In case our first post didn’t clue you in, we are both SO excited to become foster parents to a lucky little (or big!) pup. Throughout the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to give Jonathan small doses of what we should expect. I want him to be just as much a part of this process, and for him to feel just as prepared, even if he isn’t the one filling out the applications and talking with the rescues. I have done a LOT of research when it comes to the subject of fostering. Jonathan also wants to feel ready, but he leaves the investigative research to me. It may be pretty clear what we will need to do once the dog (finally!) arrives to our home. However, how should a foster family prepare for the dog to make his or her grand entrance?
1) Prepare for changes & challenges
For example, I know that the first two weeks will be a really transitory time, which will require a lot of patience and hard work. We will need to keep the foster dog separate from our two perma-dogs, in order to ensure a smooth transition into our family, while still maintaining all of the animals’ quality of life. That means twice the walks, twice the training and cuddle time, twice the baths and meals… twice everything! It won’t be easy, but by taking the introductions as slowly as possible, we are showing our commitment to the dog. Remember, for many of the dogs in shelters, especially pit bulls, their experiences with the world may not have been good. Ever. Some have been abused or fought, some have mild illnesses like kennel cough, while some have been neglected. For many dogs, their only other experience will have come from inside the walls of a loud, cold kennel. While we don’t plan on taking a super challenging case our first time out, it is still important that they go through this next transition of life as seamlessly as possible, and learn that living in a house with loving people is an okay place to be.
2) Plan for Success
Not only will we be working on giving the dog a slow introduction to life outside of the shelter, but it is important to discuss our goals for this pup. While the level of training we will reach with him or her will ultimately be determined by the amount of time they are with us, it is not our goal to teach the dog ‘party tricks’. More importantly, we need to focus on teaching the dog how to be a happy member of a family. I’ve never heard of someone giving up a dog because it couldn’t figure out how to give paw, dance, or roll over. For whatever amount of time this canine is in our care, we will focus on house-breaking and manners, like walking politely on a leash, staying
out of the kitchen while we cook, not getting on to furniture unless invited, and how to greet strangers, of both the 2 and 4-legged varieties. For me, I knew I would not be able to devote the time to all 3 of our animals, if I was still working a demanding job. I was able to make some budgeting decisions that would allow me to quit working full-time, while also taking on a few part-time opportunities to bring in additional income. We are lucky to be in this scenario, but it is not without sacrifice! Find out how other families do the work and foster thing simultaneously, by visiting my inspiration, http://loveandaleash.com/.
I would not be able to do this without the selfless support of my amazing husband, Jonathan. He is making many sacrifices to afford me this lifestyle. (Which include, but are not limited to, enduring my home-made cooking on the daily, and saying goodbye to eating out. Also more dog hair, and less clean laundry… maybe he should start a list!) It was vital that we were on the same page before we took this big step. I have been interested in fostering a dog for years, but it has been a serious conversation in our home for at least the past 3 months. This has given us a chance to voice our concerns, and work out all of the details.
For example, it is important to note that we will never be a 3-perma-dog family. Especially with children on the foggy horizon, we would not have the time to devote to a 3rd four-legged family member on a permanent basis, at least not in the same capacity we will with our foster. It was important to establish early on, that we will not be making this dog a permanent member of our family. For each dog we are able to foster, we are not only saving that dog, but also making room for one more to come in to the shelter. Giving two dogs better odds for a happy life is such a gift to us. If we took on a 3rd dog permanently, our opportunity to foster would certainly come to an end.
If you know Jonathan at all, you probably know him as a pretty tough, no-nonsense type of guy. He “gets things done”, especially at work, and has high expectations of those around him. If you only know him on the surface, then you probably aren’t privy to some of the (many!) things I love about him, which include his compassion (I’m guessing I owe that to the 4 sisters he grew up with, but that’s a story for another day!)
Last night, while we were outside with our dogs and making some physical preparations for the foster (more on that later), he got kind of quiet and looked up at me. “What if we can’t give her up?” he said softly. Both by his tone of voice, and his choice of pronoun, I knew he was picturing his instant attachment to Gaige, and what it would have meant to say goodbye to her. This was one of those moments when I was reminded so clearly how lucky I was to have him as my partner in this journey. We talked about what it would mean to take on a 3rd dog permanently, both by the strain it would put on our lifestyle, and how it would defeat our purpose of helping unwanted dogs. By the end of the conversation, we were on the same page, but it was important that we both voice those concerns. It will not be easy to let this pup go, but hopefully he or she will one day capture the heart of a family that will make the transition that much easier.
