Sunday, August 02, 2009

The fearless hearts of foster homes

We're getting ready to run a series of articles with fostering faqs for people who may be curious about what it takes to help a homeless pit bull find her place in the sun. It will offer tips and how-tos and hopefully promote some good discussion and maybe even inspire some to take the plunge.

As different as they may look on the outside, foster homes seem to be their own breed of people. One of the common traits they share is their willingness to plunge into new adventures with blind faith and a strong sense of optimism. While working with an established group takes away most of the guesswork about temperament, saying 'Yes' to a foster dogs brings a series of unknowns to your life. How long will the dog be with you? (it could be weeks, months or in some cases - years) How will you handle starting from scratch with an untrained dog's kindergarten basics? What kinds of surprises and lessons will the project bring? How will you weather the days, and we all have them aplenty, when you're tired and you just don't want the responsibility anymore?

I've never done a marathon before (ack!) but I imagine that the emotions are similar, including the initial adrenalin rush and, later, the exhaustion and finally, the sheer delight of stretching yourself towards a fantastic goal that goes beyond what you ever thought you could accomplish. That, and convincing your friends and family that, No, you aren't crazy and could they please support you, thankyuverymuch?

There is no better example of fearless foster homes than the people in our circles who do compassion holds. We ask them to take on a very sick or somewhat troubled dog that, most likely, will not have a happy ending. And we ask them to provide a temporary life and full-time love for that animal. See that chopping block over there? Put your heart on it, please.

Kerry, left, opened herself up in April to a little old lady dog (Gemma) who was too creaky for a shelter adoption program. Her job was to provide some TLC so Gemma could die happy rather than alone - which could happen in a week or three or maybe more, depending on Kerry's timetable and the dog's health and comfort. Well, in this situation, the creaky girl rallied so well and fit so nicely into her dog pack that Kerry decided to keep her. Which makes for a great happy ending. But the fact is, Kerry was willing to take that little girl on no matter her health issues and even if she didn't* fit into her household for keeps. And that's the fearlessness that blows me away. "Whatever happens, I'm here for you. Whether it's to keep you, or transition you to a new home, or whisper in your ear as you pass over to your next journey. Whatever it takes."

The nuts and bolts of fostering (crating, training, juggling pets, etc.) are child's play compared to the work-out you get learning to be flexible, brave and relentlessly committed to helping your foster dog over the finish line. If you have a stubborn streak and a can-do attitude that you want to put to good use, fostering might just be for you. Check back soon to read up on some favorite BR foster homes' favorite lessons earned while putting their hearts on the line.


Meet: Ella - a damsel in distress

In a crazy coincidence, this creaky little old lady came into the Oakland Animal Shelter the same week Kerry announced her plans to adopt Gemma. She wandered onto the grounds of a roofing company and was aided by a couple who went to the trouble to take her to a vet and buy her a pink collar.

Unfortunately her former home has not come looking for her (How in the hell do you lose a precious old dog?).

She's unassuming and gentle and forgiving and very, very hungry -- and Yes, she's in need of a compassion hold or better. Here we go again: another project with another unknown ending begins.

If anyone reading would be interested in providing a safe haven for Ella, please let us know!


Mike Sweeney said...

WOW... Truly inspiring. Your org. has inspired me to take the plunge. Work need's to settle down a little but I will be willing to take on a foster in a month or so. Huge tip of the cap to Kerry and all she does.


steph said...

Having plunged into the world of fostering last winter, being totally new to it and taking in a 4 month old female pit named Penny, who had had both her front legs broken with a baseball bat, any tips and stories about fostering would be welcome reading! My husband and I worked night and day (she was on 3 months of no movement crate rest, to the point where she had to be carried outside and held up to do her thing) to help this sweet pea heal physically and emotionally, and then suddenly and wonderfully she got scooped up by a wonderful family in Santa Cruz. Our 5 year old female pit, Pty, taught Penny as much as we did. We have taken on our next, a 4 month old male named Charlie, and are facing new challenges that come with a new personality. I love fostering, and any wisdom on the subject would be great! Please keep rocking, you guys are our role models.

who wouda thunk it?? said...

GAWD! you know I have six, I'm single, and own a business, and I still always have the urge to love on these older dogs! I wish I could have ten!
Good luck Ella!!

Lauren K. said...

