25 LESSONS IN TIME TO TURN 25

If you are reading this it means that I have made it to the big 2-5. Yep, last week was my birthday. Twenty five years old. There are a lot of intimidating aspects about turning 25, but one of them is the fact that this was birthday number four I am celebrating on this blog (22, 23, 24 – whoa what a time machine!). Time flies. What better way to jump back on the blog than to channel my inner BuzzFeed and make a list of everything I’ve learned up until this very day?

In all seriousness, I’ve grown up immensely between October 1st last year and October 1st this year. It’s been a crazy, beautiful year and it feels like a lot of different journeys came to a head. Dogs have taught me a lot. My relationships have taught me a lot. My job has taught me a lot. So here are 25 lessons that I’ve learned over the past 9,138ish days. I promise to make most of them dog related.

1. Everything is a work in progress. Like this blog, for example. If you’re reading it on the actual site then hi, welcome to my new design that I hoped to have finished weeks ago for a big unveiling. Oops. But you can’t let a little lag in progress discourage you from reaching your goal. I will complete this makeover… one day!

2. “You have to be well to do good.” This is my favorite quote from an awesome blog post the geniuses at Notes from a Dog Walker wrote about setting up boundaries for yourself to prevent compassion fatigue. Re: #1 – I haven’t been updating this blog because I’ve been working on, oh, just about one million other things. It’s not that I don’t love this blog and wish I could give it more of my attention, but it came to the point that for my own sanity something had to give – and that something was this sweet little nook in the corner of the internet. Luckily I know it (and you guys!) will always be here for when I have some extra time to breathe :-).

3. Science is a thing. Oh the world of dog training… whew! I’m exhausted just thinking about all of the debating, the arguing and the I’m-right-you’re-wrong-ing. Over the past few years my knowledge for animal behavior has grown to a point where I feel comfortable digging up the scientific reasoning behind why I train the way I do. I grew up loving biology and majoring in animal science, so in my adult life I’ve really valued knowing the why behind what I do with animals – it helps me not lose sleep over the arguing. I’m confident in what I know. As late Dr. Sophia Yin writes, “What does it mean to base your training on science? It means using the scientific method to work through the problem and possible solutions, as well as measuring behavior change and evaluating your methods based on results.” Swoon.

4. Treat yo self. Similar to #2, it’s important you look out for yourself in your busy life. I’m sure you have work priorities, maybe a family, probably/definitely dogs, and just remember that yes, they are counting on you – but you can’t be counted on if you’re not happy and healthy! Grab that crazy-expensive pumpkin spice latte before work just because it makes me happy? Don’t mind if I do.

5. Kindness is powerful. I swear by this phrase. I’m kind to my dogs and I’m kind to people around me, and I see every day how this impacts my interactions. I’ve learned that I can get those results I want by being kind (and, yes, sometimes direct!) and respectful.

6. We’re all different. So different. Guess what, guys – I’m not you and you’re not me, so I have no idea how you think or why you do what you do! Ground breaking, I know. But this has been one of the most life changing realizations for me lately. I cannot understand why someone did what they did… and still survive? I don’t have to rationalize or understand the way a person acts to get along with them? My love of kindness might not float your boat, and that’s okay! The simple understanding that I’m the way I am and it’s probably not the way you are eases a lot of frustrations. Try it.

7. Dogs are awesome. Funny lesson, I know. But I just love them! I’ve learned to, ya know, appreciate the smaller things in life – and one of those is a wiggling dog butt greeting you at an appointment or in a shelter kennel or at the end of a long day. As trainers and even shelter workers we often turn them into such specimens (especially when I don’t have my own), we often forget the value they have on their soul. Don’t ever forget that.

8. The definition of love/hate is the internet. Am I right?? Scrolling through your Facebook feed can be so uplifting and so heartbreaking all at the same time. Do yourself a favor and set boundaries if you need to (you see what I did there?). I promise that person will not find out if you unfollow them! And you will not go to hell for not wanting to see the **URGENT DOG** postings on your own social media time.

9. “Remember that time when…” REMEMBER THESE MOMENTS. I find myself reminiscing a lot lately, I think because I’ve had a lot of “pinch me” moments the last few years. Lucky me, I know. But you never know when you’re going to wake up thinking, “Man, I was really lucky.” The past few weeks I’ve been remembering my experience of going through KPA with Paco. Even though at the time it was stressful and overwhelming, boy did we have a blast. I truly miss it, and I don’t want to ever forget it!

