Guest Post: “What Fostering Has Taught Me About Dating”

As if you didn’t see this guest post coming from my friend Sarah as she cares for her first foster! She’s sarcastic, funny and a great writer, so I left the topic up to her. Check out what she’s got to say.

Hi all! Sarah, foster mother of Jack, stepping in for a guest blog. As Juliana has mentioned before, not only is this my first time fostering, it’s my first time taking care of a dog period. I grew up in a household obsessed with our cats; they were given complete lay of the land as we watched their little personalities with amusement. I’ve always loved any and all animals (I have a borderline unhealthy obsession with pigs, goats, monkeys, sloths and most of all, sea otters), but specifically have always envisioned myself with both cats and dogs when I moved out of home.

The decision to foster didn’t take much time or hemming and hawing. I knew I wasn’t quite settled enough in my life to adopt a dog and make that 15-year commitment, but I was settled enough to provide a loving temporary home for a little furball who needed it. I live in a clean, big apartment in the very dog-friendly area of Arlington, VA. My apartment building has multiple dog parks around it and even in our lobby there is a bowl of mints for humans and a bowl of dog treats next to it. I work as a journalist, which affords me a reasonably
flexible schedule, including working at home occasionally. With my schedule, living conditions and desire to take care of a little one, fostering was a no-brainer.

My experience with Jack has been interesting so far. I joked with Juliana the other day that fostering has taught me a lot I can apply to my dating life, but it’s surprisingly true. Being single-ish in a big city like Washington DC, you experience a lot and meet many
people. Here are some of the biggest dating/relationship tips fostering has taught me:

Actions don’t always reflect feelings

I fell in love with the little Jack Rabbit the minute I saw him. He’s such a handsome and sweet little guy, it’s impossible not to. It took a few hours for him to warm up to me, but once he did, I was his. He follows on my heels when I walk into another room and will happily jump up and curl his little body next to mine when I sit and watch hours of Law & Order:SVU…errr.. I mean when I’m researching political trends throughout history for my upcoming book.

However, if I had my druthers, I’d want him to be a snuggle monster 24/7 and that just isn’t the case. He likes to have his time to gnaw on his antler or repeatedly break the imaginary neck of his elephant. No matter how much I cajole, sometimes he just isn’t in the mood for the whole cozy thing. In similar situation with human males, I’ve been known to over-analyze, worrying that even though they seemed to like me the day before, this one instance clearly shows their feelings have changed. However, with Jack, I know he still adores me, he just wants his alone time.

Love really does mean letting go if it’s in their best interest

I think the most difficult part of fostering is inherent: you will eventually have to let them go. I came into this knowing that part of the fostermom description, but specifically it’s taught me that, like in relationships, you should cherish every moment with that other half. You never know when it will eventually come to its natural end, and when that time comes, instead of wallowing in the feeling of loss, it’s better to focus on the fact that it’s for their own good.

PATIENCE

You all said it well in your tips you wrote on PL&F’s facebook page. There is an incredible amount of patience needed to take care of and love another living thing. Jack may be wonderful most of the time, but he doesn’t always do what I want him too, nor can I expect him to. I’m not a morning person (not as in I dislike getting up at 7, more along the lines of anytime before noon gets me extremely hostile), however for Jack’s well-being, I need to take him out much earlier than my normal wake up time.

Also being a dog, he doesn’t have as much control over situations, or his body. Can I get upset with him if he pees on my carpet because he’s nervous? Forgiveness is key when paired with patience. I can instruct him to not do so in the future and provide incentive and praise when he uses the bathroom outside, but I can’t get angry. This carries over to dating too. If a guy is wonderful most of the time and screws up once due to things out of his control, there’s no point in getting upset. Even the most wonderful guy, human or furry, sometimes pukes on your carpet, and love is what makes you clean it up at 4 am.


That Time I Failed

Like I mentioned yesterday, I’m taking a break from fostering. But just because I know I need a break doesn’t mean that my house doesn’t feel extra empty and the spot at the end of my bed doesn’t long for a furry body to occupy it – so when the opportunity came up to dog sit for another foster, I jumped at the chance.