4) Prepare Physically
No, I am not referring to bulking up at the gym, in preparation for
leash pulling and ball throwing. Although Jonathan would love the opportunity to spend more time lifting weights, I am talking about preparing our home for the arrival of our foster dog.
First, the inside of our house needs to be prepared. We have purchased a kennel for crate-training, and are acquiring the necessary blankets, toys, bowls, leashes, and collars. We will also be buying some sturdy baby gates, as these are the best way to do some of the final dog introductions, before the dogs are finally allowed to interact together. It will also serve to confine the
dog to smaller areas during house-training. Finally, we have a spare bedroom that we will set-up for the dog, to serve as his or her ‘den’ for quiet time.
Perhaps more exciting, are our plans for the outside of our home. We are lucky enough to live on a large property, and this has served us well with our own dogs. Tonka, the ever loyal guy that he is, will never leave an approximately 50 foot radius of our house, for worry that he will miss me coming or going. Gaige, on the other hand, is certainly an adventurous little wanderer. Luckily, she loves her big brother, and usually won’t travel too far from him. We have discussed the idea of fencing in our back yard (usually on the mornings that Gaige made me late for work by taking a morning stroll through the horse pastures) but this time, we have real purpose. Especially during the early introductory stages, a large fenced-in play area will be invaluable for us, and for the happiness of all 3 dogs. Unfortunately, as ‘invaluable’ as it may be to all of us, building a fence is actually something that requires a lot of cashola, so I have scraped together my pennies, and have since been researching our options. Then, I realized that I needed to add even more pennies to my stash. 😉 We are still debating the merits of wood vs vinyl vs aluminum… please feel free to weigh in on the comment section below! We would love to hear advice from other puppy parents, foster or otherwise.
We do have the area mapped out, with lots of shade trees included. I told Jonathan that these trees just had to be within the fence… otherwise, where would the pups lay to munch on sticks and wrestle? So, it was decided that shade trees were a necessity. Also, the fence will be between 5 and 6 feet, to deter jumping / climbing.
Before we can have the fence installed, Jonathan laid the ground rule that we have a healthy layer of grass on the ground. Obviously bringing brains to the table as my better/smarter half, he reasoned that a muddy back yard would defeat the purpose of having it as a play and exercise area. So, we have been busy spreading seed, watering the lawn, and layering with straw. And by we, I mean mostly he. I spend most of the time playing with the pups and taking pictures, keeping him company while he sweats in the sun. See photographic evidence below…
We will continue to keep you updated as we come closer to bringing our pup home. Future posts will include;
- A new camera, to bring you better pictures of our antics!
- The Foster Application Process
- The Unwanted Animal Problem
- Other Foster Family Blogs
Please continue to follow us on our journey, share this blog with friends & family members, and comment with advice and/or suggestions. We really appreciate your support and interest, more than you know!
Anyone who knows me would quickly categorize me as an animal lover. And not just any animal lover. I’m the type to look along the side of the road for injured animals, volunteer at shelters, and offer my services as dog sitter to any of our friends. When I first met Jonathan, who is now my husband, I wasn’t so sure how this would work. Sure, he had a mother and sisters that were almost as animal
crazy loving as I. However, he quickly made it clear that he was a ‘No Pets in the House’ kind of guy.
Don’t worry. I quickly reformed him 😉
Fast forward to a year or so later. We had both graduated from Penn State, and were living in a suburb of Pittsburgh. Our property had lots of acreage, and my dog Tonka (who was not only allowed in the house, but even occasionally onto the sofa or bed) needed a friend. Jonathan and I had been talking for a few weeks about getting another dog. A puppy, to be precise. We had a few qualifications;
1) We would get the dog in the fall, once things in our lives had slowed down a bit.
2) It would be a male, as we both thought females were more difficult to train.
3) Jonathan’s stipulation was that the dog be a large pure-bred, as he thought mutts & rescues were too unpredictable. (More on that later, I promise!)
4) The dog would be a young puppy, so that we were able to start from scratch with the training.