10. Mom and Dad always know best. Shout out to the best parents there are! Nothing makes you appreciate your parents more than growing up. You know that Mark Twain quote? “When I was sixteen, my father was the most ignorant man in the world. By the time I reached 21, I was surprised at how much he had learned in five years.” Yeah, that.

11. People can disagree and still be friends. Whoa. This was a biggie for me. You and I can have different viewpoints and that won’t cause us to be forever divided? This speaks a bit to #6 as I’ve realized that the fact that I’m different from other people means they’ll have different view points. Go figure. This has also helped immensely being in animal welfare. Agree to disagree – or, better yet, agree to have a healthy, respectful conversation. Now let’s move on and save some animals.

12. Words matter. This has so many different meanings across so many worlds of loving animals, but as I’ve matured I’ve noticed that what I say can truly, 100% have an impact on the subject matter, no matter how big or small. From gossiping to spewing misinformation about animal training to trying to be an advocate for something – think before you speak.

13. Love wildly. Don’t need much explanation here. Don’t hold back. Love your dogs and your friends and your family as much as you possibly can, every day.

14. All dogs are individuals. See #6 and #11. Same goes for dogs. The more I learn about behavior, the more I am aware that no two dogs will ever be the same, even if they’re the same breed or litter.  I work every day at not generalizing about dogs, even in a lighthearted sense (“Ooookay, let’s not generalize you guys! xoxo your let’s-give-everyone-a-chance coworker”). When you shift to this mindset, you start doing more for the dog in front of you rather than the dog you’re assuming them to be. Makes life easier.

15. If it’s broke, fix it. Or should I say, “Quit your b*tchin’.” The only one who can solve my problems is me. Instead of moping, I’ve learned to take action. It can be hard, but much more with it in the end. Like with dog training: you can get upset about your dog’s behavior, or you can figure out how to improve it.

16. Life is about reinforcers. I keep thinking, “THIS is the best lesson I’ve learned!” throughout this whole post. But forreal, this might be it. The science of learning works across species. People (and dogs and fish and zoo animals) do what works for them. They will always do what works for them. Figure out what reinforces and motivates the people around you, and use that. Guess what: reprimanding someone for not calling you more often when they do finally call you will not increase their behavior of calling you. Telling them they’re a rockstar who made your whole day by calling them might get better results. Or giving them $5 every time they call, that might work too :-).

17. Give yourself victories. This ties into #16. Victories are what make the world go round and keep you feeling positive (they’re very reinforcing). I don’t know about you, but if I didn’t treat the simple behavior of getting my butt out of bed in the morning as a victory, I’d surely give up by 10 am. Okay maybe not. But seriously! Pat yourself on the back for those accomplishments at work. Do a little dance after you finish the dishes. Give yourself a quarter for making your bed in the morning. Acknowledging these little moments you did something right throughout the day makes ya realize that hey, you’re not so bad.

18.  It always gets better. Change is scary. Really, really scary. I remember when we were looking at housing this past summer and my roommate was panicking. I looked at her and said, “But Ash, think about it – it’s always gotten better, every time we’ve moved, even though it was always scary and hard and unknown.” Change is a good and necessary process in life. My favorite quote: “It’s always okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” If you’re having a really bad day with your dog, remind yourself that it can only go up from there!

19. Don’t be embarrassed. This mindset is tough for me because I’m a sensitive soul and I care way too much what people think about me. But lately I’ve learned… f*!k em. Excuse my french, but seriously. The majority of people I was worried about were people I didn’t know and would never meet again. Yikes, they’re seeing me with my treat pouch! (Just kidding I have never had ANY shame in my treat pouch game, ha!). But if I break out in a dance to this awesome song on my iPod right here on the sidewalk they’ll think I’m weird. Ugh, my dog is having a bad day and is trying to eat their perfectly well behaved dog. Guess what. You are a blip in their day, they probably won’t even remember you. And if they do? Well, you’ll never know, so who cares. Same goes for people you do know. If they’re worth knowing, they won’t judge you… (hopefully).

20. Never stop learning. Continuing. Education. Continuing education. I can’t stress the importance of this no matter what you do in life, and especially in the dog world. Studies are published every day about behavior and animal cognition. Do yourself and your animals a favor and stay updated on what the scientists and professionals are saying.

21. Put down your phone. Another toughie for me. This really inspiring video called “Look Up” was circulating a few months ago about how much we miss in life when our noses are in our phones. I am 100% guilty of this almost all of the time (hey, at least I acknowledge it). There are some situations I always try to keep my phone away, and one is definitely when I’m walking a dog. Yes for the safety factor but also to be present with him when we’re on this happy little nature walk together. Again, it’s the smaller things in life.

