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.


Happy Dog, Warm Heart

Few things in this world touch my heart the way Otie does. I’m not sure what it is about him, but his big head and his worried expression have nestled themselves so far into the depths of my soft spots that I think I would do just about anything for him. He is such an anxious and worried dog, and it really breaks my heart to watch him worry about things many other dogs don’t blink an eye at. So when he is with me, I feel like it is my mission to make him comfortable. It is my job to find things that make him happy and let him do them as much as his little heart desires. Or else he makes sad faces like this:

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You might remember the photos from when I borrowed Otis from his dad over Memorial Day Weekend. We went on a grand adventure with our friends Kimmie and Nicky to the Billy Goat Trail along the Potomac River. We had so much fun! It was such a care free day out, and I knew one of those hikes was exactly what Otis needed while he spent the weekend with my parents.

I dropped him off with my parents Thursday evening, so he was very happy to see me Saturday morning. We woke up bright and early to meet with Kim and Nicky before the trails got too crowded. The canal was crowded, but the route we took was actually very empty – which was great for our two cautious dogs! It was a fun, confidence-building walk. I love seeing both dogs so relaxed.

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I knew he was feeling good because he went into the water all on his own. Nicky was chasing after a treat and forgot about it, and Otis went right in! I turned around and he was on his way in, no encouragement needed. It was a moment of bravery for Mr. Otie.

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He had such a good time and was totally wiped out afterwards. What a fun way to kick off our weekend! Did anyone else spend fun time outdoors as the summer winds down?

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Guess Who’s Here!

I have a house guest for the week! Does this big guy look familiar?

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That’s right. Otie is hangin’ with us for the week while his dad is out of town. He’ll be bouncing back and forth between my house downtown and my parents house in the ‘burbs since it’s a lot of work to hide him from my landlord keep track of him while I’m running around all weekend. I was pretty nervous bringing him to my house because he can be barky and anxious and I didn’t want to drive my roommates nuts, but he’s actually done really well! And my roommates are enjoying having a dog around.

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It’s nice having him around again. I missed him! He’s also still perfect when I bring him to work (whew!). photo 05 photo 04

I’ll tell you guys about how the week goes. We have some adventures planned for this weekend (shocking)!


My Journey to Becoming a Dog Trainer: Part 2

As I dove into learning about dogs, I simultaneously learned about the culture of dog training. I learned that there are people out there who know so, so much and are a wealth of great knowledge because they’ve gone to school or they have certifications (yes, in my opinion you need more than just “experience”), and I learned that there are people out there who should not be working with the dogs that they do (nor getting paid the buckets of money that some do!). It’s an unregulated industry. Anyone can give themselves the title of dog trainer, or, even worse, a behaviorist. No one will call you on it, especially if you make it sound like you know what you’re talking about (or, in many cases, you truly think you do know what you’re talking about). I’ve heard so many scary and heartbreaking stories about people who try to work with dogs and behavioral issues that are outside of their knowledge base, and the stories often do not end well.

My point for bringing this up is that I want to be one of the people who knows what they’re talking about, who has education and credentials to back it up, and who knows when they’re at their capacity to help, as well as what to do when they do reach that limit. What this means is that I am going to start small. I am going to start by learning. A lot. As much as I can. Then practice. A lot. As much as I can. Then get a certification. As many as I can.  Then I’m going to learn some more.

Virgil Ocampo Photography

Virgil Ocampo Photography

In terms of learning and practicing, I’ve gotten very lucky. The shelter trainer I told you about on Tuesday, Beth Mullen of Dog Latin Dog Training, has sort of taken me under her wing. She seems just as excited as I am about my career in dog training. The amount that she knows about dog behavior and how to communicate with dogs astounds me every time I watch her work. I began helping her out a few months ago, and have officially signed on as a trainer now. Currently I am teaching puppy classes and helping with basic manners clients – two things I feel very comfortable dealing with.

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Because I’m not okay with just comfort level to back up my abilities, I enrolled in the Karen Pryor Academy Puppy Start Right class. I absolutely loved it! The course went over everything from the way a dog is built to how dogs learn to their developmental stages to how to manage puppy behavior. It was a great course (though I was actually pretty happy with the fact that lots of it was review!), and now I have more to back up my experience when I talk to puppy parents. Also, let’s take a moment to point out the fact that my job is to hang out with puppies. Life is hard.

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Speaking of puppies – did you know a dog’s brain at 8 weeks old has the same learning capacity as that of an adult dog? Just a shorter attention span. You can teach puppies SO MUCH!

So that’s basically where things are right now. I have been blessed with the opportunity to join Dog Latin Dog Training to learn more and practice my skills, and will hopefully one day get my Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed title (REMEMBER: being a member of an association is not the same as having a certification!). I’m not sure how far I’ll go into the “difficult cases” category during my long term career – or if I’ll ever even go there at all. I just know that right now I love teaching people how to better understand their dogs, and I can’t wait to improve my ability to do that!

Newly permanent additions to my "can't go anywhere without it" collection: treat pouch, hot dogs & string cheese, clicker, six-foot leash with knots in it, and front-clip harness.

Newly permanent additions to my “can’t go anywhere without it” collection: treat pouch, delicious treats, clicker, six-foot leash with knots in it, and front-clip harness.


All Good Things Must End… (Or At Least Slow Down)

It hurts my heart to write this post – but after nearly two years of posting on this blog every day of the work week, it’s time to cut back. From now on, I’ll be posting entries on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.

