Throwback Thursday: The First Post

I don’t know if it’s the cool weather we’ve been having lately that reminds of Autumn and the first dogs I fostered, or the fact that it’s been almost exactly two years, or if I’m just missing all my foster dogs lately – but a little grey pup and the story that came with her to start my fostering career have really been on my mind lately.

Today’s post is a reblogged entry from the very first day I ever wrote in this blog. It’s awkward seeing the way I wrote back then, and how much of a baby I was when I posted that entry. I was only 21! I knew nothing! (I still know nothing!) I remember that it would take me so long to write posts back then because 1. I needed to collect my thoughts in their entirety before writing and publishing, and 2. I tried *REALLY* hard to make sure each post was written the best I could write it. Now I can generally crank out posts with ease. Even if it isn’t reflected in my posts, this blog has helped my writing abilities immensely. Learning how to put your thoughts on paper in a non-crappy way is a skill I’m not sure I would have learned as well anywhere else!

When I was looking back at this post I noticed it was indeed just about two years ago – two years and two days to be exact. So, for those of you who haven’t been around since the beginning, here you go. Here’s the ramble that started it all. If you want to get the full story, you can start on the actual post and keep clicking ‘Next –>’ to follow along. Please excuse the photography, too. I guess at least it is a way to realize how far you’ve come!

Every journey begins with one paw print.

Posted on August 20, 2011

It’s official: I’ve been bit by the fostering bug. It’s the kind of thing that happens slowly over time. For me, it started when I began working full time at the Montgomery County Humane Society.  I have been exposed to a lot since I started working there – some good, some bad. But it all gives you a realistic picture of what the world of sheltering really is.

Due to our tight quarters, my Marketing & Events position landed me at a desk directly next to our foster and rescue programs. I not only get to meet the lucky dogs who go out to foster, but I also get to meet the incredible people who open their homes and their hearts to these animals. I experience first hand the amounts of love, patience, and knowledge that these people pour out to care for these dogs while searching for their forever homes.

One of the most inspirational things I’ve learned from observing the world of fostering is how much emotion and hard work these animals take. The humans that care for them put their hearts on the line and make countless sacrifices to give their foster pet a new life. I wish everyone could realize how difficult fostering is, and what kind of person it takes. Lots of people say, “I could never do it. It would be too hard to give them up.” And it is hard, but I learned it is also one of the most rewarding things you can do.

My first foster dog came along unofficially, but more about that later. That goofy American Bulldog named Otis changed my view of fostering forever. In the two weeks I had him, I fell in love. I was okay with knowing, though, that inevitably I was going to have to give him up. I knew I couldn’t make the lifetime commitment to take him in as my own, but more importantly I knew how many other dogs I needed to help. Otis couldn’t be the last.

With the passing of my family pet, a cranky 14-year old Wheaten Terrier named Barley (whom I miss terribly), my house is finally open to official fostering. I’m bringing my first home tomorrow. Her name is Zabora, she is an 8-year old pit bull whose odds of being adopted at the shelter were slim. I’m nervous, I’m excited, I’m clueless. But I am ready.

Zabora marks the formal start of my journey as a foster parent. I’m going to devote my entire life to fostering dogs in need, no matter where I am or what I’m doing. I hope this account of my experiences helps to show a few others how rewarding fostering can be, and maybe even inspire them to try it out for themselves.

It takes a special person to foster, but fostering can also turn your life into something special.

This is my childhood dog, Barley, whose recent passing comes with the silver lining of now being able to help other dogs in need. Rest happy, little pup, your paw print will always be the biggest on my heart. 

Well. There you have it. The birth of Peace, Love & Fostering. The awkward, naive, totally clueless birth of PLF.  Thanks for sticking with us for two whole years. You guys rule.


Ask Me Anything Answers: How Did It Start

Last week I wrote a post asking YOU what you want to read about on the blog. I got a lot of great questions/topics to cover! I will be answering one question per week. As we move forward, please feel free to leave additional questions in the comments section of answer posts or regular posts. Today’s question comes from ilovecats:

“Are you involved with rescues or a foster program? I’m curious where you find the dogs you foster and how you got started.”

The cool thing is that this blog pretty much documents everything about this journey, including a lot about how it all started. Some of you might remember Zabora, the dog I co-fostered with Love and a Six-Foot Leash – but , as you can probably guess, it all started much before her.