I was on my way to work, one early Saturday morning in the summer. Rushing down the highway, I was anxious to get my day started, when I saw a little black tail wiggling above the high weeds beside the busy road. Of course, I immediately pulled over, no doubt angering the driver behind me. As I got out of my car, another vehicle stopped to see if they could help. As I stood, still holding on to the open door of my SUV, a little flash of black launched itself into my car, and promptly made itself comfortable on the passenger seat. The other driver chuckled and said, “Well, looks like you have this under control!” I got in my car and began down the road with my new co-pilot, wondering what I would do with this pup during the work day. Of course, I immediately called Jonathan. Our conversation went something like this…
Jonathan: “Hello?” Stephanie: “You’re going to kill me.”
J: “Why, what did you do?”
S: “No, you’re really going to kill me. I found a puppy.”
J (ever-practical, problem-solver that he is!): “Ok, well what does it look like? I will start calling the shelters to find its home.”
We hung up, with the agreement that we would not, under any circumstances, be keeping this dog. I looked ‘it’ over, and quickly came to the determination that this dog was everything we had decided against. She was, in fact, a she. She was also on the smaller side, obviously not pure-bred, and had some influence of pit bull. She was young enough to be a hand-full, but of age where she was not still dependant upon her mother. She was stinky, skinny, and obviously neglected, due to a skin infection and fleas. What did this all add up to? She needed me. Still off the clock, I gave her a quick bath, to which she offered much protest, a bowl of water, and some makeshift ‘toys’ to keep her busy (plastic bottles, etc). I placed her in an empty stall at the equine veterinary hospital where I worked, and set about my morning chores.
As I worked, I heard some strange noise coming from the back of the barn. These sounds could not possibly be made by a dog… something must be attacking her! I ran to the stall, and found the puppy stalking her prey… a piece of baling twine. The ferocious noises she made seemed incompatible with her size, and I couldn’t help but laugh at her. She would definitely be a challenge for whomever welcomed her into their home…
Throughout the day, this puppy gave me my fair share of trouble. Nothing was easy with her around! I touched base with Jonathan before I left for the morning, and he told me he had spoken with a number of shelters that were willing to take her. He had also looked on craigslist, but found nothing relating to a missing black puppy. I was expecting that to be the case, as unfortunately, she didn’t look as though anyone who might have had her, had cared enough about her to miss her. My guess was that she had been dumped along the side of the road.
I made the trip home, which normally takes 45 minutes, with the little puppy beside me. Or, should I say, rarely beside me. The commute ended up taking over an hour, as the dog would. not. sit. still. If she wasn’t trying to crawl under my feet, she was launching over the back seat into the trunk, climbing into my lap to lick my face, or digging through my designer purse to find something to play with. Shortly after we departed, I made the smart decision to pull over, and carefully harnessed her safely, so that she could not hurt herself. This lasted all of about 10 minutes, until she had wriggled out of the leash and plopped herself down… right here…
When we finally got home, I was exhausted from the trip. I opened the door to my car, planning to walk around to the other side and make the puppy wait to get out of the car. She launched herself over me, leapt out the door and….
Ran. Right into Jonathan’s arms.
He picked her up, looked down at me, and said…
“We’re keeping her.”
routine vet care…
A quick and easy spay, for a pathetic patient…
Play-time with her big brother and best friend, Tonka…
And some good, old-fashioned cuddle time…
Gaige has since become the bright spot in our lives. For every bit of mischief she causes (and believe me, there is a lot!) she is right there to lick you in apology for her transgressions. She has taught us so much about raising not just a puppy, but a pit bull puppy. Like, when you buy brand new, $400 insulated steel-toe work boots, do not leave them in the basement to dry, Dad. Puppy will chew them to an unwearable state, the same day they were purchased.
On a serious note, we quickly realized that dogs like Gaige are commonplace in shelters across the U.S. We strongly believe that had Gaige not ended up in our loving home, she would have found her way into a bad place, either of neglectful or frustrated owners, life in a shelter, or even worse, euthanasia. She was a handful to raise, and easily misunderstood. We know that by giving her a chance and raising her with strict but positive guidance, she has repaid the favor to us ten fold. We want to spread that knowledge to others, and maybe make a difference in the lives of a few shelter dogs just like Gaige. We love our pit bull for so many reasons, and we know you would, too… at least now that she’s trained!