22. Listen to the voices. Yes, the ones in your head. No, I am not suggesting you have a disorder. Malcolm Gladwell has this great book called, “Blink.” It’s about listening to that gut feeling – something we ignore all too often. Most of the time, it turns out that that feeling was correct all along. You owe it to yourself to at least take them into account and add them to the conversation in real life.

23. Take a day off. Or five. Burn out is a thing, and you don’t want it. We live in a gogogogogo world, and our bodies are programmed to be a gogo-stop-gogo-stop creature. I always feel guilty for sitting on the couch and not running around doing this, that or the other thing. But then I remember my mental and physical health is just as important as my productivity. See #2 and #4.

24. You are enough. Stop comparing yourself to anyone else – whether it be at your job, in your relationship, etc. It’s great to have people to look up to, but remember that you are not them and you need to have your own standards for yourself. You can make tweaks here and there but you can’t change who you are as a person – and the good news is that you probably don’t have to. You’re awesome, give yourself some credit.

25. YOLO. Yup, I went there. “You only live once.” Don’t use that mentality to rob your favorite pet supply store, but DO use that mentality when you’re deciding about taking a trip, visiting your family, taking that class, whatever the choice may be. Life waits for no one!

Cheers to year twenty five. And thanks to all of you wonderful people for being here for four wonderful years!

25


KPA Back Story: A Bit More About How I Got Here

I have begun blogging for Dog Latin Dog Training’s website about my KPA experience. My Wednesday blogs here on PLF will be a sort of re-blog from those posts. For some posts it means I’ll touch on things you all probably already know, but for the most part it will probably be new content. Today I am taking a look back on the road to KPA. You’ve heard some of this before, but here it is again, all in one place. Thanks for sticking with me through this journey! 

I guess I’ll rewind for this entry, and talk about how and why I ended up in the Karen Pryor Academy. Both of those – the how and the why – have a bit to do with a wonderful woman named Beth Mullen, the mastermind behind Dog Latin Dog Training.

Beth and I worked together at the shelter for about two years – she with the animals, me in the development department. As I started fostering shelter dogs, our paths began to cross more often. I needed help here and there on behavior issues, and Beth was always so gracious with giving advice. I subsequently started to really see the positive work she was doing with our shelter dogs, all through creative clicker training – never using force or fear that folks sometimes think you need to turn to in a large kennel setting like a shelter.

While Beth certainly had a positive influence on my journey into force-free training, many other factors went into me choosing it as a new career path. When my interest in training picked up, I began attending workshops at Your Dog’s Friend (they are an insanely good resource for learning to live harmoniously with your dog!). It was a seminar about managing your dog’s behavior where I had a “light bulb moment” about management and reinforcing desired behaviors. From there, I went to an internship at Animal Farm Foundation (AFF) and had my first real “hands on” experience with reward-based training, shaping, behavior modification, etc. (I was in between fosters at this point so real life subjects to “practice” on were tough to find – AFF really opened my eyes to the possibilities). I saw first-hand how much you could achieve with this training and officially became hooked.

Photo credit to AFF.

Photo credit to AFF.

(This is one of those instances where you guys already know what I’m talking about – bear with me!) Johnnie Cash was the four-legged furball that sealed the deal for me – the dog trainer deal, that is. That foster pup taught me SO much about communicating with dogs. Johnnie had a lot of energy (she sat in the shelter for five months with no interest), and I promise you that if I hadn’t taught her in a way that her good behavior was a product of her own decisions, she would not have become such a great, well-mannered dog… and I would not have become such a believer in clicker training!

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Fast forward a few months, and Beth has officially taken me under her wing. I am soaking up every bit of knowledge I can from her – and it is a lot! I learn something new every time I watch her work. She really inspires me to work at becoming the best dog trainer I can be. We both believe strongly in continuing education and not becoming stagnant in what you know. Beth has also taught me enormous amounts about mutual respect when it comes to working with animals, and that’s exactly what clicker training is all about.

SimonMurphyBeth

KPA will be a difficult course for me, but it will likely be one of my greatest achievements – not only as a trainer, but as a person. I am just trying to come out the other side as a better trainer with the ability to help dogs and their owners live happier lives together. I am so lucky to get this opportunity!

Stay tuned to next week when I talk about how Paco and I are doing together and how we prepared for our first testing weekend.