I actually interned at this humane society when I was in high school to complete my senior year schedule of leaving in the middle of the day and heading to a science internship. The relationship I kept with my boss landed me the full time job I took after I graduated college (it’s not what you know, it’s who you know, kids!). It was during the time I interned in high school that I became interested in pit bull dogs. It wasn’t that I fell super in love with them at that point, I just started sticking up for them more because I couldn’t figure out why everyone thought they were so different. I guess I grew up with the value that beings shouldn’t be treated differently just because of the way they looked.

When I began working at the shelter full time in June of 2011 (yes, a whopping ten days after I walked across the stage at UMD’s graduation), I heard people talk about fostering and I even worked next to the foster department desk, but I didn’t think of it as an option for myself. I had an elderly dog Barley at home and, to be honest, didn’t know too terribly much about taking care of dogs on my own past the experience I had with him and a few others growing up. FYI – as an Animal Science major they teach you about cows, not dogs and cats :-). Once Barley passed away, Aleks from L&ASFL was able to convince me to help her out with Zabora. I figured it was an okay gig since the responsibility to get her adopted wasn’t totally on me.

zaborakisses

Zabora’s story was a sweet and rather quick success. We pulled her through Jasmine’s House rescue, which was the first time I’d ever heard about Jasmine’s House. By the way – did you all know that Jasmine’s House was named after Jasmine, the little red dog who graces the cover of The Lost Dogs? Yeah, that Jasmine.

Once Aleks moved away, I was sort of on my own in this big wide world of fostering and advocacy that I stumbled into. By then the blog was kind of rolling, though I wasn’t posting five times a week at that point. I started to put my antennas up a little more at work, figuring out how this fostering and saving lives thing worked. Rumblings about a dog named Baxter needing a foster home began circulating – online I think is where I saw it. I remembered Baxter when I finally put his name and photo together: he was the scared, emaciated dog I had met briefly in our break room at the shelter just a few months prior. I made the connection that Jasmine’s House had pulled him and rehabilitated him to the point that his next step was moving to true foster home.

baxfront

Catalina, one of the women who ran Jasmine’s House at the time, finally stepped up and asked me to foster Baxter. A bona fide foster dog, all to myself. I thought it through – though, looking back, did I really think it through? Did I really think about the fact that I’d have this dog for four months, no matter what? And that a black, generic looking dog can sometimes be tricky to place, especially when they’re maybe not the most affectionate of dogs? I’m glad I didn’t think about that, because Baxter was the opening to so much of what my world is now.

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Jasmine’s House loaded me up with a crate, a kong and a big hunkin’ jar of peanut butter. Turns out, I didn’t need much more for Bax! Just kidding, sort of. More so, though, Jasmine’s house provided me with support and encouragement. So much of it. They cheered with Baxter’s victories, marveled at how happy he was in a home, and helped us through challenges. They are awesome. So, so awesome. It was because of how whole-heartedly they welcomed me as a new foster that I realized this was an organization I wanted to stay involved in. That and the fact that they’re totally not crazy, like rescue groups can sometimes be – in fact, they’re very much practical and responsible, two things I value in an animal welfare organization.

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petexpo_1

After fostering Baxter through Jasmine’s House, Otis came back to me. We all know how that went – but, in case you haven’t made the connection yet, I fostered him through the humane society, not Jasmine’s House. There were a couple different factors in that decision, but ultimately he ended up as a county shelter foster dog. The humane society has a great foster program that helps hundreds of animals per year in addition to the ones helped at the actual shelter, and it was nice to be able to go through that experience as well. Honestly, every rescue group/shelter has a different way of doing things, and if you’re interested in fostering you should find an organization that you mesh well with.

As far as the dogs I choose to foster, Zabora, Baxter, Otis and Johnnie all came into my life for different reasons. When you have a shelter full of dogs needing your help literally every day, it is easy to just go back and pick one out and bring it home. That would do worlds of good. But I let my dogs choose me. So far it’s worked well, and we’ll see who else weasels their way into my heart and home from now on. Judging by the past 18 months, your guess is as good as mine!

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Things Remembered

In case you hadn’t noticed: I’m a sucker for memories. When I part ways with something I love – whether it’s a human, a dog, a place – I like to have items around that remind me of the happiness that person, dog, or place once brought me.