It’s a very difficult decision to make that I’ve wrestled with for a long time, but I have a lot of exciting changes coming up in my life very soon that have (and will continue to) commandeered most of my time and energy. Starting July 1, I’m moving into a row home in DC (like, literally downtown, far far away from the suburbs I’ve lived in for 23 years – eek!) with five of my girlfriends. I’m taking a full time position at the Animal Welfare League of Arlington, and I’ve also officially joined the team at Dog Latin Dog Training! These exciting beginnings are all things I need to talk about in more detail later, but I hope it gives you a bit of a sense of what blogging is up against in my life right now.

So while I am closing a chapter on Peace, Love & Fostering, I am proud to look back at some achievements we’ve made since this blog was first created:

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Crazy to reflect back on all that, right? Looking at the numbers still truly stuns me. I cannot believe how many people have stumbled across PL&F.

To make it clear: I’m not going away, I’m just only going to be around twice a week. I hope you’ll understand, and perhaps even keep coming back? I’m actually a little excited about this change because it will free up some time for me to write better, more thought out posts. I’d rather give you guys two solid posts a week than five so-so ones. So thanks for sticking with me through all this craziness – I have YOU to thank for the past 1.75 years of complete and total success. Seriously, thank you!

See you Tuesday and Thursday :-).


Happy Father’s Day

Happy Father’s Day to the absolute best dad in the world! My dad has always been there to support my fostering efforts. He is the one who watches the pups during the day while I’m at work, sometimes finding out for us the hard way what their “quirks” are :-). Thank you, Daddy, for taking such great care of my pups… and me!

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Hope everyone had a great Father’s Day spending time with loved ones!


Ask Me Anything Answers: Adoption Standards

This “Ask Me Anything” series is answering the questions and topics that you said you want to read about on the blog. As we move forward, please feel free to leave additional questions in the comments section of answer posts or regular posts. Today’s question has two parts, which I will be answering one after the other:

Do you think it’s better to rigorously screen all potential adopters in order to make sure that each pup is adopted into exactly the right home for him/her? Or is it more important to get as many dogs out of shelters and into homes as possible, even if a portion of them then end up getting returned?

This is a really great question.  If you ask the entire animal welfare community, the opinions on how much we should screen adopters would probably be pretty split. Some people think any home is better than the shelter, and some people think you must make the absolute perfect match for your animals, not lowering your standards one bit.

In this day and age, progressive shelters (note that I say shelters, not rescues – rescues are generally a little different than shelters) are moving more towards having open conversations with adopters, rather than a “prove to me why we should give you this dog” approach. I LOVE that. Lots of shelters are doing away with the traditional “home visit” and spending more time talking with adopters and getting a feel for if the animal is a right fit or not. Many people, especially who have been in this field for a long time, do not feel comfortable with letting go of home visits. They are worried we’ll be sending pets to hoarders or dog fighters (I’m sorry I just have to roll my eyes here, but that’s for a different post). But the truth is that we can’t control every single little detail of an animal’s new home. Furthermore, we have to put some trust in our adopters that they will do what is right to help make the transition smooth and give the animal the best life possible.

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I know a lot of you are shaking your head thinking, “but all the animals I have seen returned because the adopter gave up!” I agree with you. I agree that there are adopters out there who are just duds and who do not want to try their hardest to make it work with the animal. But there’s a good chance that there was an opportunity to either uncover that or work through it during the pre-adoption “counseling” session. Humans tend to be pretty transparent, and if you have an honest conversation with someone it is likely that you’ll be able to get a sense if they are interested in a particular pet for the right reasons. There will also be situations where that would happen no matter how much screening you did or did not do. It’s just life.

To answer the individual question directly: I think there should be a balance. I have lots of experience in “choosing” homes for each of my fosters. Because they were my fosters and I know them very well, I was able to tell someone right off the bat if they could possibly be the right fit or not. I had to be very careful, however, that I was not being too picky. It’s tough to do when you love your animals so, so much and you want the best for them and you think you have the best picked out in your mind – but the truth is that life is not perfect and somewhere something has to give if you don’t want to keep your foster pets forever (I see you, foster failures ;-)). None of my adopters have looked “perfect” on paper, but there’s so much more to the big picture than that. Besides, now all of their new families absolutely are perfect for them. What if I hadn’t given them that chance?

Adopted1What do you say to people outside the animal rescue community who complain that it’s too difficult or the requirements are too strict to adopt a dog, so they think it’s better just to buy instead?

I tell them I feel their pain! I think it totally sucks when shelters or rescue groups make adopters jump through flaming hoops. I agree that there should be standards and pets should not be adopted to just anyone, but I think we are doing ourselves a huge disservice when we make it easier to buy a dog than adopt one.  I sit here and preach about how people should look into breed-specific rescues, but then the rescue groups laugh in their face when they inquire about adopting because they do not meet the group’s “standards.” No, not all groups are like this. There are some really fabulous, flexible ones out there. But there are also some pretty rude, stuck up ones, which I think is a huge shame.

The bottom line is that I think it’s time we start putting a little more power in the hands of our adopters. Instead of trying to make it impossible for someone to adopt a dog, how about we pair them with a good match and then give them the resources to succeed! This is huge – I think we would have less returns if we made post-adoption help more readily available, including health advice, training resources and even just someone being available to walk them through the transition, should they need it.

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Shelter workers are looking to put ourselves out of business. We are never going to do that though if we have the outlook that it is a privilege for people to adopt from us. Sending good matches out the door (note: “good” means the pair is safe for the community!) with resources should take priority over sending perfect matches out the door, in my opinion. It doesn’t take much to turn good into perfect before long anyway!