City Livin’: Here Goes Nothing

I’ve never considered myself a “city girl.” You’ll notice from this blog that I absolutely love the outdoors, the woods, wide open spaces, nature, etc. I don’t necessarily hate the city, I’ve just never envisioned myself going out of my way to live in one. That is, until the stars aligned and an opportunity arose that I just couldn’t pass up.

Upon getting my new job in Arlington, I assumed I’d find housing with some of my closest girlfriends who already lived there in Virginia. When that didn’t work out, a room opened up in one of my other good friend’s house downtown. At first I didn’t think much of it because why would I ever live in DC, right? But then I got to considering: did it actually sort of make sense for me to live in the city? Sharing a house with five other girls, that could be fun. I’d be downtown living the young, not-many-obligations lifestyle that was only practical at this age and that I’d secretly been jealous of others living while I was stuck in the suburbs. I’d be close to Mark, who just moved to DC from VA. I’d be only fifteen minutes from both my jobs. Wait, this is starting to make sense.

Fast forward two months, and I’ve made the move! I can say I have absolutely fallen in love with it; with everything. My new house, my new neighborhood, my new routine, my new running paths, my new easy access to the metro, me new food options at every turn, my new night life, my new culture, my new neighbors, my new mode of transportation (walking), and my even my new DC driver’s license.

At first I reserved this post to show you guys how I brought a little piece of my fosters into my new room, but after Yellow Brick Home’s recent digital house tour, I’m inspired to show you a bit more! Please excuse the poor photo quality. I used my fish eye lens to try and give you a better sense of the whole space, and the lighting was pretty bad – so they’re not my best pictures. But they’ll have to do!

The new house is a gorgeous row home located smack in the middle of three great DC neighborhoods. We have some great architecture features of a house built in the early 1900’s, including stunning dark wood, high archways and creaky, spiraling staircases. The house has so much character.

Foyer01

My favorite area is the living room. It faces the street and has insane amounts of natural light, but there are so many plants in front of the windows that it still feels private. In the rare times when we’re all home at the same time, you can usually find us crowded on the couches around the tv watching some trashy show.  Oh, and those gorgeous sunflowers are compliments of the local Farmer’s Market – another city living perk.

LivingRoom01 LivingRoom02

Our kitchen is just as compact and adorable as you’d expect it to be. It’s nothing special, but thanks to the extra pantry space and double fridges, we fit just fine. It leads out to an awesome deck and backyard, but there were too many mosquitoes for me to go outside and get great pictures. Our backyard is on our to-do list to fix up, anyway. Right now it is entirely under-utilized. Maybe I’ll post about it again as we make improvements.

Kitchen01

I live on the second floor (out of three). I have the smallest room in the house, and I don’t mind a bit. I can fit everything I want/need to, and, especially after decorating, it feels nice and cozy.

Hall01Room02

So, here’s the thing. In the course of all my falling in love with the city, I’ve still really been feeling the lack of foster dogs. You never realize how much those happy bundles of fur impact your life until they’re not around at all. With so much change (albeit, good change – but still), I needed a way to have constant reminders of those little paws that stole my heart. I knew I wanted to make my fosters a big part of my room décor. But I am on a budget (helloooo, rent payments!), so I couldn’t do anything extreme or very creative (okay, let’s be honest, I couldn’t do anything creative because I am just not creative).  I did what I know best: printed some of my photos out at Target and stuck ‘em up on my wall.

Room03

This is similar to the foster wall I made at my parents’ house, but without the frames. I also included pictures of my fosters with me instead of just by themselves, as well as pictures of even my temporary fosters like Joanie, Charlie and Sinclair. I specifically chose my favorite picture(s) of each dog, trying to use ones that really showed their personalities. I absolutely love it. Plus, with each dog looking so unique and the fact that I had them all throughout different times of the year, the wall adds so much color to the room. It ended up being just what I wanted.

Wall01

My room actually has a balcony attached to it, which Mark spent lots of time decking out in lights. It will be the perfect place to enjoy a cool summer evening with a class of wine and a good book.

Balcony01 Balcony03Balcony04

So, that’s my new digs. Thanks for coming along for the tour! I’m sure I’ll update you with other DC happenings over the next year considering this is all so new (and exciting!) to me. Stay tuned!


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 :-).


