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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Foster An Animal, Save A Life

   I have found fostering dogs and cats to be one of the most rewarding things I have ever done in my life.  The feeling of nurturing a dog or cat and watching them transform from a shy, scared animal into a happy go lucky pet is a feeling that can't be described in words.  To imagine what has made them such a shell of a being breaks my heart. In some cases we may know what they have experienced but in most cases I'm sure it is a good thing that I don't know.

    Fostering a rescue dog is not like watching your best friends well behaved dog while they are on vacation.  I think this is the biggest misconception for new fosters and what leads to new fosters having a bad experience.  Anyone who loves animals typically wants to help, but new fosters commonly have a romantic vision of what fostering a rescue animal will be.  Don't get me wrong they are amazing animals that deserve a chance, but they can come with baggage.

    For a lot of these dogs they may have never even lived in a home before they get to their foster home.  They may or may not be house trained, have house manners, separation anxiety or other issues common to the instability they encounter.  I would never want to talk anyone out of fostering but I also want everyone to have a real picture of what fostering is.  It is hard work.  It is dirty. It is frustrating and when done well, it will touch your soul in a way you have never before experienced.  The fosters job is to get to know the animal and work with it to learn what he/she will need to know in order to be a great companion animal.

   Also be aware and familiar with the different breeds of dogs.  If you are a more sedentary person then don't offer to foster a herding or active breed dog.  Likewise if you are looking to take your foster dog running with you everyday then don't foster a breed that isn't very active.  Do you like small or large dogs?  Do you have experience whelping puppies or kittens?  Are you good at carrying for dogs with medical needs? Is there a particular breed you have a lot of experience with?  These are all questions you should ask yourself before agreeing to take a foster dog or cat. 

    People often tell me, "Oh I could never foster.  I would keep them all!"  That is not necessarily true.  I love animals but the dogs and cats I have had, although amazing, didn't feel like my pet.  I loved working with them and gaining their trust.  Showing them love and watching them learn how to play with toys is awesome.  When they were adopted I did the ugly cry on my way home.  The first few days I worried about how they are adjusting to their new home and if they are ok, but I knew they weren't mine.  I was merely blessed to watch over them for a short amount of time until they moved on to their happily ever after. 

    Most of the dogs that are pulled by the shelter I volunteer with come from high kill shelters.  They have a clock ticking above their heads.  They are amazing animals but they will die because no one wants them.  So by fostering I can save an endless number of an animals simply by opening my home to them.  The more fosters a rescue has, the more animals they can pull and save.  So I am ok with cleaning up messes until they master house training.  I have the patience to work through training issues.  And I happily shed the tears, knowing that because I am willing to risk some heartache,  another animal will have a happy life with a new family.  I do get lucky and get dogs that take little effort with because they are already so well behaved and I have had some that needed to learn everything.  What I have never had, though, is one that deserved to die.  Foster an animal, safe a life.


Sunday, May 11, 2014

Puppy Love

   Yesterday was the perfect example of days that make animal rescue worth every sleepless night and stressed out day.  Five puppies were transported from Arkansas to Minnesota.  They were all adopted off of transport and got to go immediately to their happily ever after.  I love when they don't have to make a stop in a foster home.  When they have people already waiting to give them the life they deserve.  It warms my heart.
    Four of the puppies were Great Pyrenees/German Shepherd mixes and one was a German Shepherd/Husky mix.  The 4 great Pyr puppies were the perfect example as to why you should spay/neuter your pet.  The mom is a purebred Great Pyrenees that is owned by a family.  The dad is a purebred German Shepherd owned by a neighbor.  Both were unaltered.  The family of the mom thought she was safe inside their gated yard while she was in heat but they underestimated the power of a male dog who wants to procreate.  One broken gate later and we have an unwanted litter of puppies.  Luckily they reached out to someone they know who works in rescue in Arkansas for help.   She agreed to help them only if they agreed to spay their female.  Luckily they agreed. So many people will drown, shoot or tie puppies up in a plastic bag and dump them.  The woman they reached out to is someone I have worked with before and I brought the puppies into our rescue.

