The Bittersweet Experience of Fostering Dogs

My first five foster dogs (middle left was only a temporary foster).

I was tossing and turning in bed tonight, not planning on blogging today, but thinking, you know what, I should acknowledge how difficult it is to foster a dog. To backup, I’ve been fostering dogs since August 2021 through Louie’s Legacy Animal Rescue based in New York and Ohio. They rescue animals from a dog shelter in West Virginia (they also rescue cats and even rabbits, but I don’t know if they also come from WV or somewhere else) and transport them to NY or OH. As a foster, I’m essentially the go-between once they are rescued out of the shelter until they are adopted to their “forever home.” Some fosters are better trained than others, including me, but the main two things to provide these foster dogs are a.) love and b.) a safe and dependable home. I can do both of those! I may not be able to potty train your puppy, but I can love on them and spoil them. That’s mostly what they need, and you’d be surprised how — to use an overused, but apt word — resilient these dogs are. Often, we have no idea what their past is — we’re lucky if we know their breed and age — and so, because of that, we’re trying to help dogs with an unknown past, which is influencing how they are now. For the most part though, love and safety easily exceeds the low bar they’ve experienced in their short lives.

The way fostering works is I could have a dog for 10 days until they find their forever home or I could have them for six months. We go to adoption events every week, they’re featured on social media, and on adoption websites, but it’s unpredictable when they’ll find their forever home — that right adopter. Sadly, there can be starts-and-stops: someone adopts a dog and quickly returns them for any myriad of reasons. Placing a dog with the right adopter is a challenge because of the aforementioned issue with dealing with an unknown past, unpredictable adopters, no matter how well you screen them, and of course, all dogs are unique with unique needs.

Since I started fostering, I’ve fostered Barktholomew, Piglet, Skye (I only temporarily fostered her for a weekend), Athena, Lucy, Benny, and Simon. Piglet by far went the fastest at 10 days, the shortest possible window from picking them up to them getting adopted. Benny took the longest at a little more than six months. But whether it was a mere weekend with Skye, six months with Benny, or the others somewhere in the middle of that timeline, it is always difficult to see them go and leave me. but also the most indescribably elating feeling when you connect them to their adopter, which is exactly why fostering dogs is such a complicated, bittersweet, and difficult journey. I’ve loved all of these dogs, and because like I said, all dogs are unique, I’ve loved them for different reasons. All of them also proved challenging to me in different ways. As you can imagine, dogs are a lot of responsibility! And candidly, more than once as a foster, I’ve wondered what have I gotten myself into, and worse yet, I’ve put myself down, thinking I’m incapable of doing this. But for the sake of those dogs, I’m glad I never gave into my doubts, and never gave up on them.

My most recent foster was Simon, a one-year-old beagle-coonhound mix, who I picked up on November 10th, 2022, and who went to his forever home this past Saturday, January 14th. I had him a little over two months. In many ways, he was arguably my most challenging dog on the basis of being a puppy (I think overall, Benny was more challenging, though). I’ve never had direct experience caring for a high-energy puppy. Like with the other dogs, though, I experienced a similar wave of emotions on adoption day:

  • Oh my god, I’m going to vomit watching the family walk him around the pet store because what if they reject him?
  • They want him, they really want him! This is is so surreal because it’s hard to believe such a day could truly come!
  • I sure hope they don’t change their mind three days from now, I would be devastated, and he would be devastated.
  • I’m going to miss him, but I’m putting on a brave face talking to everyone.
  • I kiss his soft head goodbye, tell him I love him, and wonder if he understands what’s going on. I hope he’ll be okay.
  • And here I am tearing up walking out of the pet store.
  • Phew, it’ll be nice to get x, y, and z done now that my responsibility is over, especially cleaning the house. That’ll be a relief.
  • Welp, hello, weirdly empty house.

My catharsis after all seven of these dogs were adopted and left the house has been the same: I do a bananas deep clean of my house. But as I’ve long said, quoting a friend, catharsis isn’t therapy. Through cleaning, I’m avoiding dealing with those complicated emotions by instead wearing myself out via cleaning — taking my mind off of what I just experienced, which is a fair thing to do in the short-term, and the house does legitimately need cleaned. However, in the long-term, it’s now been three days post-bananas cleaning, and I’m stuck with all the same neglected emotions. And I think that caught up to me tonight. So, obviously, Monday was a holiday and I was off work. I went into the office Tuesday and today. Both work days were great and productive, with meaningful, lovely conversations and work. However, once I clocked out, instead of coming home to a dog to get up my energy for to match their excitement, and literally, too, by walking, I crashed in the recliner and fell asleep. Both nights have been a wash in terms of getting anything done I’d like to get done. To be honest, that has bummed me out, and again, I think it’s reflective of my neglected emotions.

Enter this blog, another form of catharsis, but a better one than cleaning because it’s allowing me to think and work through these emotions. I love dogs. I will always have dogs in my life. I love fostering dogs, and will continue to do it as long as I’m able to. But it is hard! Yes, there’s the responsibility of taking care and nurturing another living being, with a time commitment, being mindful of my schedule for their sake, and the financial side of it, but the real hardship comes in the wake of their absence. Which only speaks to how much value, no matter how long their stay with me is, they add to my life.

But please, if you take anything away from this post — and thank you for reading — I’d like you to take this message away:

Adopt, Don’t Shop!

Simon is the bottom left, and Benny is on the right.

One thought

  1. Thanks for writing. Persinal stories are the best. Although on a very different plane, this brings to mind my experience as a CASA guardian ad litem volunteer; both monumentally heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time.

    Liked by 1 person

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