Moving Forward

To say that Johnnie got adopted at just the right time would be an understatement. In the days and weeks following her leaving us, people would ask me, “How are you doing without her!?” The truth is that I barely had time to think about how sad I was. Of course I missed her, but life picked up to what felt like lightning speed and hasn’t stopped since. Johnnie Cash was a reminder of why I try not to foster during event season. While we all adored having her around, my understanding parents spent many evenings watching her for me while I was stuck at work for long hours. When she left it was a bittersweet relief to be able to be away from the house for days at a time (just call me ‘schlep’!!).

I know you’re all wondering what’s next. Well, I don’t have a good answer for you.  Things are changing for me right now, and in fact there is a lot about life that’s up in the air. I’m finally moving out this summer, but that means my ability to foster is probably going to be limited. It’s likely I’m moving into DC and I just have no idea what my life style will allow.

I’m also in the process of switching jobs. I accepted a part time position at the Animal Welfare League of Arlington in Virginia at the end of March and have been juggling both shelters (and commutes!) equally since then. I’m officially leaving the Montgomery County Humane Society at the end of June – a change that is bittersweet, exciting and scary – and will then continue with AWLA and other adventures, hence why I am moving into the city. It’s been an exhausting challenge but I’m thrilled to join the AWLA team and officially “cross the [Potomac] river” as they say here in the DMV!

In addition to all this, I’ve started working towards becoming a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT). I’ll tell you more about that as it progresses, but I’ve decided that I can no longer ignore how much I love learning about training and putting it into practice and watching the wheels turn in dogs’ brains as we work together. Johnnie got me so hooked on figuring out how to communicate with a bouncy dog. It’s going to take a long time – years, probably – but I’ve already kicked off my education. Not sure where it’ll take me but I am very excited about all I am going to learn.

Virgil Ocampo Photography

Virgil Ocampo Photography

So forgive me that I am not running to the shelter to scoop up a new foster. I want to, believe me – but I am simply not as brave as Love and a Six-Foot Leash who picked up a foster dog right before they moved to Texas!  Because I can’t take a shelter dog home and I’m already falling in love with them right and left, I’ve thought up a few different ideas for helping them get adopted, which of course I will discuss on the blog in the coming weeks. My current crush is a pit bull/bull dog mix named Henny. I see Johnnie’s energy and happiness in her and just can’t get her out of my mind. So I will help her, just not through long term fostering.

Henny

It feels different declaring a “break” this time around than it did the last two times because I have so much on the horizon to look forward to and plan for. I’m at a completely different point in my life right now than I was after Baxter and even after Otis. It’s crazy to realize how much things have changed in just a year and a half. It’s also pretty nuts to think about the fact that you all have been with me literally every day during this journey! So we’ll keep moving forward and seeing where life takes us. Thanks for sticking around :)


If You Always Do What You’ve Always Done. . .

A lot of people make New Year’s resolutions. A lot of people don’t. Some see New Years as a fresh start, and some see it as an annoyance that will make the gym more crowded for the first few weeks of January. I see it as a reason to take a moment to think about where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’m going.

2012 was an interesting year for me. For the first time in my life I wasn’t transitioning to something new. I didn’t enter a new grade, I didn’t start a new job. I had a consistency that I wasn’t used to, but welcomed. Outside of my job, I heavily expanded my extracurriculars, mostly with activities having to do with dogs and documented through this blog.  I met a lot of really awesome people with the same intense passion for helping animals that I do, and surrounding myself with them helped me realize that together we’re each making a difference in our own way.  I feel like I grew up a lot because of the unique balance of consistency and new experiences that I found myself with in 2012.

I don’t like to set unreachable goals for myself in the form of New Year’s resolutions, so I steer clear of the drastic stuff (example: “I’m going to the gym every morning at 6 am in 2013” – talk about setting yourself up to fail).  Even though I shouldn’t need the changing of a date to make me do this, the New Year is as good an opportunity as any to take a solid look at what I can improve upon in my life.  Like one of my favorite quotes says, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.”  If I don’t make the effort to step it up and make myself better when and where I can, then I’ll lose opportunities to grow as a person.

With that being said, here are four of my goals for 2013 to work towards always improving myself.  They’re pretty general, but if I look back at this time next year and have continued to do all four, I will be happy.

1.  Learn, learn, learn.  I’m soaking knowledge up like a sponge right now. I feel like I can’t get enough, and I love it.  I’m going to continue learning about dog training, photography, animal behavior, business and more.  I’m already signed up for a few more photography courses, dog behavior seminars and a business marketing class – and that’s just during January!

