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.