    The adopter for one of the female Great Pyr puppies was celebrating their 28th wedding anniversary yesterday.  They put everything aside and drove from Wisconsin to Minnesota to pick their new baby up.  As soon as the wife saw her she got tears in her eyes.  She was already in love from looking at her picture online.  They saved it as the wallpaper on their computer and she saved it on her phone.

    One of the other girls was adopted by a family who have also adopted another dog from us last year.  They have 2 small kids and lived in a townhome when they adopted their first dog.  They recently bought a house with a huge backyard because they felt the dog needed more room and a friend to play with.  For every awful thing I encounter in rescue their really as many, if not more, people who go above and beyond to provide and amazing life for their dog or cat.

   The last girl is being adopted by one of our own people in the rescue.  This puppy is so lucky to be in her home.  She will be spoiled rotten!  I'm so glad she will be staying in the family.  I am so excited to see her grow.
    The only boy in the litter was adopted from a family who drove 2 hours from northern Minnesota to adopt him.  They had recently lost a Great Pyrenees/German Shepherd and were looking for another one.  They said the puppy looked just like the dog they lost when he was a puppy.  This is not a combination of breeds we normally see.  The 3 females looked just like Great Pyrenees and the only boy looked like a German Shepherd.  It was fate that he was meant to be with them.

    The German Shepherd/Husky mix was also adopted by a family that previously adopted from us.  The odd thing about this is the dog they adopted was also from the same shelter in Arkansas that this puppy came from.  We pull from many different places.  I have to think, again, it was fate that she ended up with them.

    I hope I never get immune to getting goose bumps and tears in my eyes when I watch someone fall in love with their new dog.  I live for the email updates with pictures of the puppies in their new lives.  So many times I see dogs that have been horribly neglected or abused.  Dogs that duck when you try to pet them because they think you are going to hit them.  It breaks my heart to see how physically and emotionally battered they are.  It is truly a blessing to see the other end of the spectrum from the wonderful people that adopt these dogs and give them what they deserve.  These days are the high on the roller coaster ride.  It is only a matter of time before the bottom drops out and I am plunging downward again but I will enjoy this feeling as long as I can.  It is why every rescuer keeps fighting the good fight everyday.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Dreaded Email or Phone Call

    So it happened Wednesday night.  The dreaded email from a foster. "This dog needs to be moved right away!". I hate these emails.  It strikes fear throughout my entire body.  My palms sweat, my heart races and anxiety grips my body.  I am under pressure to get a dog moved right away and I have no clue where the dog is going to go.
   I have been a foster.  I understand what it is like to have a dog turning your world upside down or who thinks my cat is a toy but as a placement coordinator when I read or hear those words I want to vomit.  I wish I had a phone book full of fosters at the ready to take a dog in a moments notice but sadly that isn't the case.  There are so many more dogs in need of a temporary home then people willing to step up and help.  There is a constant juggling act of getting dogs adopted to make fosters available for the endless parade of forgotten dogs that are being pulled from kill shelter's and being transported to us.
    I first send out a panic stricken email to the amazing women I volunteer with in the large dog department asking for help.  I am so blessed to have these women in my life.  They are my sister's, my strength and I could never make it trough this crazy ride without them.  I send out a plea to our database of fosters.  Nothing but the sound of crickets.  No bites.  I start calling fosters begging pleading and offering my first born or a vital organ.  Everyone has an excuse as to why now is just not a good time. 
   It is beginning to look more and more like this sweet girl is going to end up in boarding.  I hate putting dogs in boarding.  They go back to a cold sterile kennel run.   Although there isn't a clock ticking above their head like at a kill shelter, it still isn't a warm comfy couch either.  This is also a cost to the rescue that could be used to give medical treatment to dogs that desperately need it or to pull more dogs into the safety of rescue.  The rescue operates on a shoe string budget and this is an expense that is not needed.
    These are the days I think I can't do this anymore.  The stress feels like it is going to shorten my time here on earth.  I try to remember what it was like before I was neck deep in a war that feels like it can't be won.  The days when I came home from work and spent time with friends or family or took a walk to relax and unwind.  These days are but a vague memory because right now I have to find a new home for this precious girl.  She is counting on me.  I am her advocate and making her go to boarding is a failure in my book.
     As I send an email to our director to get her going to boarding approved, I get an email from one of my friends.  "Hang tight" she says.  "I am finishing up approving a new foster.  Call her to see if she will take her.".   I'm almost shaking as I dial the number.  "She will take her.". I think to myself.  No answer.  I try to leave an upbeat voicemail, trying to hide how desperate I am for her to say yes.  After what seems like a lifetime she calls back and says yes she can take her tonight but.... Why is there always a but?  She is going on vacation in 6 days.  Well not the home run I was hoping for but I will take what I can get.  The new foster and current foster meet later that night and make the exchange.  A guarded calm falls over me because the crisis is over, for now.  I will enjoy the little victory while I can because tomorrow it is back to looking for a permanent foster.  It seems like a hamster wheel but this dog didn't die in a gas chamber choking for her final breaths.  That is a victory.  I will carry the stress of her because she is alive and she deserves to be alive.