2.  Continue to foster as many dogs as I am able. Here is one where I want to be realistic for myself. I stuck “as many as I am able” in there instead of a specific number because I know how many different factors go into fostering dogs, and if I’m only able to take in two this year then I will still be happy. If my circumstances work out that I can help ten find new homes, that would be great too.  But I know I definitely want some temporary four legged fur babies back in my home at some point!

3.  Read more. In addition to reading for my first goal, I really want to tap into the massive amount of awesome fiction books that are out there about dogs. I’ve already started a few thanks to my wonderful boyfriend giving me a Kindle for Christmas, and I can’t wait to keep going.  I even joined a book club with Your Dog’s Friend that meets once a month to discuss dog books, both informational and fiction. I’m so excited!

4.  Stay positive. I know, can’t get more general than this. But 2012 showed me a lot about the benefits of positivity, both for rescue and my personal life.  Everyone knows that animal rescue can be a really crappy field to work in. You lose your faith in humanity and you lose animals you love. But staying positive helps to combat that, and in the end can actually really benefit the animals.  I’m going to continue to try to look for the good in every situation this coming year – and I think that will be easier than it seems.

So they’re sort of standard and obvious, but I like to make the reminders to myself anyway. What is anyone else doing for 2013? Any big resolutions? I’d love to hear! And, as usual, thanks for being with me for this kick ass past year. Can’t wait for 2013 with you!

2013


On Being 22 and a Foster Mom

My decision to foster came in steps. It wasn’t a black and white “okay, let me go pick out my first foster now” thought. It started slowly with a shared foster, and has turned into two full time fosters since then. Those of you who have dogs, foster or forever, certainly know what I mean by full time. I am a parent to these dogs, as crazy of a concept as that is. Sure, it’s temporary, but that doesn’t mean the daily commitment to them during their time with me is anything less than if they were mine forever.

I am the only one of my friends who has a dog. I am the only one who has to factor a dog into my social schedule, who has to accommodate plans for a dog on weekend trips, who has to account for foster expenses in my “fun” budget. It’s a commitment that I feel like I’m constantly trying to balance with living my life as a twenty-something. Sometimes it feels like a double life – with one half being a life my friends can hardly comprehend. I don’t blame them, seeing as it’s a far cry from the life of an “average” (whatever that means) 22 year old. Rescuing and fostering dogs can be difficult, and sometimes I do wonder what the heck am I doing… am I giving up too much of the only time in my life I have to be young and care free and responsible for no one but myself?

This is where a few saving graces come in the picture, the first being my parents. While many college graduates move out of their parents’ house faster than you can say, “Congratulations,” I am beyond thankful that I am in a position to be staying with mine. I can very honestly say I don’t think I could handle – let alone particularly want to try – fostering a dog if living by myself at this age. My parents help me immeasurable amounts when it comes to balancing my dogs and my friends.  They will watch my foster dogs pretty much whenever I ask them to – regardless of whether it’s because I need to stay late for work or if I want to grab drinks with a friend. They are so much like grandparents in the giving-mommy-a-break category, and now I know why mothers to human babies relish that free time so much!

Dogs like Otis (so, relatively easy and low maintenance) help a lot too. This is where the importance of being picky about who you foster comes into play. As much as I would love to help the ones that need it most, I realize I am not in a position to give them as much training and special attention (beyond cuddling) as they might need. The best advice I’ve ever heard about fostering was something along the lines of, “Choose dogs that fit your lifestyle – take the easy ones if you want to; don’t take the problem cases if you can’t. This is your time that you’re volunteering and you are already saving a life no matter what dog you decide to take in, so make it easy on yourself if you want to.”

Choosing more “ready to go” dogs makes fostering better for everyone around me. Otis is nearly perfect at home when I’m not there, which makes it easy for my parents to watch him and puts my mind at ease.  On the other hand, if you like a challenge – good for you! I commend those that take in the pups who need a little something extra, and hope to some day be able to provide the stability and training a dog like that may need.

While fostering dogs at my age can often be exhausting and confusing and scary and overwhelming, it’s also instilling a deep, deep passion in me that I will carry for the rest of my life. I’m learning that helping dogs is what I was put here to do, and starting it this early is teaching me discipline, responsibility, critical thinking, compassion, practicality, rationality, communication and maturity – not to mention creativity, writing and photography thanks to this blog.

Fostering is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done, and I wish everyone had the opportunity and the means to do it at least once in their lifetime.  What I’m getting back from it through my dogs is worth one hundred times what I am putting into it, even if it seems like I’m making big sacrifices to some people. Hopefully if I’m starting now I’ll have it figured out by the time I’m all grown up, right? :)