For example, I got this charm for my Pandora bracelet when Baxter got adopted. To me, it signifies all of the hearts that went into his rehabilitation. So many people were a part of his rescue, and that is what made his case so special – so that’s what I like to remember.  I wear this bracelet every day and I’m constantly reminded of my little Bax.

Next up is something a little larger than a charm bracelet. A few weeks ago I made over my childhood bedroom. Now that I am living here as an adult some things really needed to go. The room hadn’t been painted in 30+ years and it was time for a new look. After a weekend of painting and remodeling, I had fresh blank walls with nothing to put on them. Remember how I mentioned my occasional issue with following through on projects for myself, and how my boyfriend is often the remedy? Well this one DIY wall decoration task was no different.  I wanted a way to show off my fosters in my new room, but couldn’t figure out the best way to do that.

Mark ended up constructing a diagram of picture frames to put on one wall in a sort of collage design. It would take about a dozen picture frames of assorted sizes, mixed in with three canvases he got me online. I picked out the photos I wanted and spent hours measuring, leveling, and applying adhesive to get it all up. The end result? A gorgeous wall that highlights each foster through some of my favorite photos. (I also took this as an opportunity to try out my brother’s fish eye lens!)

I am in love! Now I get to wake up to their shining faces every morning. I cannot think of a more perfect way to remember these guys. The idea is to slowly swap out pictures as I get more fosters, but I don’t know which one of these I’ll be able to part with – each photo was chosen for a specific reason. It’s so fitting I got this up just around my One Year Blog-a-versary.

Last but not least, I received a package in the mail from Mark’s mom a few days after Otis got adopted. Inside was this wooden plaque:

I often find it hard to put into words just how and why I foster (especially while my heart is broken after saying goodbye to another). This seems to sum it up better than I’ve ever been able to. Sure, it’s tough letting one go, but the next one fills that hole in your heart and then some. This was the last bit of art to go up in my room – a very fitting piece to complete the collection.

Is it just me, or does everyone do special things like this to remember their dogs? What do you all do?


One Year in Photos

To continue the celebration of our One Year Blog-a-versary, here are lots (and I mean lots) of photos that I feel portray some of our most outstanding moments (or that I think are just really cute). They have all been featured on this blog, and, to the best of my ability, they tell the story of the last twelve months. Enjoy :)

August 2011

September 2011

October 2011

November 2011

December 2011

January 2012

February 2012

March 2012

April 2012

May 2012

June 2011

July 2012

August 2012

It sure makes ya miss the little stinkers, doesn’t it!? I love going back and remembering all the silly things about each dog – the things that get lost as time goes on and as new ones come into your life. I still can’t express in words what this blog means to me and what I’ve gotten out of the last year, which is why I am so grateful to have the journey documented in photos.  I hope you enjoyed that recap as much as I did. Thank you all so much for your congratulations at this milestone – it means the world to me!


One Year Blog-a-versary!

It snuck up so fast that I nearly missed it! Yesterday, August 20, marked one year for Peace, Love, & Fostering! It’s unbelievable to me, really – and yet I feel like I’ve been doing this for a lifetime. It has been, hands down, the most rewarding experience in my 22 years of existence. Who else gets to say they talk to hundreds of people they’ve never met every single morning? I’ve made friends from all over the globe. It’s remarkable.

One year ago I set out to fiddle around with a keyboard and take some really, really amateur photos with my brother’s not-so-amateur camera – all to tell the stories of some dogs. I wasn’t quite sure what dogs, because at that time I wasn’t fostering yet, but I’d seen it done before by some pretty amazing people and thought, “Why not?”  My boyfriend is really the one who pushed me to do it. I have this problem of coming up with ideas and then not following through on them. He makes sure I follow through. So one night I just sat down, clicked away for a few hours, and boom: Peace, Love, & Fostering was born. It had a long way to go, but it was in existence on the interwebs.

Instead of typing out the long story that followed, in the footsteps of some of my blog heroes I’m going to celebrate this blog-a-versary with some stats:

Date started: August 20, 2011

Date started updating 5x per week: November 2, 2011

Total posts: 225

Total comments: 1,880+

Total views: 66,400+

Search that brought the most views (besides PL&F): beagle sheltie mix

Number of fosters total: 3

Longest time a foster stayed: 4 months (tie between Otis and Baxter)

Shortest time a foster stayed: 6 weeks on and off (Lady Zee)

Number of fosters I wanted to keep: 3

Number of fosters it would have been logical to keep: 0

Number of fosters now happily in forever homes: 3

Longest time spent between fosters: 6 weeks between Zabora and Baxter

Favorite foster: Zaborabaxterotis

FosterDad’s favorite foster: Zabora

Goofiest foster: Zee and her off-balance bumblings!