The writeup of the dog Mylo described a sweet but energetic eight month old Target dog mix puppy. I figured I could handle some leash pulling for a few days, and Mark was thrilled at the thought of a dog who would play ball with him. I was to watch Mylo for only two days while his foster family was away. Easy peesy.

We picked up this goofy, bouncing puppy on Thursday evening. He came with us to Mark’s apartment, and we marveled at his adorable antics. He settled down nicely, which was a relief because I was starting to get the feeling that he would be bouncing off the walls for the next 48 hours. When I took him out to go to the bathroom he barked a few times, but it was dark and I figured he was just doing dog-in-a-new-place things.

When I took him back to my house, he began to act differently. He had a problem with my dad, and became increasingly reactive each time they saw each other. To Mylo’s credit, my dad is a pretty tall guy with a big beard – probably not a type of person he’s been in contact with much before.  This really frustrated my dad because he didn’t understand why Mylo was acting that way and I think, quite frankly, he took it personally. It was difficult keeping everyone separate in my house, and soon I found myself totally overwhelmed with an on-edge dog and an agitated dad. I was at a total loss of what to do, quickly realizing that I have no idea how to handle a reactive dog.

We hid out in my room that night, and the next day I took Mylo for a run in hopes that the new day would be a fresh start. Mylo is a phenomenal running partner, despite being a puller when you walk. However, it seemed he hadn’t totally forgotten the previous night of stress, and was still acting a bit out of character.

Long story short, Mylo continued to display behaviors I wasn’t comfortable with handling. I was freaked that I didn’t know how to combat it, or even manage it, and I decided to leave Mylo in the caring hands of our shelter workers for the second night instead of bringing him back home. I just kept wondering what if something escalated and he gets himself into trouble on my watch?

Leaving him there was horrible. I felt so, so guilty that I had failed him and couldn’t even get it together enough to stick it out for one more night.  As a dog person, especially someone who is so active in this online community, I felt like a quitter. I continually give advice on here about how to work with dogs – building confidence, socializing, basic training – and yet I didn’t have a clue how to help this one.

Mylo is now back in the comfort of his own foster home, and he’s getting into a training program.  He’s a young dog who needs guidance and structure, and I don’t blame him for that. He is sweet, loving, and has so much potential – he just needs to harness some of his energy and brainpower. I’m not worried about him.

While everything turned out fine in the end, the experience has left a big gaping hole in my confidence. I feel so defeated. What happens next time I bring a dog out of the shelter, whose personality I don’t know, and they end up having some sort of issue that I don’t know how to handle?  I know I quit this time around – but I can’t shake the feeling of what if he was one I signed up to foster long term and I quit on him?

Even Mark thinks that I wouldn’t have been able to keep Mylo long term because of how tough the living situation would have been with my dad. I agree, and now I know how those people who give up their dogs feel when they think there are no options. But the truth is, there are options.

Fostering a dog can be tough work, but you have to remember you are not alone. Often times the rescue or shelter you are working with will have trainers available to help with behavior improvement and social skills. Jasmine’s House has a wonderful trainer Meghan from Canine Lifestyle Academy who will do anything she can to help fosters with their dogs. Our shelter’s trainer recently started a Foster Dog Alliance class for anyone who has a foster dog, no matter what rescue group they are with. There are people out there who want to help you and your dog succeed.

Safety is of course everyone’s top priority, and it’s important to recognize when things need to be changed in a situation. Perhaps in the long term Mylo would have succeeded better with someone other than my family, like he is doing now with his current foster – or perhaps we could have worked through it. We’ll never know because he was with me for such a brief amount of time. At any rate, he certainly was a wake up call that fostering is not always a “walk in the park.” Sometimes you are going to have harder dogs than others, but no matter what dog you have – you are not alone.

I may have failed with Mylo, but he helped me become more prepared for the next dog I foster (including making me realize I’m sticking to ages 3+ from now on!).  This stuff isn’t easy, but it’s so important to pick yourself up and keep going after a fostering set back. If we all quit after one tough go around, there would be no more foster homes left. Yes, that’s how many of us have had, “Holy crap, what am I doing??” moments. I owe it to Mylo to use my experience with him to become a better foster in the future.