I know, I know…in the last blog post I said that from now on, our posts would be all about our animals, but I got so many comments along the lines of “how do you do it?” and “why do you do it” that I thought maybe we should backtrack and talk a little bit more about fostering in general and why it’s so important.
I was working late one night last week, which I actually sort of love doing (but shhh, don’t tell the boss!). These evenings give me the opportunity to talk with customers, hang out with my co-workers, and to spend quality time with our animals. Last Thursday night was awesome. I witnessed four meet and greets with our foster dogs. There should’ve been five, but one cancelled, and the foster family was doing a secret happy dance that they would get to spend a few more nights with the dog they’d quickly grown to love since bringing him into their home the week before. Three of those dogs left that night with their forever families.
Marcy Tocker, the founder of the Grey Muzzle Foster Program has fostered somewhere around 60 dogs in the five years since she started the program and her most recent foster, Zeeva, was one that got adopted that night. I ran into her in the hallway and she said “they’re taking her” in the same tone that I’ve used nearly 20 times myself. It’s the “I’m so attached and I love this dog and I don’t want her to go but I know I have to let her go and the family is AMAZING and I know she’s going to a great home and I have to say good-bye because another dog needs me but man, this sucks.” tone. A tone that only someone who has fostered can understand.
Marcy at that moment was talking with another foster parent – the one who’s meet and greet had cancelled. I had spoken to him and his wife the night before and knew they had quickly grown attached to their very first foster and assured them that the first one is the hardest (I lied – they are all hard!) and was amazed at how quickly they had grasped the very simple equation: foster a dog = save a life. They were prepared…it would be sad, but they already had their eyes on the next foster.
So when I saw the tears welling in Marcy’s eyes, I told the other foster parent, “See, even someone who has been fostering for years still gets emotional.” and that sort of lead me to wonder why on earth we continue to put ourselves through this process.
For me, it usually goes something like this:
1) Meeting a new foster: nervous, excitement, anticipation. Yay! A new dog in the house! Oh no. What if it isn’t housetrained? Yay! It’s so cute! Uh-oh what if it doesn’t fit into our lifestyle?
2) Living with a foster Part 1: confidence. Oh. Right. This is easy. I’m going to post this dog on my Facebook and find it a home!
3) The call: happiness, dread: At some point the phone call from Marcy comes. The one I hope with all my might for and the one I loathe. It’s the one that says “Your dog has a meet and greet!” After I hang up with Marcy, my inner dialogue launches into something like this: “Well. If these new people even think they are going to love this dog as much as I do, they are dead wrong. Ohhhhhhhh – I hope they have kids! My dog loves to play. What? They think they can just give MY dog a perfect home? Oh man, what if they have a pool? My dog would LOVE to swim! Eek – what if they take my dog? Oh no, what if they don’t?”
4) The meet & greet: worry, elation. This one is truly a flurry of emotions. Sometimes I’m crying before the family even gets there. Sometimes I’ve had the opportunity to talk with the family leading up to the meet and greet and I am truly excited to meet them and am SO hopeful that my foster will get to go home with them. Sometimes, I just haven’t made the bond with the foster and I’m feeling pretty ambivalent about everything. Almost every time I am PRAYING that my foster does not choose today to pee on someone’s leg, knock a small child over, or otherwise act like an idiot.
I always use the moments before the meet and greet for a lengthy, emotional pep talk that in reality, is more for me than it is for the dog. It goes something like this: “My sweet girl, a new family is coming to meet you in a few minutes and mommy is going to cry, but you shouldn’t be sad. Know that our home was just a temporary stop on your journey and our job was just to keep you safe until your forever family came for you. I want you to know that I’m not leaving you, and I’m not deserting you and I love you so very much and I will miss you more than you can imagine, but I have to let you go because another dog needs me and this family needs you. BUT – if you hate them, if you want to come back to me, just pee on their leg and I’ll know.” For the record, none of my fosters have ever peed on their potential adopter’s leg.
5) The adoption: Joy, sorrow. Inevitably, my foster gets adopted. That’s the whole point. I keep a dog in my home so that there’s more room at the shelter and I keep it until it gets adopted. Not IF it gets adopted. They always get adopted. It’s like your kids growing up and leaving the nest…it’s the natural progression and even though there are tears along the way, it’s what is supposed to be. At least that’s what I’m telling myself as I’m watching the dog I loved as my own for anywhere from a week to four months walk out the door without so much as a glance backwards.
But wait – there’s more! There are tons of variables that can affect these phases, namely:
So you see, fostering is filled with emotion, and conflicting emotion at that. Even as I write this, I’m trying to come up with that one clear answer…Why DO I do it? There isn’t a single answer.
It’s a whole bunch of reasons all muddled up into a big ball, just like all the emotions associated with fostering. What I can say for certain is that fostering is rewarding. Really, really rewarding. Few experiences have led me to feel the joy I felt when Phil & Lil, the ancient dachshund pair with three teeth between the two of them were adopted together, or when Maggie Mae, the stray basset hound with an 8 pound tumor found her forever home, or when Morgan the Fox Terrier who hated men was won over by my husband who plied her with peanut butter for weeks on end. I make a difference to these animals, but the memories they leave me with, well – they are priceless. So many of the people who’ve adopted my fosters have kept in touch, or friended me on Facebook and the first time I see a picture of “my” dog in their home, all is right with the world and I remember, again, why I do what I do.
I hear so often “I could never do that” and my response is always the same, “Yes you could”. I’m no superhero and neither are any of our other foster families. We’re regular people with jobs and pets and kids and obligations and commitments just like you. We all know that we can’t save them all, so we choose to save them one at a time. We all have the “one that got away” (the dog we wish we would’ve kept) and most of us have “foster failed” (adopted a dog we fostered). We aren’t perfect, but we are dedicated, passionate and united in our mission. You should join our club. All the cool kids are doing it.
Still not convinced that even you can foster? Think of it this way. Chateau de’ ARL has 70 rooms. Sometimes we’re booked, but the reservations keep coming. Opening up your home means that no one has to choose who gets a room and who doesn’t. Right now, we’ve got about 30 active foster families. Imagine how many more animals would benefit if that number was 50. Or 75. Or 200.
Remember that we will work with you to find an animal that will work in your home. If you have a preference on size, sex, breed, age – we can work with that. We will pay for vaccinations, flea treatment and any other medical care the animal might need. We can even provide you with food, a crate, and toys if you need them. Do you hear what I’m saying? YOU can save a life…for free. All you need to do is open your heart and your home. Become a Foster Family Today