Shyest foster: Otis

Happiest foster: Baxter when he saw human friends, Zabora when she was sleeping, and Otis when I returned home

Cutest couple: Baxter & Bella (below)

Biggest celebrity cameo: Tie between Chikerdoodle & Lily Fireworks

Post with the most views: Baxter is… ADOPTED!

Post with the 2nd most views: On Being 22 and a Foster Mom

Favorite props post: Will U Be Mine? (Baxter’s Valentine’s Day post)

Hardest post to write: Dear Baxter

Easiest post to write: The Power of Being Positive

Number of positive changes in my life from this blog: Too many to count!

Number of friends made: Too many to count!

Number of blog friends met online before meeting in person: 5+

Blog friends visited in other states: 2 (and hoping to add more!)

Weirdest place a random blog follower has said hi to me: While I was walking Otis in my neighborhood

Number of hours of sleep lost writing posts every night: Doesn’t matter

Favorite thing learned while blogging: Photography

Most helpful real life skills learned: How to be disciplined, plan ahead, and be creative

Favorite part overall: Tie between the lives saved, the bond made with each foster, and all my readers

I can’t say it enough: you all are one of the best parts of blogging. PL&F wouldn’t have gone anywhere in the last year if you weren’t here to read it. The friends I’ve met, the emails I’ve exchanged with strangers, the advice I’ve both given and received. . . the impact of it all is beyond measure. So thank you!

Tune in tomorrow to see the year reviewed in photos!


Updates From My Former Foster Half-Brothers and Sisters

Fostermama has been passing along updates all week from the parents of the foster dogs she had before me. I realized that since we’ve all at some point had this here same mama, I think that makes us halfsies! Half-brothers and half-sisters that is.

Former foster half-sister Zabora, now known as Medivka, recently became a big sis to a HUMAN baby! While that sounds like my absolute worst nightmare, I wish her the best of luck listening to that screaming all the time enjoying life with her new sibling. I know fostermama misses Z/M a lot, so this update was super exciting.

THEN she got a few wonderful emails from the forever mom of my former foster half-brother Baxter. His mama was gushing about how well he’s doing, including this happy tail:

“Ok, so in the same vein, I have to tell you that Bax is just totally becoming a part of our little unit. He reveals more and more of his personality every day. And it’s not just me saying it. Diane’s noticing it too. It’s been very gradual and I feel like he was just kind of hanging out and observing us for the first five or six weeks, but he has really opened up and is just being so incredibly sweet that it’s like being around a totally different dog than just a month ago! We don’t have him crated anymore, just separated, and he’s doing great. He’s a very sweet and loving little guy :)”

When fostermama got that email she did a big happy dance and stared at these pictures for awhile, especially that first one. Even I will admit that is one handsome devil. Did you know I actually met the Bax when he first came into the shelter over the summer, before I went to my most recent attempt at a forever home? We took some dog test together and both passed – musta been because we totally ignored each other. That was the first time fostermama ever met Baxter too, but on that day she had no idea how much he would affect her life.

She talks a lot about how she misses that dog, then I nudge my nose into her hand and remind her that I’M here and I love her just as much as he did. She smiles and gives me a hug and seems happy again.

To top it all off, my almost sorta kinda former foster half-sister Curious Georgia’s forever parents have a friend that just took in the famous Stevie Wonder as a foster – go check them out and see how she’s doing!

What a great week of happy updates and team work!

While fostermama misses all of her former fosters, I know she is still happy to have me around. I keep her company every night on the couch while we blog. She is going to miss me a lot when I leave, just like she does the rest. That’s not stopping us from searching for my forever family though! If you know someone out there looking for a laid pack pooch who likes snuggling and playing in the yard, have their people call my people. . .

For more information on adopting Honey Bunches of Otis, go to his Adopt Me page to learn more about him and how to get in touch.


Breed Specific Legislation: Why It Doesn’t Work

I’ve gotten to the point in my rescue career that the phrase “Breed Specific Legislation” (BSL) makes me immediately scowl, shake my head, and launch into a spiel about how much I hate it.  Like many other things in the advocacy world, I feel like everyone who supports pit bull type dogs feels the same way I do. It wasn’t until I mentioned BSL and Mark asked me what it was did I realize that not everyone knows what Breed Specific Legislation is, let alone its negative consequences.

