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? :)