THE REWARDS OF FOSTERING
Fostering is one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever known. I rank it right up there with my month-long volunteer experience in Ghana. If one could measure such things, my satisfaction with fostering might rank slightly higher because, with the dogs, I know I have had an immediate, direct and positive impact on a life for the long haul.
Tim and I have had several foster dogs, each with amazing personalities and various degrees of challenges. You can read about Jack, Bill, Petey and Moo on the Dogs We’ve Fostered page. Relatively new to this list is Emmett, a high-energy Brittany mix and our toughest dog to date.
When Emmett was wandering the streets, he was so filthy that rescuers thought he was dark brown. After a good, long bath, it took two days more to pick the ticks from his poor body. Under the filth and parasites was a dog with beautiful, glowing white fur, liver colored spots, a split ear, one scarred lip missing a half-inch chunk… and a non-stop wagging tail.
Emmett became a rescue dog and lived in the safety of a kennel for 8 months. While other dogs up for adoption came and went, Emmett waited for his own forever family until, finally, one entered the scene. Unfortunately, after several weeks, Emmett didn’t do well in his trial adoption. He needed more patience and firm guidance than a family with children could provide.
What the family did provide was significant insight into Emmett’s behavior (or lack thereof) in a home setting. We learned that Emmett has a penchant for being in charge and he’ll push every button along his way to being top dog. This was a side of Emmett’s personality we had no access to at the kennel. Thanks to this trial family, we knew Emmett had to learn to mind his manners (and what manners are) before being reconsidered for adoption.
CAN WE DO THIS?
With no foster homes available and little hope beyond perpetual kennel life, Tim and I considered taking Emmett in. Our two old boys had recently passed away and Shamus, a Newfoundland in need, had rescued us from our enormous burden of grief. Our household was only beginning to settle in and Tim and I strongly questioned our emotional abilities as foster parents at that time. Did we have the patience to train an infuriating dog? Could we do the job well without being short or, worse, getting downright angry? Would our animals be safe? We had no idea. We only knew we had to try.
FLIGHT OF THE DEVIL DOG
The first time I walked Emmett on a leash, he literally took flight. Jumping 4 feet in the air repeatedly, he tried to maneuver out of his collar for what felt like an eternity. Stunned, I planted my feet firmly and held on tight until, in a fit of exhaustion, I eventually dragged him back into the house. Placing leash walking on the to-do list, Emmett’s main outings were shuttled through the dog door.
Taking flight of a different kind, Emmett has crashed through me at the front door and Tim at the gate on two separate occasions, making us traipse through the woods for hours looking for him. He also made his way under the fence (one that has effectively contained 7 other dogs in our care over the course of 15 years) by working at a weak point until he escaped and took our Newf with him.
A DOG OF TASTE
Emmett has a taste for fabric, paper, Newf and cat fur in the most playful sense, but he rarely knows when enough is enough. He initially played too rough with Shamus and required constant intervention. Let me say, inserting oneself between two torpedoing dogs while assuming a position of power is a real trick and one I wasn’t crazy about learning.
Emmett would go after household items with the same intensity and stealth speed as he did Shamus. I would find him sleeping in a cloud of stuffing from a pillow I never heard him shred. Blankets, towels, dog beds, you name it, all have been dragged through the dog door at one point or another, and some more than twice. Daily, I struggled with the balance between crating Emmett and reporting to Tim about items decimated on my watch. I often felt like I was failing one, the other or both.
While most of the thieving has finally stopped, aside from a stray piece of recent mail and a Christmas card that fell from the wall, we still work on many other issues. There is no climbing up for attention allowed and we still, months later, have to remind Emmett to sit before he gets a head scratch. Because he strongly dislikes sharing his dog bed at night, we now stand over him to demonstrate that the bed belongs to us, not him, and we invite the cat and Shamus in too. The bottom line is that, while Emmett has come such a long way, he still has so far to go.
EMMETT’S FOREVER FOSTER HOME?
For all the issues Emmett has and all he has destroyed, I still find having him in my life extremely rewarding. He makes me laugh more than any dog I have ever known. He also makes me beam with pride when he takes significant steps toward change. Tim and I have grown very fond of him, as have Shamus and our cat, Kringle.
People have told us to stop pretending Emmett doesn’t already belong with us and, in all honesty, it feels like he does. After six months, of course we have grown attached. I asked Tim over the holidays if an adoption contract was in our future, but he said he’d prefer to foster indefinitely… until he received an email from a family interested in Emmett.
I’ll address all the issues that this new query brings the next time I write. For now I have to go. If I don’t, Emmett will continue to jam his face into my keyboard for attention and destroy this post like he has my office carpet…