I have to admit – and hopefully this can help some of you relate to what I’m going to talk about – there was once a time when I thought BSL was a good idea. It was back before I worked for the shelter, and I thought, “If they make pit bulls illegal then people won’t have access to them for dog fighting and it’s better for the doggies!” Could I have been more naive? Ha. Just goes to show you how “Joe Schmoe” I was: no inside info about pit bulls, no look into the rescue world, and no biases based on the work I do. So, while I know I’ll be preaching to the choir for a lot of you, I also hope to share some insight for others.

For those of you who don’t know, Breed Specific Legislation is a law or guideline banning or regulating specific breed(s) within a community. Apartment complexes can have them, townships can have them, and entire states can have them.

BSL has holes. Lots of them. While the laws aim to create a safer community and decrease dog bites, there is no evidence that enacting BSL keeps anyone safer – i.e. it does not reduce the number of dog bites. There are a lot of things BSL does and does not do, including:

Breed Specific Legislation is largely discriminative, basing most restrictions on physical appearance. Many breed laws turn to physical characteristics to define their bans, with descriptions of “pit bulls/dangerous dogs” often including but not limited to: muscular, medium sized, short hair, big head. This results in over inclusiveness, and puts a wide range of dog types at risk to be restricted – no matter their behavior. It also lets dogs that are actually dangerous but don’t happen to look like a “pit bull” slip under the radar.

This opens up another issue that I will touch on briefly: the lack of actual, purebred “American Pit Bull Terriers” out there. The majority of pit bulls around the country are mixed breeds, which is why I like to refer to them as “pit bull type dogs”. This is much more vague and makes no definitive assumptions when referring to a dog’s genetic makeup.

BSL uses physical appearance to predict behavior.  Whether a dog is correctly identified as a pit bull or not, no behaviors should be automatically assumed based on this identification. All dogs are individuals, and should be treated as so.

BSL punishes good dogs and good owners.  Have you ever heard the point, “For every one dog that bites, there are millions that don’t?” That’s what we should think about when we look at BSL. Hundreds of thousands of owners with well-behaved dogs are forced to relocate their pups, relocate their families, or, worst case, put their beloved family pet to sleep because of discriminatory breed laws – 100% regardless of behavior or temperament.

BSL ignores the source of the problem: irresponsible pet ownership. Owners must understand that they are fully responsible for the actions of their pet. Letting a dog run free, not getting them neutered, not socializing them properly, putting them in high risk situations – these are all things that set dogs up for accidents, including bites and attacks, absolutely regardless of breed.  BSL does not hold owners accountable for their actions, which puts everyone in jeopardy even with the bans.

BSL is expensive and difficult to enforce. The amount of money it takes to enforce these bans through law enforcement, local shelters, and the public is outrageous. The ASPCA reports that my neighboring community, Prince George’s County, spends $250,000 a year attempting to enforce their breed ban – with little success at creating a safer community.

This is merely a glimpse at the flaws of Breed Specific Legislation (forgive me, those of you who are sitting in your chair thinking, “What about this and what about that!”). There are numerous resources out there for more information about BSL, including Animal Farm Foundation, BAD RAP, and Best Friends Animal Society, as well as a decent number of scholarly articles with different studies.

It’s scary to think – and I’m sure most of you with pit bull type dogs would agree – that any of our dogs could be ripped away from us with little to nothing we could do about it if we ended up somewhere with BSL. Otis is of course one example, but he falls more under the “wrongly labeled as a pit bull type dog” category. While he’s got a blocky head, that’s about it – his lean figure and extra slobbery jowls suggest many other breeds before pit bull. But he could fall victim to discrimination in a heartbeat if the wrong person saw him in a community with a breed ban. Such a shame.

The best thing we can do is speak up. There have been multiple victories when it comes to BSL, including Ohio recently declaring it unconstitutional. If enough people make noise and step forward to prove that breed-neutral dangerous dog laws and regulations would be much safer and more effective than outright breed bans, lawmakers will listen.  Change is possible, and with more education and advocacy on the topic, better days will come. If you have any questions about breed discrimination, feel free to email me at peacelovefoster@gmail.com.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.”                -The Lorax