Oh, those sweet seniors are too much! I wish I were back in the Bay Area to scoop up that darling Ella - what a face! You foster homes are truly special, wonderful people... I look forward to the series!

Anonymous said...

Steph: I wondered what happened to Penny! So glad she recovered so well and found a great home. You did a wonderful job with her, and I loved reading about her adventures with Pty on the website. Thank you so much for taking care of her. (I'm her leopard print blankie donor.)


Ella has totally got "the look"...the kind where you just want to give her every treat in the treat jar. I wish I could take her, but I've got a "solo flier" at home.

I'm so happy to hear about Gemma's forever home.

So much great news to start Monday!


Jess said...

The folks that do compassion fostering give me goosebumps. They are beyond brave. I think there should be a special fan club just for them.

And maybe a new t-shirt "Ask Me About Fostering. Pit Bulls Need Retirement Homes Too!"

I'm really looking forward to reading your fostering FAQ blogs...

The Foster Lady said...

Who Wouda Thunk it??? I have 6 here too; my own four and 2 fosters and it is always a struggle not to take another. I thank Donna and Tim for stepping up to do this and please, include instructions for flirtpole making. I have my 'recipe', but want to know yours as well.


Megan Cahill said...

Some questions I have: how to bring a dog in when there is already a family dog present. Is there a trainer there to help with meeting and greeting, is there a phone number foster parents use when they have a question, is there some type of support system in place? What happens when your family dog and the foster dog don't get along?

pitbull friend said...

I will look forward to reading this! I have been fostering for years for several organizations, and it's mostly a delight and always worthwhile.

To me, the most important ingredient in successful fostering has been having a canine assistant - one dog in the pack who is an even-tempered, calm alpha and enjoys showing other dogs how to conduct themselves. I lucked out in that, when I started to foster, I already had a middle-aged malamute who was a great mentor. When she started to retire from that job four years ago, a pitty boy from New Orleans happened into my life and eased into her job as she eased out of it. (Now she's 16, and he's 7 or 8.) With a good Assistant Pack Leader, a well-dogproofed home, and the willingness to learn from trial & error, I believe anyone can do it.
- a Minnesota foster mom

leigha said...

yay for the heroes who do such generous and unselfish things such as these. i would take that beautiful girl in a moment. i only wish i had more space and time. i will one day be able to do fostering in my home. what a great feeling it must be to be able to help a very needy dog to transition to a new furever home.

Mike Sweeney said...

Pitbull Friend is right on. Dogs help dogs like no human can.. Go Minnesota :)

Suz said...

Awww, what a beautiful old girl! She reminds me of my late Fred. Thank you for pulling her, Donna & Tim! Paws crossed that she finds a foster spot...these Old Ones are super precious.

Megan said...

I've fostered different animals for years, but pit bulls are my favorite project, they're the ones I never can resist, and the ones that leave me sniffling as they head out to their forever homes.
I wish I was closer to you, I'd love to help Ella. Thanks for all the good work you're doing.

Katie Jones said...

Fostering is AWESOME. I would never not do it. I love having the dogs in , be it for a few days while they are waiting to go somewhere else like an adoptive home , or an out of state rescue program , or if they stay months while they are waiting for their forever homes. I love them all , puppies, adults and even the old creaky ones, I take them sick or healthy , loved or unloved, dirty , smelly , starved or whatever challenges they may have. I have found two of my own dogs through fostering , they and we decided they should never leave us. ( I have 4 rescued Pit Bulls and a rescued Rottweiler)

Someone once asked me why I foster Pit Bulls and my answer was "Because I get back 1000 times the love , the dogs know you took them in and saved them from something tragic. Loving them is easy , helping them is easy , and watching them start a new life with a new family makes your heart ready for the next one."

Dianne in DC said...

I foster for the Bengal Rescue Network. Bengals are kinda a feline pit bull as they have a reputation which proceeds them, which they do not deserve. I've found the same things as Katie - the cats are grateful for what you are doing for them. My two aby mixes help the new ones learn the ropes and calm down. I've found Feliway very helpful, do you use DAP with the dogs?

Charles said...

This is an akward question to ask but how long do "compassion holds" last? I think maybe my parents could do it but they travel a lot.

Anonymous said...

has Ella found a home? Can
she come to MInnesota?