What made you decide to foster a dog?
The idea of fostering a dog came to me a few months ago. I grew up without a pet (dad had allergies), so I had to resort to playing with my friends’ pups. I told myself the first thing I would do when I get my own place is get a dog. When I moved into a row house in DC with some of my closest buddies this past November, I immediately stopped being all talk, and started walking the walk. One of my roommates, Brian (also a fellow Terp), and I would talk almost daily about how much we loved dogs. Ok that’s a lie…we definitely talked daily…and G-Chatted at work…and emailed each other pictures of dogs we wanted to adopt. It was a vicious cycle. The only cure? GET ONE OF OUR OWN.
Early on, Brian and I made the decision to foster over adopt. This was for several simple reasons:
A) There are too many dogs (and other animals) that never stand a chance without a foster home. We couldn’t bear with the fact that shelters have to face such tough decisions regarding any dog’s life. We were determined to help – one foster at a time.
B) Fostering, while definitely a time commitment, is not the 10 – 12+ year commitment that adopting could be. We also had to be realistic about our tight budgets. At this time, we can’t afford any major medical bills, pet insurance and other miscellaneous costs on top of the day-to-day necessities. Also, I don’t know what I will be doing 10 years from now. I don’t even know what I will be doing one year from now. Heck, I don’t even know what I’m having for dinner tonight! Life is so unpredictable, and too up in the air still for me.
C) Who out of the roommates would be the dog’s legal owner? Neither of us wanted to adopt a dog and then have to ultimately face the hardship of moving away and not getting to keep him or her.
D) Did I mention that every dog you foster is instantaneously given a second chance? Doesn’t every dog deserve that? I am repeating point A because it truly trumped the other two reasons. Fostering helps the dog…fostering helps open space in shelters for other animals in need…and fostering helps humans (more on that later).
After visiting a few facilities, Brian and I decided on fostering through the Washington Humane Society for our first go ’round.
What did you do to prepare for your first foster?
To prep for Rudy’s homecoming, I made sure to have what I believed to be the essentials – a crate, dog bed, leash, food, treats, toys, the wondrous Kong (and obviously peanut butter) and the white-carpet-saving baby gate. I have to admit, I believed I was pretty prepared given Rudy was my first dog! The only major items I learned about later that made life easier for me, my housemates, and Rudy was a harness and bully sticks (thank you, Juliana!!!). Oh, and we spent two hours puppy-proofing the house as best we could by moving wires, picking up anything he could fit in his mouth and moving food off the floor and counter tops.
What were your first impressions of fostering Rudy after the initial 24 hours?
I want to say the first 24 hours went exactly as expected…but I honestly did not have any expectations at all. We brought Rudy home on Sunday, January 5th, and that’s a day I’ll never forget. Rudy was a bit shy at first, but quickly learned his way around the entire main floor of our house. Not two hours into his homecoming, Rudy had claimed the futon as his own! He was very curious on his first two walks through Columbia Heights, and was eager to explore the news sights, sounds and SMELLS!!!
In my eyes, Rudy had a very easy transition into our home. He didn’t seem scared of anyone or anything (other than the occasional loud bang of a pot against a pan). He loved to watch ice come out of the dispenser on our fridge. He found the dishwasher more interesting than frightening. He did also enjoy performing quality control on the dishwasher by licking every last clean dish if we left the door down. Rudy took it all in stride, mesmerized by his new playground. Rudy’s first 24 hours did include a few accidents – perhaps the only thing I expected – but that problem was gone in three days!
What has surprised you most about fostering?
It is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. I know, I know. Cliche….Gross. I will be the first to say I hate those cheesy lines. But this one rings truer than anything else I could think of. Rudy instantly became a 7th roommate, not just a house guest.
I also learned that if you are not patient…do not foster. Foster dogs come not only in all shapes, sizes and colors, but also from a variety of backgrounds. It is nearly impossible to predict how a dog will react in a new environment, around totally new people, and with a different schedule than one experienced in a shelter.
Fostering taught me how to be responsible for another life. Rudy’s face and puppy dog eyes could melt you, but he needed rules and he needed guidance. The best parents do not what their children want, but what is best for them. I learned that this is the best approach for fostering a dog. Give them love, attention and positive reinforcement…but never skimp on obedience training or setting up boundaries. Fostering is all about setting up the dog to be the best he can be – how else will he succeed in his forever home?
What is the favorite thing you have learned since fostering Rudy?
How loyal a pit bull like Rudy can really be. Talk about a people-pleaser!!!! I am one of those folks who thinks every single dog is cute in its own way, but I have a soft spot for pit bulls now. I used to ignore when people made stereotypical comments about pit bulls. Now I actually cringe when people deem them automatically vicious. Rudy wouldn’t hurt a fly!
My other favorite thing? That I want to foster again…and again…and again. And that when I am ultimately ready for a dog of my own, that I know I will rescue a dog in need. They have more love to give than you can ever imagine.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone who is fostering for the first time, what would it be? (So I asked for one and Eran decided to write more than one. All good advice though, so I left them!)
– Be prepared before taking your dog home. Have the crate, harness, leash, toys, treats and food bought beforehand!
– Set up and agree on guidelines, boundaries and rules to establish consistency if you live with other people.
– Know what human foods a dog can and cannot eat. Post it on your fridge!
– Know the emergency contact name and number at the shelter you are fostering through. Also know where the nearest animal hospital is for emergencies.
– Expect accidents (Nature’s Miracle is the way to go).
– You will have to make sacrifices in your social life to make time for the dog.
– When your dog ultimately goes to his or her forever home, it is alright to be sad about it. That is a sign you did something right. But also remember, you did the best thing you could – you gave that dog a second chance at life! Be proud, be happy, and foster again.
– Promote your dog on social media! It helps draw attention to him or her, and may even reconnect you with an old friend like it did in my case!
– Fostering is not easy. You will have ups and downs.
– EXPECT LOVE – I know not every dog will be the same or express their gratitude so openly, but many dogs are simply looking for someone who is willing to reciprocate the love they have to give!
Anything else you’d like to add about your experience?
I wouldn’t trade one second of it. I missed out on a few hangouts and events with friends, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. After I gave Rudy to his new owner, my Mom asked if I had any regrets about fostering (she knew how attached I was to Rudy). I don’t think I let her finish her sentence before I yelled, “Absolutely not!” Rudy did as much for me as I could have ever done for him.
I know I will foster again, and I know I will get attached to other dogs and then have to ultimately give them to their forever homes as well. But never, ever, ever, ever, ever, will any dog replace the soft spot in my heart for Rudy. He was an unbelievable first foster, and I wish him the best of luck in his home!