that she will do well with cats, but other dogs will need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. What should a family’s expectations be for these introductions? With some dogs, particularly puppies and youngsters, it is absolutely realistic to expect play-time to ensue! This also may be realistic with dogs that have been well-socialized from a young age. However, with dogs like Georgia, that may not have always been properly socialized, a meet-and-greet should start slowly, similarly to the process we outlined on dog integration. If, by the end of the intros, the dogs are able to walk happily beside one another while leashed, with positive body language, then the meeting was successful! The two-week de-stress will take care of the rest (more on that later).

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If the stars have all aligned up to this point, you and the rescue may decide that the pup is a perfect match for your family! In our rescue group, the adoption fee is $200. This may seem like a lot to the amateur owner, but those of us who are seasoned pet owners understand that this is truly a bargain! Georgia’s medical bills included all of her updated vaccinations, as well as her spay, heartworm treatment and monthly medication, medications for her skin allergy, and even the costs associated with all of her puppies! Whew! I can guarantee that this cost our rescue many times the $200 adoption fee. In addition to that, as her foster family, we have provided her with many toys, blankets, enrichment, and of course, her food. We have also donated the funds for her behavior and obedience training. If you truly analyze the costs and benefits, you are getting a true bargain! In Georgia’s case, she will also go to her new home with a Freedom No-Pull harness and leash (lifetime warranty!), cupcake martingale collar, medicated shampoo, her crate bed, special blanket, winter coat, and some of her favorite toys. While the adoption fee may not come close to covering the investments of the rescue or foster family, it does serve a few additional purposes. First of all, it prevents someone with less-than-honorable intentions from easily adopting a pup. Additionally, it suggests that the family is in a position to financially provide for the dog’s medical needs in the future

Finally, arrangements will be made for the dog to go home with you! Please understand what an emotional process this will probably be for your foster. They have loved and nurtured your family member for anywhere from a few weeks to a year or more! They have experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows with the dog. They have probably dealt with behavior issues, home destruction, medical problems, and doggie integration. They have also experienced late-night couch cuddles, outdoor adventures, and training breakthroughs. This dog has their heart as much as it might have yours, and they are trusting you with something they care deeply about. Respect their sacrifice, and see it as a show of trust!

While the dog coming home may seem like the light at the end of the tunnel, be aware that this is where your hard work truly begins. LCPO, and most other reputable rescues, requires that new adopters integrate the new dog by utilizing the two-week de-stress process that we outlined in last week’s posts (here and then part II here). You have made a commitment to loving and protecting this dog, and so that means that you are also committed to his or her training and integration.

Training session with Foster Dad

Training session with Foster Dad

I want to keep this post positive, but I do have to touch on a few surprises I have learned as new people contact me. The vast majority of interested families have been kind and compassionate and all-around wonderful! However, we have been surprised by a few responses. We had one person complain that we hadn’t moved quickly enough, when three days after they sent their application to LCPO, they hadn’t yet been contacted for a home visit or meet-and-greet. Remember, our rescue is very thorough in checking references. This is a marathon, not a sprint! The process exists to protect the dogs, which should be everyone’s first priority. Secondly, there have been a few individuals who have insinuated that they are doing us a favor by expressing interest in our sweet Georgia girl. We need to get one thing straight with that. While we are endlessly greatful to anyone that chooses to adopt a needy pup, we are not interested in pawning her off on the first person that comes along. This is not about ‘first-come, first-served,’ but about making the best match for everyone involved. Along those lines, our rescue will always accept multiple applications on a dog. It is clear that only 1 out of about every 10 applications that they receive, will actually result in a successful adoption. If you look at bringing Georgia into your home, as a favor to us, or as a right because you are the first applicant, you are probably in the wrong place. The foster and adoptive families should approach this as a team, both looking for the ideal end result; a wonderful forever home for the pup, and a special new family member for the adopter. You should be willing to make an effort to achieve this goal. Remember, the rescue probably has any number of available dogs, and therefore many emails to answer, applications to review, and adoptions to process. You are not their only ‘customer’! Please be patient, and appreciative of the process they are trying to uphold. Of course, the foster family and rescue want to make you happy, but you should also be making an effort to show them why you are worthy of this dog, in whom they have invested so much of their hearts and effort. You should show them why you would be a great fit, how much you want to make the dog a part of your family, and how much effort you are willing to put into the process.

While there are many reasons to consider adoption in place of purchasing a dog from a breeder, one benefit our rescue offers is continued assistance to adopters. LCPO is always available to help with any issues you might face with your dog, from financial issues to housing situations, as well as any behavior problems that may develop, and training. They can even help with trouble-shooting medical problems and make recommendations for veterinary assistance. Finally, LCPO requires that if at any point, the dog is no longer able to remain in your capable care, he or she be returned to the rescue organization. Of course, as the foster family, I will always want to remain in contact with the adopters, and am willing to go to any lengths to help make sure the dog becomes a successful part of the family.

If you are interested in adding a new family member to your household, I highly recommend that you check out this post, written by my friend Morgan at Temporary Home, Permanent Love. She talks about the fact that while indiscriminate breeding is a problem facing the world of companion animals, the bigger problem facing this industry, and the world as a whole, is a lack of commitment upheld. While we welcome any interest in our sweet girl, please be sure that you are ready to commit to her for the rest of her life. She deserves nothing less than the best!

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