Monday, May 5, 2014

 I thought I would begin to chronicle my journey in animal rescue.  I hope to bring everyone along with me on this crazy ride.  It is a trip that is often exhausting, heartbreaking and feels some days like it will swallow me whole.  Luckily the feeling of knowing I was a small link in a chain of amazing people that forever changed an animals life is addicting.  I live for the update emails from the adopters.  The pictures they send of their new beloved member of the family and the "Thanks" and "We love him/her so much!"  This is the fuel that keeps me in this crazy game.

   As I began to write this I was trying to figure out when my passion for animals began and all I can say is I believe I was born with it.  It is as part of my DNA as my blonde hair and blue eyes.  I grew up in a rural area where people tended to dump their animals and others didn't believe in spaying or neutering and animals ran free.  My first memory is at about the age of 4 years old.  A stray dog wandered into our yard full of mats in his fur and  blood sucking ticks bleeding him dry.  I grabbed empty Cool Whip bowls out of the cabinet and filled one with dog food and one with water.  I grabbed baby doll blankets and my little kid scissors and set out to help this pup.

    It was a process to gain this little guys trust.  I remember distinctly looking into his eyes and being struck by how hollow and scared he was and knowing on a molecular level how wrong it was that he was in such a horrific state.  I didn't have words at such a young age to express what I felt but my heart connected with his and I was going to do all I could to help.  I spent the afternoon picking off ticks and cutting out burrs and mats.  I did all I could with my limited resources to make it right for this little fella.  He only stayed a few days and moved on.  I don't know what ever ended up happening to him but I was hooked.  Helping animals has been a growing and all consuming passion ever since.  I know my purpose on this earth is to help as many animals and hopefully create permanent change for animals before I lay my head on my pillow for the last time.

   For those involved in rescue, it is like an addiction or disease.  I mean the ones who are consumed by it and not those that do it because it seems to be the "in" thing right now.  Those people wash out pretty quickly and move on to feeding starving children or helping the homeless or whatever the new "cool" charity is.  It is all consuming.  I feel like I need to step away at times and gain control of my life again.  I am a wife, mother and I work a full time job.  I try to back away but I can't stay away.  I am all too aware if I take a step back that dogs die because they won't be pulled into rescue.  I am one less person to help shoulder the weight of the epidemic that is animals affected by irresponsible owners.  I feel selfish and so I jump straight back in the deep end.  Barely able to keep my head above water but too stubborn to admit defeat.

   I have been blessed to meet some of the most amazing people I have ever had the pleasure to know through rescue from all over the country.  I am constantly in a state of wonderment by what this group of scrappy animal lovers can accomplish.  From volunteering in the kill shelters these dogs come from, to fostering them before they transport, sacrificing time on a weekend to drive them from the south up north to the receiving rescues.  The foster's I hold dear to my heart that take care of the puppies I pull until a forever home can be found and the incredible placement coordinators, such as myself, that I volunteer with.  Finally I am indebted to the people who don't care about pedigree and open their heart and homes to these sweet babies and adopt them.

   I will write more about what I do in rescue and some of the amazing dogs I have been blessed to know.  Their journeys are incredible and I have been deeply touched by each and every one.  I love them all.  These forgotten dogs teach me daily how to be a better person.  I look forward to sharing this journey with you all.  Please join me.  I look forward to your comments even if you don't agree with me.  I am always open to a healthy debate.  I hope to open some eyes, as well, to what is going on in this country concerning animals.  Thank you for joining me and welcome!